Austrian environmental quality assessed

Official report finds better air but continuing rise in energy use, challenge in forest protection

Austria is enjoying improvements in air quality and waste management, but faces continuing challenges over energy consumption and forest damage, according to the latest national environmental quality assessment, which was released by the environment ministry yesterday.

The following are key results from the assessment, which covers the years 1995-98:

* Air quality has in general improved, with cuts of 15% in sulphur dioxide and 12% in carbon monoxide emissions from the previous monitoring period. However, the report also confirms the environment ministry's statement last week that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have risen in recent years and have been broadly stable since 1991 (ENDS Daily 15 March). The ministry has been canvassing industry opinions on how this trend could be reversed, a spokesperson told ENDS Daily.

* Despite the general improvement in air quality, emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are set to rise in future, the report warns. Measures taken since 1985 have cut emissions, it says, but the effect of these actions is becoming exhausted.

* Information and data systems for Austrian waste trends have greatly improved, although there are still some gaps around non-hazardous industrial waste and industrial re-use of waste. Austrian waste totals have risen in a number of areas, especially in waste arising from soil excavations, but the report puts this down to the improvements in monitoring systems. There is no immediate need for any more waste management plants, the authors state.

* There is a rising trend in energy consumption levels, which shows no sign of becoming sustainable, the report concludes. Its authors blame recent decreases in global fossil fuel prices, which, they say, give no incentive to use renewable energies.

* Damage to forests from air and long-term soil pollution is "still too high". Also, the report states that 120 square kilometres each year are used for forest industry purposes, of which 50% are felled.

* Fresh water quality has "greatly improved" in recent years, the report states, mainly due to measures taken by Austria's provinces. However, there are still problems with nitrogen levels in groundwater, with 18% of all measurements showing nitrogen levels higher than 45 micrograms per litre. Regarding pesticides, the report recommends that the monitoring system be updated to take into account of changes in products being used.

Follow Up:
Austrian environment agency, tel: +43 1 313 040.

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