13 June 2015

Climate change challenges for Austria

Options Magazine Summer 2015: IIASA’s involvement in advancing the transformation toward sustainable development continues to grow with the national integrated assessment of the Austrian Panel on Climate Change (APCC), which was coordinated by IIASA and its partners in the Austrian scientific community.

On 18 September 2014 IIASA Deputy Director General Nebojsa Nakicenovic was rushing to board his flight from Vienna to New York when the Austrian immigration official checking his passport asked, “So, is it true what you said on TV last night, that temperatures in Austria have risen by double the global average?”

The question was Nakicenovic’s first inkling that a publication IIASA had helped launch only the previous day—the national Austrian Assessment Report 2014 (AAR14) of the Austrian Panel on Climate Change (APCC)—was going to have such a huge public impact.

Austria is a country that, from the person on the street to its president, takes great pride in its environmental responsibilities, and the key findings of the AAR14, presented publicly on 17 September, on national television and in the press, came as a shock to many.

However, the international agreement to be signed at the Paris climate summit in December 2015 will likely ask countries to start submitting clear and transparent commitments to reducing their own emissions. Thus, the AAR14, which is the first national‑level climate assessment with the breadth and rigor of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), puts Austria in an almost enviable position.

What will climate change mean for Austria?
Key findings from the AAR14

  • Adverse economic impacts of climate change have been affecting the country for 30 years
  • Human health in Austria is suffering as a result of climate warming
  • As the snow line recedes, Austria’s winter tourism will have to move higher up the mountain
  • While Austrians see themselves as “green,” there is still enormous unfulfilled potential for renewable energy in the “Alpine Republic”
  • Landslides in the Alps are continuing to increase
  • All of Austria’s glaciers have reduced in size since 1980
  • Austria’s forests are not only less productive, but are at increased risk of wildfires
  • Increasing global temperatures are driving human migration pressure toward Austria
  • Heat-tolerant pests are spreading in the country
  • Livestock and wild animals are suffering from climate change-related problems

 The new report, which was prepared by IIASA in conjunction with a panel of 50 scientific institutions around Austria, not only assesses the climate change status quo; it shows how Austria can mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The advice is in the form of policy guidance to the Austrian government, decision‑support material to the private sector, and analysis relevant to academic institutions. It will assist Austria in drawing up the “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)” that will be such important actors on the new post‑Kyoto stage.

Unlike Austria, many countries do not have comprehensive assessments of their national circumstances with respect to achieving a low-carbon, climate-resilient future, and are thus unable to prioritize measures and tackle obstacles to achieving them. For many countries, establishing baseline data, implementing improvement measures, and monitoring
greenhouse gas abatement and adaptation success will be daunting, even with expertise and assistance from the national and international scientific community.

Integrated modeling: An IIASA tradition

IIASA’s involvement in the Austrian Assessment Report 2014 (AAR14) is one of the latest in a series of contributions to landmark integrated assessments on climate, energy, and the environment.

Nineteen authors from IIASA took part in the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in 2013–2014. IIASA was a key contributor to the scenarios used in the modeling, leading in the development of the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) and the new Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs). These scenarios enable climate change research to be conducted in a more timely and relevant fashion.

IIASA scientists contribute to the yearly Emissions Gap Report of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) (see page 8).

IIASA Deputy Director General Nebojsa Nakicenovic directed the Global Energy Assessment, published in 2012, from which the UN Secretary-General’s initiative on Sustainable Development for All (SE4All) was developed. The most comprehensive analysis of the energy sector ever, the assessment involved over 500 scientists, policymakers, and experts from 70 countries.

The World in 2050 project will also benefit from advanced modeling developed by IIASA and its partners. Importantly, project modeling will examine the interactions among all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to explore the potential for co-benefits and trade-offs of addressing the multiple SDGs at the same time.

Nor, according to Nakicenovic, will the AAR14 be able to serve as a model for very many countries, as it would require huge efforts by the responsible scientific communities to assess national and local circumstances.

“What will help countries achieve their chosen targets under the expected agreement,” he says, “is the work being done in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the International Science Conference on Our Common Future Under Climate Change in Paris 7–10 July 2015 in which IIASA is playing a leading role.”

Other initiatives in which IIASA plays a key role include Sustainable Energy For All (SE4All), the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and The World in 2050 project, launched on
12 March 2015.

Further information

APCC (2014). Austrian Assessment Report 2014 (AAR14). Austrian Panel on Climate Change (APCC), Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, Vienna, Austria.

Text by Kathryn Platzer

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Last edited: 17 June 2015


Nebojsa Nakicenovic

Emeritus Research Scholar

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