Options Magazine, Winter 2022: IIASA researchers have been working closely with all levels of Austrian society including scientific institutions, policymakers, and the public to help the country move towards a more sustainable and just future.
While IIASA is an international institution committed to fostering scientific cooperation across the globe, its history is tightly linked to Austria, the country that has been generously hosting the institute since its founding in 1972.
More than half of the country is alpine, where the effects of climate change are especially severe. In recent years, much of the research in Austria has been focused on assessing the impacts of the climate crisis and devising strategies to combat them. In 2014, experts compiled the first comprehensive Austrian Assessment Report on Climate Change (AAR14) and established the Austrian Panel on Climate Change (APCC).
Now, a group of more than 120 experts has begun work on the second Austrian Assessment Report (AAR2) which will assess the current and possible future effects of climate change in the country. The structure and procedures will closely follow the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the final report is set to be released in 2025. It will include feedback from various areas of civil society, interest groups, and policymakers to ensure that the assessment is as policyrelevant and actionable as possible. IIASA is taking a leading role in the project, with researchers Keywan Riahi and Daniel Huppmann from the Energy, Climate, and Environment Program serving as co-chairs of the APCC.
“A large part of society is already well aware of the consequences of the climate crisis,” notes Huppmann. “Now it is up to science to map out synergies and potential trade-offs of the various measures to support evidence-based climate policies.”
WATER: TOO MUCH OR NOT ENOUGH
Even though Austria is known for its abundant water resources, droughts are becoming an increasing threat, especially around Lake Neusiedl and the salt marshes in Austria’s Burgenland region. To better understand the risk of water stress and devise effective management opportunities, researchers from the Population and Just Societies and Biodiversity and Natural Resources programs are assessing water supply and demand in Lake Neusiedl and Pinzgau in Salzburg.
The project called WaterStressAT combines modeling and co-design processes with inputs from local policymakers and stakeholders who are affected by the changing water levels. “I wanted to build a transdisciplinary project because I'm convinced that in order to do impactful work, we need to define the problems together with decision makers,” says Susanne Hanger-Kopp, the project leader and a researcher in the IIASA Equity and Justice Research Group.
As well as establishing groundwater reference levels that will inform policymaking, the researchers also produced integrative qualitative systems maps that show the causal links of water stress in the regions, helping to visualize the problem for both scientists and stakeholders.
In contrast to the dwindling water supply in Lake Neusiedl, other regions in Austria are threatened by floods. In the last 20 years, flooding has been the most common natural disaster globally and it is projected to rise in frequency and severity with the changing climate and human influences such as regulating rivers and land use. Current management strategies primarily focus on mitigating the direct damage of floods, like building physical barriers and restoring damage to buildings and infrastructure. However, the indirect damage such as increased indebtedness, losses due to business interruptions, and negative impacts on human welfare sometimes reach even further — especially due to the fact that, at present, we lack effective management strategies to combat these. To find the best strategies to tackle indirect effects, researchers in the IIASA Systemic Risk and Resilience Research Group completed a case study on flood risk in Austria. They modeled how indirect effects cascade through the economic system and conducted interviews with stakeholders to find mitigation strategies.
“We found that many people are aware of indirect effects and how they can increase the burden on individuals and on the national budget,” says Karina Reiter, the lead author of the study. “But there isn't a lot of indirect risk management going on at the moment. We need to look at the bigger picture and adapt risk management accordingly.”
CO-CREATING A CLIMATE-RESILIENT FUTURE
Despite Austria’s ambitious plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2040, a clear vision of what this massive transformation would entail at different policy and governance levels is still lacking. As an active step towards change, IIASA researchers cooperated with Quantuum and the University of Graz on a transdisciplinary project called Climate Modernity to develop a joint vision for achieving climate targets in the Austrian province of Styria. “As all parts of society will have to actively participate in solving the climate crisis, they should also be involved in finding a path towards achieving these goals,” says Thomas Schinko, the leader of the IIASA Equity and Justice Research Group who was a scientific advisor for the project.
Following an open application phase, Schinko and his colleagues selected 50 people representing Styria’s diversity to join a workshop and co-generate a vision for a carbon neutral and climate resilient future. The project was a success, with potentially influential outcomes for the new climate and energy strategy in Styria. Equity and Justice Research Group researcher Jonas Peisker also conducted an accompanying study via pre- and post-surveys to see how the process affected the perceived climate efficacy of participants. Apparently, participants regained trust in democratic processes, which is a very promising result in the current circumstances.
“We can show that there are tools to reestablish trust and feed into democratic processes in climate change and other issues,” says Schinko. “Now it's important that these trust-building measures are not wasted, and the results are used to make real change.” To achieve real change and continue on the path toward sustainability, the collaboration between IIASA and Austria will continue. Because what all the research efforts agree on is that the time to act is now.
by Fanni Daniela Szakal
Reiter, K., Knittel, N., Bachner, G., & Hochrainer-Stigler, S. (2022). Barriers and Ways Forward to Climate Risk Management Against Indirect Effects of Natural Disasters: A Case Study on Flood Risk in Austria. Climate Risk Management 36 e100431. 10.1016/j.crm.2022.100431.