Vienna (AFP) April 20, 2008
Austria has been forced to reconsider its environmental policy after two reports indicated the renewable energy leader will likely fail to meet its Kyoto greenhouse gas emissions targets in 2012.
The reports issued last week by the Federal Environmental Protection Bureau and the Austrian Court of Audit said Austria was running considerably above its benchmark 1990 emissions rate instead of having achieved reductions and warned that this could lead to billions of euros worth of sanctions.
As a result, Environment Minister Josef Proell called Wednesday for a new environmental bill that would oblige regional governments to help meet emissions targets or fork over money when Austria has to buy credits to compensate for its excess greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Werner Faymann spoke of further developing public transportation and Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer proposed a vague "energy masterplan."
But these moves met with criticism from the opposition and the provinces.
"Proell and Faymann are now announcing measures they could have implemented a long time ago," said Green deputy leader Eva Glawischnig.
The far-right Freedom Party called for Proell to resign if Austria fails to meet its emissions target, while Vienna's environmental councillor argued the ministry did nothing for decades and "now they want to punish the provinces."
Austria, with its many lakes and mountains, is a leader in renewable energy, with 21.22 percent of its power coming from renewable sources in 2005, compared to 6.38 percent for the rest of the European Union, according to an EU report.
Hydropower alone made up 8.97 percent of Austria's energy needs in 2005, with other sources like biomass, biogas, solar and wind power supplying the rest, according to the environment ministry.
But it is still far from reaching its Kyoto Protocol target.
In a report published Monday, the Federal Environmental Protection Bureau said Austria's emissions in 2006 -- data is published with a two-year delay -- amounted to 91.1 million tonnes, up 15.1 percent from its 1990 level of 79.2 million tonnes.
Under the Protocol, Austria is supposed to cut its emissions in 2012 by 13 percent from 1990 levels, to 68.8 million tonnes.
"Austria ranks second before last compared to other European states in terms of meeting Kyoto goals," the report said.
Meanwhile, the Austrian Court of Audit, in a draft paper obtained by the daily Der Standard, noted: "It is unlikely that the targets will be met if the current approach is maintained."
It warned that if Austria fails to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, it could face fines of up to 100 euros (160 dollars) per tonne of emissions.
"It doesn't make sense to miss our targets and then pay a penalty," Proell said at a political summit Thursday to discuss a new environmental strategy, adding that Austria could still lower its emissions by 2012, following a slight drop from 2005 to 2006.
To achieve this, Austria plans to buy so-called emission credits worth nine million tonnes of emissions -- for upwards of 290 million euros -- by investing in environmental projects, such as eco-friendly power plants in developing countries.
But even this will not cover the gap between the current level of GHG and the Kyoto target.
Politicians have blamed the high emissions rate on so-called tank tourism, as drivers from neighbouring countries like Germany and Italy fill up in Austria where petrol prices are lower.
Without tank tourism, Austria would have already met its Kyoto goal, Faymann argued Wednesday.
Proposed solutions include road charges for lorries, city congestion charges and developing public transportation.
But Fayman has refused to consider an oil price hike to avoid "punishing" drivers in a largely rural country.
Besides traffic, poor isolation in homes is one of the main causes of emissions, according to the Federal Environmental Protection Bureau.
Proell's new plan will now aim to make regional governments not only share part of the burden of meeting Kyoto targets -- such as by refurbishing buildings to make them more energy efficient -- but also contribute to potential fines incurred if they fail to fulfill their obligations.
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