Environment and Climate Change

Due to the realization that global environmental problems require global solutions the Stockholm Conference (1972) of the United Nations tackled for the first time extensively a wide spectrum of environmental questions (Stockholm Declaration). Upon its recommendation the General Assembly founded the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) that same year and which to this day serves as an important driver in global environmental protection.

The so-called Rio Process – named after two major environmental conferences in Rio de Janeiro (1992: Agenda 2001, and 2012: “The Future We Want”) introduced in particular the concepts of Sustainable Development and Green Economy. Three important United Nations environmental agreements originate from the Rio Process: The Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), the Convention on Biological Diversity (1993) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (1994).

Since 1995 the annual Conference on Climate Change deals with the mitigation of climate change and adaptation to it. Concrete obligations to reduce or limit green house gas emissions are contained in the Kyoto Protocol (1997) for the period of 2008 to 2020, though for industrialized countries only, and in the Paris Agreement (2015), which aims to hold global warming to well below 2° C, preferably to 1.5° C above preindustrial levels, starting from 2021.

Since 1994 the biannual Biodiversity Conference deals with the global protection of biodiversity, i. e. not only the diversity in the realms of plants and animals but also of ecosystems as such. 2010 the “Aichi-goals” for the worldwide protection of species were formulated.

Already since 1987 the Montreal Protocol has contributed to the reduction of ozone depleting substances including through support mechanisms for developing countries, which led to a gradual recovery of the ozone layer, which keeps out nocive UV radiation, in recent years. Since some substitute substances (HFCs) are powerful green house gases, an amendment to the Protocol (2016) envisages their gradual phasing out with reduction aims from 80 to 85 % by 2036 and 2047, for industrialized and developing countries, respectively.

The Basel (1989), Rotterdam (1998) and Stockholm (2001) Conventions deal with various aspects of the international management of hazardous chemicals. Soon the Minamata Convention on mercury will follow.

The International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES; 1973) protects endangered animal and plant species by limiting or prohibiting the import and export of specimens and products thereof (e.g. ivory).

Austria is also party to further multilateral agreements which deal with matters such as transboundary effects of industrial accidents, access to information and public participation in environmental matters, environmetal impact assessment in a transboundary context, long-range transboundary air pollution, the protection of transboundary watercourses and international lakes, of wetlands of international importance especially as waterfowl habitat and on the protection of migratory species.

Of particular importance for Austria are the Alpine Convention (1991) and its Protocols, which deal comprehensively with the protection and sustainable development of the sensitive alpine space, and the International Commission for the Protection of the River Danube (1994).