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Committee on the Environment debates EU work program in the field of environmental and climate protection (PK0224/06.03.2024)

Vienna (PK) – The Ministry of Climate Protection's annual forecast for EU projects for 2024 was on the Environment Committee's agenda today. Federal Minister for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology, Leonore Gewessler, was on hand to answer MEPs' questions on future and past EU priorities relating to renewable energy, environmental protection, as well as electricity and gas.

The representatives also discussed the federal government's environmental financing assessment report for the period 2020-2022. These triggered environmentally relevant investments worth 5.2 billion euros, generated added value of around 4.2 billion euros, reduced annual CO2 emissions by around 1.67 million tonnes and had an effect in the employment of around 24,239 job managers.

EU annual forecasts for 2024 on climate protection, environment, energy, mobility, innovation and technology

According to Minister for Climate Protection and the Environment Leonore Gewessler, the implementation of the Green Deal in conjunction with a smart transition to a green economy – this remains a central part of her department's work at EU level. This follows from the corresponding annual forecast for 2024 (III-1104 dB). Specifically stated in this context is the objective of achieving emissions savings of 90% compared to 1990 by 2040. This should make the EU's goal of climate neutrality by 2050 possible. Austria is in line with this plan, the report states.

In line with the Commission and the Council, Austria considers stable and resilient natural ecosystems to be an essential prerequisite for climate protection. Minister Gewessler is therefore committed to the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and refers to the national strategy document on the preservation of biological diversity. This was developed in a broad participatory process, according to the report. This was recognized with the votes of the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens and NEOS.

Climate Protection Minister Gewessler explained to the commission that the year 2024 will be a special year with the upcoming EU elections. At the end of this period, it is now important to complete open projects. There was an ambitious program in the area of ​​environmental and climate protection. A central task was to mitigate the effects of the war of aggression against Ukraine and reduce energy dependence on Russia. “Great things” have been achieved here for energy security. It's still important to keep gas consumption low, Gewessler emphasized. Conscious savings, the expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency are important. Gewessler mentioned driving network expansion and ensuring industry competitiveness as important current and future topics. After the EU elections, the next Commission will, among other things, have to initiate the next climate law.

As regards the National Energy and Climate Plan (NEKP), it is now important to work ahead, said the Minister for Climate Protection when asked by Michael Bernhard (NEOS) whether it would be transmitted to Brussels in time in June. Faced with the threat of fines, she is convinced that the “constructive forces of the federal government” will not transfer “billions of taxpayers’ money” abroad. In the area of ​​the electricity market, the aim should be to achieve more stable prices, Gewessler told Franz Hörl (ÖVP) and Dietmar Keck (SPÖ). Renewable energies would make a significant contribution to this. A reform of the European electricity market system is pending to further support the expansion of renewable energy. Local energy suppliers could definitely pass on cheap electricity prices to their customers, said Martin Litschauer (Greens) and referred to cheap electricity offers from many wind energy operators in the communities where the turbines are located.

Gewessler told Ernst Gödl (ÖVP) that he was pleased with the expansion of wind energy achieved. Here we are well above the European average level. The EAG regulation that is being reviewed today provides certainty in the planning of wind energy operators. This is crucial for the implementation of the projects, said the minister for climate protection in response to the objection of Andreas Kollross (SPÖ), according to which the current expansion of wind energy is poorly based on current policy. Strengthening regional value creation in the form of building a European solar industry is a challenge if we want to ensure the necessary volume of expansion at the same time, Gewessler also told Kollross.

The European-wide gas package is an important step towards a renewable gas system, said Energy Minister Ernst Gödl (ÖVP) and Michael Bernhard (NEOS). When it comes to reducing gas imports from Russia, domestic opportunities should be used. The Minister of Energy has informed Michael Bernhard (NEOS) that his department is currently working on a diversification requirement. Additional funds were initiated at today's Council of Ministers to expand the WAG circuit gas infrastructure. This will speed up construction and allow for a 30% increase in imports from Germany.

When it comes to CO2 storage (CCS), we need to focus on areas such as the cement industry, where there are technically unavoidable emissions, Gewessler told Ernst Gödl (ÖVP). These sectors would also be supported in the transformation, she emphasized to Gerhard Deimek (FPÖ). He expressed concern that the existence of these industries in the EU is at risk under current regulations. Gewessler and Johannes Margreiter (NEOS) saw great potential for CO2 savings in the area of ​​truck fleets.

The consultation on the new air pollution control program has ended and they now expect the program to be completed soon, Gewessler informed Rudolf Silvan (SPÖ). As regards infringement proceedings against Austria due to the EU Ammonia Regulation, Austria has submitted all documents to demonstrate compliance with the target to the Commission, Gewessler told Silvan and Julia Herr (SPÖ). However, the process is not yet complete.

Negotiations on extended producer responsibility in the textile sector are still ongoing at European level and therefore the final form is not yet clear, the Minister for Climate Protection told Ernst Gödl (ÖVP), Julia Herr (SPÖ) and Michael Bernhard (NEOS). Given the volume of waste in this area, it is important to take action here, emphasized the Minister of Climate Protection. A big step is a ban on destroying unsold clothing.

The Restore Nature package has been formally agreed and will now be submitted to the Council for decision, Gewessler told Robert Laimer (SPÖ). Regarding the expansion of the “extremely important” Summerau Railway, corresponding discussions are ongoing with the Czech Republic, Transport Minister Gerhard Deimek (FPÖ) reported.

Federal funding triggered environmentally relevant investments worth 5.2 billion euros

The Ministry of Climate Protection presented its report on the assessment of federal environmental financing for the period 2020-2022 (III-1092 dB). During the period under review, a total of 378,967 projects were supported, with total funding of 1.1 billion euros. According to the report, these projects triggered environmentally relevant investments worth 5.2 billion euros. This subsequently created a gross production value of around 9.6 billion euros and generated an added value of around 4.2 billion euros. The resulting employment effects are estimated at approximately 24,239 jobs. Subsidies granted in the period covered by the report reduced annual CO2 emissions by around 1.67 million tons and energy consumption by around 2.3 million MWh/year.

Around 21% of all projects financed in the reporting period were carried out in the area of ​​the renewal offensive. 44.5% of total federal funding was spent on this. Of the 505.8 million euros in financing for the renovation offensive, the boiler replacement campaign “Get Out of Oil and Gas” was particularly supported (400.7 million euros).

“The report shows what is possible if climate protection is taken seriously in financing instruments”, emphasized Minister Gewessler, who highlighted the associated drop in CO2 emissions in this context.

It is “generally positive work” that reflects the work of recent years, emphasized ÖVP leader Joachim Schnabel. It is good to see that citizens are motivated to invest by offering incentives. This was agreed by the chairman of the commission, Lukas Hammer (Greens), who spoke of an “impressive report”. Kommunalkredit Public Consulting (KPC), as a financing processing agency, is doing “an excellent job”. Astrid Rössler (Greens) was pleased with the boosts towards the circular economy, such as the reintroduction of reusable quotas or the repair bonus.

For Robert Laimer (SPÖ), there is a large urban-rural divide when it comes to boiler replacement, as this financing mainly benefits owners of single-family homes in the countryside and less so multi-storey residential buildings in the city. The minister explained that she maintains intense contact with cities, which is why financing for multi-storey residential construction has tripled since the beginning of 2024.

According to Johannes Margreiter (NEOS), the report presented welcome developments. The NEOS mandate and SPÖ deputy Julia Herr were interested in the most profitable CO2 savings compared to the financing volume. While cost efficiency is a criterion, we are already at a stage in climate protection where we cannot simply act accordingly, replied Gewessler. For example, mobility measures for high CO2 savings are expensive. But without that it won't work because the numbers in this sector have to decrease. Regarding the current numbers of electric cars requested by Margreiter, according to the head of the department, almost one in five new registrations in 2023 came from this segment. Here too, financing would play an important role.

Michael Bernhard (NEOS) asked about the value of damages in fraud cases involving the reparation bonus. All suspected cases together would currently result in damages in the order of 3.5 to 4 million euros, but the minister noted that this is not the total amount. According to Gewessler, demand for the repair bonus “remains good” and changes to the application process have not resulted in any change in demand.

There are no disbursements of COVID-19 crisis management funds from the environmental budget

In budget subdivision 43, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Climate Protection and covers the areas of “climate, environment and energy”, there was, as in 2022, no disbursement of COVID-19 funds in 2023. The department records this in reports for November 2023 (III-1,079 dB), December 2023 (III-1,098 dB), and January 2024 (III-1,121 dB). The reports were accepted unanimously. (Continued by the Environmental Committee) med/pst