"Climate change also affects our fundamental rights: especially through extreme weather events, our living spaces, our belongings and, in the worst case, we ourselves are endangered," the scientist from the research center for climate protection law "ClimLaw: Graz" elaborates. "Therefore, the state is constitutionally responsible, for example, from its duties to protect property or health and life, to take climate protection measures." But these are not in good shape in this country. In an index recently presented at the UN Climate Change Conference, Austria ranked only 32nd out of 59 countries. Miriam Hofer sees a particular need for improvement in the Climate Protection Act, because the targets contained therein had already expired in 2020. Since 2021, there have not even been any targets within Austria for how many emissions are to be saved per year in the area of transport, for example. And she adds, "There is also a need to catch up in other areas: whether an industrial plant or a power plant that produces a lot of greenhouse gases must use particularly 'climate-friendly' technologies or may not be built at all, for example, is not regulated by law."
Necessary expansion of renewable energies
So there are a number of construction sites in climate protection law. "For us to achieve the energy turnaround, the legal framework must also fit. Renewable energies should be able to be expanded quickly, and for this the approval procedures must be accelerated. To this end, the EU issued an 'emergency regulation' at the turn of the year. How this is to be implemented in practice in Austria raises numerous questions, which I am currently dealing with in order to identify solutions," says the lawyer about her current work. In the case of wind energy, for example, the current generation capacities must be doubled. But nature conservation must not fall by the wayside: "Because the loss of biodiversity also endangers our natural livelihoods and intensifies the negative consequences of climate change."
However, energy turnaround projects often fail due to landscape or townscape protection. For example, when the owner of an old building is not allowed to erect a photovoltaic system on the roof because it would disrupt the external appearance of the village. "A change in thinking must take place here. One of the remedies is an amendment to the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. It provides that energy transition projects may no longer be prohibited under certain circumstances solely because they would impair the landscape."
Miriam Hofer's work at the Climate Change Law Research Center is embedded in the Climate Change Graz profile area at the University of Graz.