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How will climate change impact Austria?

A United Nations report has found that the climate change scientists have warned about for years is already here. Here’s how it will affect Austria.

How will climate change impact Austria?
A photo of the sun setting over the Austrian alps. Climate change is likely to have a serious impact on Austria's glaciers. Joël SAGET / AFP

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sent shockwaves across the world this week.

In Austria, the prognosis is not good, with researchers anticipating mountainous regions to be particularly impacted by rising temperatures in the coming decades.

Back in 2014, the Austrian Climate Change Assessment Report already predicted a temperature rise of 3.5 percent by 2100.

But the IPCC warns that Austria could warm up by as much as five degrees by 2100 if nothing is done to stop global carbon emissions.

Statistics from the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) show Austria is now around two degrees warmer since the beginning of industrialisation, as reported by Der Standard.

Award-winning glacier researcher, Sarah Braumann, also recently told ORF that the Ochsentaler Glacier, the largest in Vorarlberg, could be gone in five decades if the ice continues to recede.

For Austria – a country that heavily depends on winter tourism – this is sobering news. 

In fact, in pre-coronavirus times winter tourism was responsible for almost half (48 percent) of all overnight stays in Austria

This makes winter tourism a huge contributor to the Austrian economy with the average winter tourist spending €184 per day, compared to €160 per day from a summer tourist.

How will climate change impact winter tourism in Austria?

In the coming decades, ZAMG has forecast it might only be cold enough for snowfall at altitudes above 1,500 to 2,000 metres, with more rain at lower altitudes.  

But changing weather patterns can already be seen across the country with a 30 percent decrease in the number of snow days in Vienna, Innsbruck and Graz in the past 90 years.

Climate change protests in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

So, what does climate change and the IPCC report mean for ski resorts in Austria?

Peter Grander, CEO at SkiStar in St. Johann, Tyrol, said: “This is a big issue for ski resorts because there is climate change – no one can deny that. 

“There are only a few days when we can produce artificial snow because there are fewer cold nights, so we have to be prepared and act quick. 

“But with snow measurement we can produce less artificial snow by pushing it out more with snow groomers.”

READ MORE: What are the rules for wild camping in Austria?

Grander has also noticed a shift towards summer tourism in the Austrian Alps, and is expecting this to continue in the coming years.

“In the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen the summer season become more important and now 20 percent of our revenue is made in the summer,” he said.

“Regions in the south like Italy, Spain and Greece are now experiencing high temperatures in the summer, so this is a chance for Austrian destinations to increase summer tourism. 

“In the far future it could be that summer will become more important than winter, but that will take a long time.

“We have to be prepared and look at the alternatives, that’s no question.”

How is the climate changing in Austria?

A key indicator of how the climate in Austria is already changing is the number of days each year where the temperature is above 30 degrees.

Der Standard reports that between 1961 and 1990, most provincial capitals across Austria experienced up to 11 hot days each year. But from 1991 to 2020, the ZAMG recorded 16 to 22 days with temperatures above 30 degrees.

The distribution of rainfall is also changing. There has been a decrease in the number of days with a small amount of rain, but an increase in the number of days with heavy rain. 

This is leading to intense periods of dry weather followed by heavy rain, as seen with recent flood events in Salzburg and Tyrol.

However, despite more heavy rain events, there is an increased risk of drought in Austria in the future. This is because warmer temperatures impact the water balance as more moisture is evaporated from the soil into the air.

Similarly, warmer temperatures lead to a longer growing season for plants, which means more water is taken from the soil, increasing the risk of drought.

What is being done to tackle climate change in Austria?

The impacts of climate change affect the whole country – not just the mountains. 

In recent years the City of Vienna has been introducing measures to combat the effects of excessive heat in the summer and reduce emissions from cars.

Measures include fog showers to cool down pedestrians, car-free streets and the introduction of the 15-minute city concept to ensure everyday amenities can be reached within a 15-minute walk.

Other initiatives in Austria include a move towards the use of natural gas and a focus on sustainability.

For example, INNIO, the Tyrol-based natural gas company, this week announced it has joined the UN Global Compact – a sustainability initiative focused on transparency and responsible business practices.

In a statement, Carlos Lange, president and CEO of INNIO, said: “As a responsible corporate citizen, we are ethically and morally bound to maintain a responsible role as it pertains to human rights, labor, and anti-corruption as well as the environment.”

Elsewhere, environmental organisations are lobbying the Austrian Federal Government about climate change.

In July, Climate Change Centre Austria (CCCA), released a statement to say the climate crisis is “diverse and complex” and requires politics, industry, business, science and society to participate together to find a solution.

The statement was released following comments from Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that the climate crisis should be tackled with innovation and technology.

READ ALSO: ‘Cool streets’ and pedestrian zones: How Vienna is preparing for climate change and heatwaves

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TRAIN TRAVEL

EXPLAINED: How to not be ‘bumped’ from an overcrowded Austrian train

Austrian trains have been overly crowded recently, with some people who had valid tickets having to be removed for "safety reasons". Here's how to make sure you get to your destination.

EXPLAINED: How to not be 'bumped' from an overcrowded Austrian train

Train travel is a safe and relatively comfortable way to get around Austria, but there is still much to do to make these journeys better for travellers, especially for commuters.

In Austria, a combination of high fuel prices, the adoption of the subsidised Klimaticket, and Vienna’s new short-term parking system, combined with other factors including a green surge and nice weather, has led to an increase in the search for train travel.

The operator ÖBB expects an even higher surge in the next few days, as warm weather meets holidays in Austria. This has led to several journeys being overcrowded, with people travelling standing up or being removed from trains when they reach capacity and the number of people compromises safety.

READ ALSO: Half-price Europe train tickets on offer in Interrail flash sale

“Safety is the top priority. If the train is too full to be guided safely, passengers must be asked to get off. If they don’t do it voluntarily, we have no choice but to get the police. This happens very rarely,” Bernhard Rieder from ÖBB told broadcaster ORF during an Ö1 interview.

Why are trains overcrowded?

There are several reasons for the surge in train travel, but they boil down to two things: rising costs for other means of transportation and environmental worries.

With galloping inflation, Austrians have seen prices of fuel climbing, and as the war in Ukraine continues, there is no likelihood of lower petrol prices any time soon.

At the same time, since March, Vienna (the destination for many domestic tourists and commuters) has instituted a new short-term parking system, basically removing free parking in the streets of the capital.

Driving has become more expensive when everything else seems to be costly, and many Austrians turn to train travel. Particularly for those who are holders of the Klimaticket, a yearly subsidised card that allows for unlimited travel for just over €1,000 – early buyers could get a hold of the ticket for under €900.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

The ticket allows travellers to “hop on and hop off” as they wish, making occupancy more unpredictable. However, it is possible to reserve seats even if you have them, and there are low-budget bundles for commuters.

The Klimaticket was created in an effort with the Environmental Ministry, looking to increase the use of greener transport alternatives in Austria.

The environmental concern is also one of the reasons why train travel is on the rise globally – travelling by train is also more convenient in many cases, with comfortable seats, free wifi, a dining area and the fact that you can start and end your journey in central stations instead of far-away airports.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Why won’t ÖBB only sell as many tickets as there are train seats?

A reasonable question, but that is not possible with the way train journeys operate in Austria – and in most countries.

Some tickets are “open” and flexible, meaning that people can board any train from a specific time. These are particularly useful for commuters who might be late leaving work, for example.

Additionally, holders of the Klimaticket and other regional yearly offers don’t need to buy tickets. They only need to show their Klimaticket card with an ID once checked.

READ ALSO: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

What is ÖBB doing to avoid overcrowding?

After the several incidents of overcrowding when people even had to leave their trains despite having valid tickets, ÖBB announced it would bring additional trains for the peak season around the holidays (May 26th, June 5th and 6th and June 16th), increasing the number of seats by “thousands”, according to a press statement.

What can I do to guarantee my journey?

Despite the increase in offer, the operator still warns that “on certain trains, demand can still exceed capacity”.

The best way to try and guarantee your journey, according to ÖBB, is by reserving a seat.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

“A seat reservation is the best way to use the most popular train connections. Starting at €3, you can reserve a seat in ÖBB trains in Austria”.

Reservations are available online at tickets.oebb.at the ÖBB app, at the ÖBB ticket counter, and at the ÖBB customer service at 05-1717.

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