David Jablonski

Could Austria be carbon neutral?

Climate change is a reality. It’s not a theoretical danger of the far distant future. It’s changing our landscapes and our habitats right now. As a global community, the damage we’re doing to our environment isn’t just increasing, it’s accelerating. With our current political climate, changing this trajectory seems unrealistic. And it is highly unlikely. But it’s not impossible.

Bhutan is the first, and only, carbon-neutral country in the world. While the entire country collectively produces 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, the immense forest covering 72% of the country acts as a carbon sink, absorbing more than four million tons of carbon dioxide every year. Costa Rica aims to be carbon-neutral in two years. Iceland is moving towards carbon-neutrality. The Carbon Neutrality Coalition is a group of 16 countries, 32 cities and many organisations who pledge to be net zero on emissions by 2050.

The Austrian government, meanwhile, has other priorities. Vice chancellor Heinz Christian Strache suggests that increasing sun eruptions, not human activity, could be responsible for global warming. This is untrue. By 2030, we need to reduce our emissions by 36% compared to 2005, in order to meet the promises we made in the Paris climate agreement. Currently, this seems highly unlikely, without any actionable plan or even honest commitment from people in charge. The problem isn’t just increasing emissions, it’s increasing ignorance. How will we reduce our carbon footprint without a change in mindset?

We won’t. Climate change is overwhelming. But if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with all the issues we’re facing right now, we’ll never change anything. For change to occur, we need to make room for it to do so. Changing our mindset is the first step in the right direction, but only if it is followed by action.

In a 2014 study, German scientists confirmed that by 2050, Germany could be emission-neutral, with every citizen emitting no more than 1t of CO2 (or equivalent) per year. Compared to 1990, this would constitute a reduction of 95%. Of course, this is merely a technical possibility, on a national scale. But maybe knowing about this possibility is all we need to take the first step. There is no equivalent study for Austria, but it’s clear the possibility is there.

If we want to make the possibility a reality, we need to start moving. And accelerate on the way. The finish line is moving further away as we speak. So let’s start now, to make sure we don’t lose our breath before we get there.