EXPRESS #2 - September 25, 2018
Under the new EU climate regime, all EU member states have to make national climate and energy plans which they have to submit to the European Commission.
Austria, which currently holds the EU presidency, seems certainly ready for that task. Under the hashtag #mission2030, the cabinet of Sebastian Kurz adopted a new climate and energy strategy earlier this year. The Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) recently published a useful analysis of it, noting that elements of the plan “became reference points for the programme of the Austrian Presidency of the EU Council, which began on 1 July. Under the plan, Austria wants to promote low-carbon transport and fully embrace the “Clean energy for all Europeans” package.”
Austria’s climate policy is accompanied by public support and cross-party consensus, notes PISM. 85% of Austrians support the policy of increasing the share of renewable energy sources (RES) in the energy sector and 81% connect them with sustainable economic growth.
Public support for an ambitious climate and renewable energy strategy has always been strong in Austria. Thus, the new government’s strategy “is a continuation of the vision of the former government”, notes PISM. “In 2015, the then chancellor and chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ), Werner Faymann, announced that by 2030, 100% of electricity would come from RES [renewable energy sources]. Kurz’s government — which includes the Christian Democratic Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) — confirmed these goals in its 2017-2021 programme and indicated the means to achieve them.”
The FPÖ, “which puts less weight than ÖVP on international climate agreements, combines the transformation to a low-carbon regime with the possibility of achieving the country’s energy independence”, notes PISM. In other words, for the right-wing in Austria, the Paris Agreement is not the main driver –it is more interested in national self-sufficiency.
The share of RES in total energy supply (not just electricity) was 33.5% in 2016, the highest in the EU after Sweden, Finland, and Latvia. In Austria, the largest portion of RES is hydropower (36) and biomass (30%).
The Austrian authorities “want domestic electricity demand to come from 100% renewable sources. The total share of RES in the final energy consumption would then be 45-50%. In addition, the government plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 by 36% compared to 2005 in sectors outside the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). For those sectors, the government has cited only the overall EU objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 43% compared to 2005. By 2050, Austria plans to end the use of fossil fuels.”
The #mission2030 strategy “is based on three pillars, consistent with the EU’s priorities: security of supply, competitiveness of the economy, and affordable prices of energy. The government decided that Austria should become independent of imports of fossil fuels, thanks to electrification of the economy with RES, including the replacement of natural gas with biomethane and power-to-gas technologies.”
In the short term, the strategy envisages the diversification of sources of supply, increase of gas storage capacity, and expansion of the gas market in Europe writes PISM. “The gas hub in Baumgarten in Lower Austria is to play a key role. After 2020, Austria does not plan to use heating oil for newly constructed buildings.”
The Austrian government is critical of coal-fired power plants in neighbouring countries, and supports a minimum price for CO2 emission allowances. Austria is also consistently against nuclear energy. It sued at the EU Court of Justice against the construction or modernisation of nuclear power plants, including the Hungarian Paks and British Hinkley Point C plants.”
The government wants to transform the transport sector and increase energy efficiency. “Greenhouse gas emission reductions are to be achieved by a larger share of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, public transport, electrification of vehicles, and the switch to gas, especially biomethane, as well as the transfer of passenger and freight traffic to rail (modernisation of the railway network based on the government’s 2025+ strategy from 2011) and rivers.”