Austria Sustainability Issues

The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Austria:

  1. Inequality

Austria was ranked 8th among OECD countries in terms of GDP per capita in 2015 and 10th among 38 countries in the OECD income inequality index with a Gini coefficient of 0.28. The top 20% of the population earns about four times as much as the bottom 20%. Structural causes for inequality in Austria are strongly linked to education and employment, disadvantaging women and minorities the most. Although young Austrian women have a better education than their male peers, women earn 23% less than men and own around 40% less private wealth than the comparable male single household. Asylum seekers and migrants from outside the

European Union are significantly disadvantaged. Asylum-seekers have limited access to employment until they are granted asylum. The recognition of qualifications of non-EU migrants is very restrictive. From 2020, non-national children will be separated at school if they do not meet language requirements. As the Austrian welfare system is employment-centred, this doubles the risks of poverty and social exclusion for migrants.


  1. Gender Equality

Women are at the highest risk of poverty. In Austria, where people are living longer and having fewer children, long-term care falls mainly on women, with four fifths of older persons cared for in family environments. In 2017, 29% of women, in comparison to 3% of men, were not in employment because of caring responsibilities. Working women also have the greatest difficulty maintaining a work-life balance. 48% of women, in comparison to 12% of men, worked part time in 2017. This has a significant effect on women’s pensions and leads to inequality of income and wealth between men and women, leaving women with less political and economic power.


  1. Poverty

Even though Austria is a well-developed economy, 18% of the Austrian population (around 1.5 million people) are at risk of poverty or marginalization and 4% are “significantly materially deprived”. Women (especially over 65 years) are more at risk of poverty than men. A quarter of the population in poverty are children. They tend to be the children of non-national migrants, unemployed people, single (female) parents or people on precarious incomes. These are the groups most left behind and also the most underrepresented, both politically and economically. The risk of poverty and/or social exclusion decreased in Austria between 2011 and 2016 and is currently at 18%, below the EU average of 22%. Fortunately, Austria has a well developed social market economy with a comprehensive system of social security and welfare which reduce the risk of poverty from 44% to 14%. There is high-quality social housing, a free and public school system as well as affordable public transportation. Austria has one of the highest rates of financial expenditure on health among OECD countries and ensures access to health care for all residents of Austria and other EU countries.


  1. Plastic Recycling

Taking everything into account between 5,000 and 7,000 tonnes of plastic carrier bags of different thickness accrue in Austria annually. In many cases they end up in rivers, contribute to the pollution of areas and spaces and pose ever-increasing challenges especially to cities and municipalities as well as agriculture and the environment. In Austria alone, more than 100 kg of plastics are carried away by the River Danube every day. This Danube waste problem is crucial to all the countries in the region surrounded by the Danube river. The Federal Government has declared war on the environmentally harmful and wasteful use of plastics and launched a complete system change in Austria. A package of measures is to be implemented; among others is the ban of non-biodegradable plastic bags. The ban is to start on 1 January 2020. 


  1. Renewables

In the field of renewable energy, Austria sets itself the target of increasing the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption to 45-50% by 2030. At present, the share is 33.5%; the interim target of 34% for 2020 has thus already been almost reached. In addition, the aim is to cover 100% of total electricity consumption in 2030 from renewable energy sources in the country. However, there still seems to be a long way to go as this would amount to a structural transition from non-renewable sources to renewables with at least 10% of renewables each year. Also, wind power in 2019 is likely to have met only 11% of Austria’s power consumption, and some 14% of the country’s electricity is being imported from neighbouring Germany and the Czech Republic – often generated from coal and nuclear plants there.