International Le 3 septembre 2013

Out of the spotlight : The role of climate policy in the Austrian election campaign

Out of the spotlight : The role of climate policy in the Austrian election campaign

This month, Adopt-A-Negotiator invited guest bloggers to report on the place of climate change in upcoming national elections in their country. Do political parties talk about climate during the campaign? Are there major differences on renewable energy and carbon pollution between the various political programs? Should we expect these differences to have an impact on the result of the elections?




Austria is one of the countries facing national elections in the weeks to come. They will be held on September 29th, and the election campaign is now in full swing. So far, climate change has virtually played no role in the public debate surrounding the election. This is emblematised most visibly by the different parties’ election posters: Not a single one of them mentions climate policy (only the Green Party addresses environmental issues on its posters at all, running its campaign under the slogan “clean environment – clean politics”). In a recent head-to-head TV debate, the leading candidates of the two government parties did not address any environmental issues, and media reports are void of discussions of the different parties’ climate policy positions. Proof that the parties – or at least some of them – do in fact have a position on the issue can only be found at a distance from the loud noise of the election campaign: in the parties’ election programmes, which have been issued in the course of the last weeks.

These position papers provide more substantial information about the importance which parties attach to climate policy. Not very surprisingly, the prominence of climate change in the programmes varies greatly. While some parties provide a plan with clear measures on how they want to address the issue, others do not mention the topic at all. The Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), which currently provides the head of government (the “Chancellor”) in the current government, is closer to the lower end of the spectrum: its programme contents itself with calling the struggle against the causes of climate change one of the “central challenges of sustainable environmental policy”, and with mentioning the importance of energy efficiency and a change towards renewable energies. The programme of the Social Democrat’s coalition partner in the government is more concrete: The Christian Democratic and conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) provides about a dozen measures on how to protect the climate, most of them focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency. At an international level, it calls for a global climate treaty which includes the US, China and emerging economies.





In contrast to these two government parties, the biggest opposition party – the populist right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) – does not even mention climate or energy policy in its election programme. The opposite is the case for the second-biggest opposition party – the Green Party. Since environmental policy is at the core of its election campaign, climate-related policies are given ample space in its programme. The measures suggested in the field of energy are more detailed and the targets more ambitious than those of governing parties: The Greens want Austria to become energy-self-sufficient with 100% renewable energy. But their programme goes beyond energy-focused measures: It demands a climate protection law prescribing a reduction of greenhouse gases of 55-60% by 2030, to ensure that Austria becomes an international model of climate protection. The party also underlines the importance of greening the transport sector. At an international level, the Greens call for a “European energy transition” with ambitious emission reduction targets for 2030, and want to promote a “new and ambitious global climate treaty”. Recognising the historic responsibility of industrialised nations, they want Austria to provide “substantial funding” for mitigation and for adaptation measures in developing countries.

In terms of seats in the parliament, the Greens are followed by the moderate right-wing, economically liberal “Alliance for the Future of Austria” (BZÖ). In terms of climate policy, however, the party does not follow the Greens at all: Like the FPÖ, the BZÖ’s 14-page election programme does not even mention climate change. The same is true for the 2-page election programme of the smallest opposition party with seats in the parliament – the “Team Stronach”, recently founded by billionaire Frank Stronach.

In addition to the six parliamentary parties described so far, three small parties currently not represented in the parliament are running for the elections. While the Pirate Party of Austria does not mention climate energy policy, the Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ) blames capitalism for threatening the climate and proposes a handful of mostly energy-focused measures against climate change. Finally, the liberal alliance of the parties “NEOS – the new Austria” and the “Liberal Forum” offers the second most extensive set of climate- and energy-related proposals after the one of the Green Party, its most distinctive demand being a carbon tax on fossil energy.

©Parlamentsdirektion Mike Ranz





As mentioned above, all these positions on climate policy have hardly made it into the public debate. It is unlikely that the issue will still gain in importance in the last weeks before the election. The fact that three of the parties do not even bother to mention climate change indicates that the public’s interest in the topic is limited, and that it will not be decisive for the outcome of the elections. The low priority of climate change on the Austrian public agenda is reflected in the development of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions: Instead of being cut by 13% – Austria’s obligation under Kyoto – the country’s domestic emissions increased by 6% as compared to 1990. Accordingly, environmental NGOs consider Austria’s climate policy a huge failure.

Even though its outcome will probably not be determined by the parties’ positions on climate policy, the election can potentially have a considerable impact on Austria’s future climate policy. Arguably, the most significant improvement of its hitherto dire performance could result from a coalition government which includes the Greens – which would be a novelty, but clearly seems to be within the realms of possibility. After all, the Green programme certainly displays the most ambition with regard to climate policy – ambition that is urgently needed in international climate negotiations. Regardless of the election outcome, however, long-term success in climate protection will require the general public to attach more priority to climate change than it currently does in the election campaign.


This post was originally published on

Photo credits: KCIvey,, ph_en and ©Parlamentsdirektion_Mike_Ranz

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