What are the foreseen developments?
What are the foreseen main developments in coming decades that could be expected to contribute most to future environmental pressures?
Demographic forecasts assume a roughly stable population over the next few decades without taking into account the immigration factor. If forecasts for immigration are included, the population could reach approximately 9.5 million by 2050.
As a consequence of the limited settlement area available and economic wealth, urban sprawl and land consumption occur in restricted areas, with resulting high pressures on the environment. Global warming and its consequences aggravate this pressure. These developments are one of the reasons why natural hazard and risk management in Austria is considered a key task in terms of policy development and implementation.
In order to combat climate change, increased efforts are required to reduce emissions. In addition, adaptation to climate change and its effects has to be accelerated, including provision for natural catastrophes (for example through implementation of the EU Floods Directive), the preservation of carbon dioxide sinks in forests and the further development of land-use planning. In general, efforts must be made to reverse the upward trend in material consumption and to increase resource efficiency through increased prevention of waste as well as increased waste recycling and/or re-use.
Land use is to be curbed in the future. For example, in order to move away from private motorised transport, public transport has to be promoted more strongly (UMWELTBUNDESAMT 2010A). In addition, a rise is anticipated in passenger and goods transport by rail, road and waterways (ÖROK 2008B).
There will also be effects on health, which cannot be ignored, for example owing to fine particulate emissions. There is some uncertainty regarding the as yet unknown future risks of, for example, flame retardants or nanomaterials. Technology is being further developed to counteract the rise in the emission of hazardous substances as a result of the increasing use of biomass.
The status of Austria’s larger watercourses is to be improved by 2015, with action focussing on creating continuity, an incremental increase in quantities of residual water in diversion power plants and the local improvement of structures in water bodies and on their banks. The development of alternative energies and in this respect particularly the further development of hydroelectric energy in a manner compatible with the ecological objectives of surface waters is a particular challenge.
All in all, many of the trends described here have common characteristics, requiring integrated policy solutions. It will be increasingly important for a relatively small country like Austria, with a high research and development potential, to develop sustainable, stable solutions by increasing efficiency and taking even smarter measures in areas such as energy, resources, spatial planning and transport, and in particular by strengthening cooperation with the neighbouring regions.
At the same time it should be noted that the choice of the correct european policy instruments, along with their timing, quality and flexibility, is of key importance.