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"It is not enough to do the right thing, we must also refrain from doing the wrong thing"

With the meeting of the second Environment Committee on January 13, 2021 in Parliament, the Climate People's Initiative (KVB) has come a big step closer to its political implementation. Through the constructive contributions of all experts and representatives of the climate referendum, the members of the committee were able to convince themselves that comprehensive measures for climate protection must be adopted immediately. For the first time, the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens and NEOS have committed themselves to a national solidarity in climate policy.

The R.U.S.Z supports the climate petition with its four central demands: The right to climate protection in the constitution, climate neutrality of Austria until 2040, binding and transparent CO2 law and an eco-social tax and tax reform..

The following is a detailed summary of the meeting, which lasted over three hours. The main topics were mobility, energy, the promotion of climate protection and the greening of the tax system. The experts are unanimous: we cannot afford to fail in climate policy!

Copyright: Jolly Schwarz -
Copyright: Jolly Schwarz -

Numerous experts take part in the committee. Stefan Weiß-Fanzlau begins and speaks out in favor of a mobility turnaround and a balanced greening of the tax system. He describes transport as "one of the biggest problem children", because CO2 emissions have risen by 75% since 1990 and continue to rise. This is largely due to the lack of alternatives to private transport. It must be possible for the population to become part of the solution. As a further point, Weiß-Fanzlau addresses the necessary switch to renewable energies and the increase in energy efficiency.

Demands of the climate referendum

Sufficiently dimensioned government investments, incentive system and climate legislation: This requires long-term strategies that extend beyond legislative periods. The experts see the dismantling of climate-damaging subsidies as the first step toward the important far-reaching structural change.

Similarly, an ambitious CO2 price is needed.

Florian Schlederer: "It is not enough to do the right thing, we also have to refrain from doing the wrong thing". Climate damage, climate-damaging subsidies or imports of fossil energy cost 15 billion euros a year in Austria. This must therefore be stopped urgently and an eco-social tax reform introduced.

Bringing social aspects to the fore

Michael Soder from the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration states that we have to get away from fossil fuels. This affects all social areas of work, production and consumption. He points out that social aspects must be taken into account at the same time.

The climate issue is one of justice that we need to talk about - toward future generations as well as in the here and now." Poorer households have less of a burden on the climate, but are more affected by the consequences. Direct distribution of action is most evident where costs are passed on to households: in basic needs, electricity, mobility, heat and food. Similarly, co-determination and democratic discourse are crucial to ensure that no one is left behind. The climate referendum is an important step in this direction.

Circular economy now

Karl Steininger from the University of Graz advocates clearly communicating the use of revenues in order to increase the acceptance of measures. Circular economy and carbon management in industry and commerce must be implemented. Austria is doing well in expanding renewable energy, but not in energy efficiency. Steininger also called for cooperation among all stakeholders "so that in 2040 we can say: Austria is free - of greenhouse gas emissions".

Angela Köppl from Wifo reminds us to always keep an eye on the overall concept. The European Green Deal and Austria's planned climate neutrality by 2040 set the framework. For the profound structural change required for this, "radically different economic structures" are an important prerequisite.

The most important concern for Representative Julia Herr is the compatibility of climate measures for households with little income or assets. These are hit hardest in housing, transportation and consumption. Committee Chair Lukas Hammer points out the contradiction that much of the research is clear, but is not being implemented politically. In addition, work is highly taxed, pollution low, which needs to be changed.

Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler thanked the initiators of the climate referendum and emphasized the importance of the issue. The climate referendum has not only shown how great the task of climate protection is, but also how much support there is for it from the population. According to Gewessler, much progress has been made in financing climate-friendly mobility. In addition to subsidies for photovoltaics, investments that are harmful to the climate have been excluded. When it comes to the "problem child" of transportation, the minister said that the focus is on investments in the rail infrastructure and a "holistic offer" for users. At the same time, the decision was made consciously against a highway through the Waldviertel. "The climate crisis is the historic task of all those who make policy," said Gewessler.

In the view of Wilhelm Bergthaler from the Institute for Environmental Law at Johannes Keppler University, innovation in the development of environmentally friendly technologies needs to be promoted. Approval procedures must be accelerated for infrastructure. Planning conflicts should be dealt with at the beginning of approval processes through the participation of those affected. In addition, earmarking climate-relevant levies can increase the acceptance of measures.

"Effective climate protection only with an effective energy transition"

Dietrich Wertz sees a great opportunity for climate protection in CO2-neutral solar energy, which is a good alternative energy source both technologically and economically. It is also important that, in addition to the climate referendum, lawmakers, citizens, science and business all pull together. As a resulting measure, Wertz proposes an ecological tax reform that relieves the factor labor and burdens fossil-nuclear energy.

Harald Frey (Institute of Transport Sciences, Vienna University of Technology) emphasizes that the volume of traffic caused by motorized individual transport must be reduced. The climate targets cannot be achieved with a switch to alternative drives alone. It must not be a question of either-or when implementing measures, but of both-as well. According to Frey, the most urgent measures in this area include speed limits and the introduction of a CO2 tax.

For Frey, the inclusion of environmental, climate and mobility policies in spatial planning also plays an important role. In particular, land consumption will become an important issue. Here, a dedication stop, proof obligation for parking spaces or unsealing measures are to be considered.

Concluding remarks by Katharina Rogenhofer

The climate petition has managed to put courageous climate policy beyond dispute across all parties [...]. We now expect a joint motion from ÖVP, Greens, NEOS and SPÖ in which our demands are mapped concretely and with timelines."

Rogenhofer calls for the establishment of a CO2 budget, a binding reduction path from 2021 including an auditing control authority, and the resolution of a comprehensive greening of taxes and subsidies.

If nothing happens, many things will change," Rogenhofer warned. 2021 could be the year we start leaving an intact world for our children. It is important to enter into dialogue about finding alternatives in mobility.

The goal must be to transport as many people as possible with as few resources as possible. However, technological possibilities alone cannot solve the problem.

Measures must be socially balanced, economically sensible and ecologically effective.

The petition for a referendum has gathered almost 400,000 people behind it, the citizens want to participate and now it is up to the politicians to decide on a concrete roadmap towards climate neutrality.

In the run-up to this second meeting of the Environment Committee on the KVB, numerous organizations publicly expressed their support for the demands of the Climate People's Initiative, including the Chamber of Labor, Volkshilfe, Diakonie, the Medical Association, SOS Kinderdorf, the Alpine Club, Friends of Nature, RepaNet, Catholic Action, the Federal Youth Council, the Red Cross, the Samaritan Federation, the Environmental Umbrella Organization, Greenpeace, WWF and Global 2000.

The third meeting of the Environmental Committee is expected to be held in February or March 2021.

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