Land use: Environmentalists file a lawsuit against Austria

Land use: Environmentalists file a lawsuit against Austria
Land consumption in Austria is high.
Image: colourbox.de

The lawsuit was filed with the Constitutional Court today, AllRise co-founder and attorney Wolfram Proksch said at a press conference in Vienna. The initiator of AllRise, Johannes Wesemann, spoke of a “systemic failure” that would make soil protection inadequate and result in massive damage.

“One fifth already installed”

According to Wesemann, citizens would have to bear the consequences of decades of political failure. “We believe that the fight against the climate crisis will take place to a large extent in the courts of law, because we simply need clear decisions and politicians are not delivering them.” Austrians can live on or farm 37 percent of the area. “That’s not very much,” said Wesemann. Land consumption in Austria is high. “A fifth of our area has already been built up. That’s twice the size of Vorarlberg. And every year Eisenstadt is added to it.”

11.3 hectares are built up every day

Surface or floor sealing refers to the watertight and airtight covering of the floor. This has a number of ecological consequences, including the permanent loss of productive soil. Around 11.3 hectares of land is used in Austria every day, around half of which is sealed. The turquoise-green government program mentions a target path for reducing land use to 2.5 hectares per day, but there are still no legal requirements. Lower Austria alone uses 2.5 hectares of soil per day, Upper Austria 2.2 hectares per day. That would actually be the specifications for all of Austria. As a result, AllRise has now filed the state liability lawsuit not only against the Republic, but also against the federal states of Lower and Upper Austria.

omissions in all states

“Even if we only list Lower and Upper Austria as federal states in our lawsuit, we also see omissions in the other seven federal states and reserve the right to sue them at a later date,” said Proksch, who wrote the brief together with formulated by his colleague Theresa Stachowitz. In the statement of claim, the plaintiffs also give the defendants the freedom to announce the dispute to the other federal states of Vienna, Burgenland, Carinthia, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg – insofar as they have caused the damage from the defendant’s point of view – or to assert claims for damages in the event of defeat raise.

Lack of implementation of EU directives

The lawsuit is based in particular on the failure to implement various EU directives, such as the Water Framework Directive, the Nitrate Directive, the EIA Directive or the Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive. The fragmentation of responsibilities between the federal, state and local governments and the associated lack of a national soil protection strategy are also criticized: “The non-implementation of the guidelines mentioned and the lack of coordination at federal level led and still leads to more and more approvals for construction projects and excessive land use,” explained Proksch. And Austria has already been informed several times by the EU Commission that measures are missing. AllRise calculated that infringement proceedings would result in enormous costs for Austria.

“Considerable damage” for every Austrian

As a result of this non-implementation, “considerable damage” has already occurred for every Austrian as a taxpayer or further damage would continue to occur, for example through fines, explained Proksch. According to the lawyer, what Austria has budgeted for the purchase of emission certificates because of non-implementation of the climate goals of the European Union or what was budgeted for up to 2030 is in the billions. “We are talking here from four to nine billion euros for the purchase price of the necessary emission certificates.” If these certificates are not acquired and insufficient climate protection is implemented, there is a risk of breaches of contract in the form of fines.

Judges will decide in a few weeks

According to Proksch, the NGO had an institute calculate that damage of eight billion euros a year is already coming to Austria due to adjustment costs in the economy. “Each of us has to contribute about a thousand on average per year to the fact that we have not taken adequate measures to combat climate change.” There are also 5,000 premature deaths per year due to global warming, and there are also massive health problems, for example from fine dust.

The NGO assumes that the Constitutional Court will accept the lawsuit. In a few weeks it should be clear what the judges will decide.

25,000 euros collected via crowdfunding

The project was funded through a crowdfunding campaign. 25,000 euros could be collected. The campaign will run until the end of May in order to reach the target of EUR 32,000 so that those directly affected by planned construction projects can also be supported in further legal steps, said Wesemann. Around 60 people from all over Austria have contacted the NGO who are affected by new construction projects whose added value for the region is more than controversial. In addition, one is in contact with municipalities and citizens’ initiatives.

“Our global ecosystem does not only consist of air, there is a very strong interaction between all elements,” said meteorologist and climate researcher Helga Kromp-Kolb, who supports the project. “The soil is a very important factor in the climate discussion.” And the floor is very often overlooked. “It is an ecosystem. There are an incredible number of creatures living in this soil that we urgently need to preserve our nature, for the entire ecosystem,” explained the scientist.

“More sealing means more climate change”

Sealing is also a measure of how much carbon emissions a state has, and also a measure of how many resources are being used. “We live in a time when resources are becoming scarcer. More sealing means more resource consumption and more climate change. This is a connection that is often not seen.” A seal is incredibly durable. “Settlements are not torn down again within ten years. With the sealing, we put a stamp on the landscape that will last for a long, long time.”

The NGO received support from the NEOS with its lawsuit. “Natural space the size of eight soccer fields is still being destroyed in Austria – day after day after day. That hasn’t changed with the Greens in the federal government,” said the climate and environment spokesman for the opposition party, Michael Bernard. “The high land use is the biggest environmental disaster that we could deal with purely nationally – but the ÖVP and the Greens must finally take responsibility and do their homework. We need a federal framework law for spatial planning, a restriction of municipal competence and transparent, supra-regional infrastructure planning.”

Source: Nachrichten

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