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Austria Climate Resilience Policy Indicator

Part of Climate Resilience Policy Indicator

  • Austria’s average annual temperature has been rising more quickly than the world average, gaining 2°C since 1880. The number of hot days and tropical nights has increased significantly since the beginning of the 20th century, and the temperature is projected to increase further – to as much as 1-2°C higher in 2021-2050 than in 1971-2000 – while heatwaves become more common. Although energy demand for summer cooling is projected to increase, total energy consumption is unlikely to rise since lower energy use for heating should outweigh additional cooling demand.
  • Although different regional precipitation trends have emerged since the late 19th century, no clear trend in average precipitation is obvious. Nevertheless, average precipitation is likely to rise by the end of 21st century, with marked geographical and seasonal variations. Winter precipitation is projected to increase significantly (+30%) in northeastern Austria, with no significant change in summer precipitation. Extreme precipitation events have become more frequent, and associated floods and landslides could threaten Austria’s electricity supply security.
  •  The Austrian Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change and its action plan highlight energy sector climate resilience. Concrete actions are proposed, with detailed information on key actors, potential conflicts, research needs and an implementation timeline. Austria’s national energy plans also describe how the national government supports research programmes and assists local and regional governments in implementing adaptation and resilience measures, creating a clear link between climate and energy policies.

Level of floods, drought and tropical cyclones in Austria, 2000-2020

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Level of warming in Austria, 2000-2020

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Temperature

Austria’s temperature has risen roughly 2°C since 1880, twice as much as the global average. Regarding seasonal variations, spring and winter temperature increases have been the most marked, with autumn averages rising more slowly. The average numbers of hot days with temperatures of over 30°C and of tropical nights with lows above 20°C have increased significantly since 1900, especially in southeastern Austria.

For instance, tropical nights increased from one to two per year at the beginning of the century to over six per year in 1991-2019, including 23 in 2015 and 15 in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of cold days with a maximum temperature below -5°C has decreased since the middle of the 20th century.

Austria’s temperature is likely to continue increasing in upcoming decades. Under a high greenhouse gas concentration scenario,1 the average temperature could be up to 1-2°C higher in 2021-2050 than in 1971-2000, and 3.3-5.3°C higher in 2071-2100. Eleven more summer days and 4.3 more hot days per year are expected during 2021-2050, while there could be up to 8.7 more heatwave days2 by the end of the century than in 1971-2000.

According to the Austrian Assessment Report Climate Change 2014 and the Austrian strategy for adaptation to climate change (2017), energy infrastructure – particularly for electricity transmission and distribution – is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. More frequent heatwaves and changes in extreme precipitation events could damage energy infrastructure and lead to power outages.

Because higher temperatures are lowering the number of heating degree days (HDDs) and increasing cooling degree days (CDDs), energy demand for cooling during the summer and at altitudes of less than 1 000 m is rising. This increase is unlikely raise total energy consumption, however, because the reduction for heating will likely outweigh additional summer cooling demand.

Temperature in Austria, 2000-2020

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Cooling degree days in Austria, 2000-2020

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Heating degree days in Austria, 2000-2020

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Precipitation

Precipitation patterns in the 20th century show strong geographical and seasonal variations. While western Austria’s precipitation has increased 10-15% since the 1850s, the southeastern area is receiving 10‑15% less.

Severe or extreme precipitation has become more frequent, while low- to medium-intensity precipitation events now occur less often. The probable intensification of extreme precipitation events and their associated floods and landslides are a potential threat to electricity supply security. During severe storms in October-November 2018, heavy rains and strong winds caused flooding, mudslides and power outages in the Alps-Adriatic region, and high water levels in Carinthian villages led to power outages for up to 10 000 households. The heavy rains also raised the level of the Drava, a river that traverses Austria’s Tyrol and Carinthia regions, ultimately causing the St. Martin-Rosegg power station’s retaining wall to collapse, reducing the station’s output.

Annual precipitation is projected to be up to 8.7% higher in 2071-2100 than in 1971-2000,3 with winter precipitation significantly higher (+30%) in northeastern Austria4 while summer precipitation being relatively unchanged. Seasonal shifts in runoff patterns will persist in upcoming decades, with a decrease in the summer (particularly in southern Austria due to higher evaporation) and an increase in the winter owing to earlier snowmelt. Given that electricity demand is higher in the winter, greater winter runoff could boost electricity generation from Austria’s hydropower plants.

Tropical cyclones and storms5

Although Austria’s number of storms has not increased in the past 130 years, climate projections for central and northern Europe anticipate greater storm frequency and intensity during the 21st century, and Austria’s average wind speed for December through February is expected to increase slightly. In August 2020, storms damaged more than 230 transformers in Styria and left 16 000 households without electricity for several hours.

Austria has emphasised the importance of energy sector climate resilience to adapt to climate change. Its 2014 Climate Change Assessment Report (AAR14) and the 2017 Austrian Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change as well as its action plan have sections dedicated to energy sector adaptation and resilience.

The AAR14 mentions the energy sector throughout the report in relation to climate change drivers and impacts, environmental and societal implications, and mitigation and adaptation. It provides detailed information on energy sector vulnerabilities and possible climate impacts while suggesting adaptation measures across the entire energy sector value chain.

The Austrian Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change and its action plan propose concrete actions for energy sector climate resilience, with a particular focus on electricity. Recommended measures include optimising network infrastructure; promoting decentralised energy production and feed-in; enlarging research on potential energy storage methods; stabilising the transport and distribution network through appropriate climate-adapted system planning; reducing internal loads in the summer by curbing electricity consumption and raising energy efficiency; and assessing the impact of climate change on energy demand and supply. The action plan also identifies key actors, potential conflicts, research needs and time frames for implementation.

Austria has supported research programmes and assisted local and regional governments in implementing resilience and adaptation measures. Moreover, the COIN (Cost of Inaction: Assessing the Costs of Climate Change for Austria) project, funded by the Austrian Climate Research Programme, assesses the economic impact of climate change on Austria’s energy and electricity sector by analysing future heating, cooling and electricity supply costs.

The KLAR! Climate Change Adaptation Model Regions for Austria programme also helps regions enhance their climate resilience in vulnerable sectors. Launched in 2016, the programme is currently helping 601 municipalities (with more than 1.6 million inhabitants) develop and implement climate resilience adaptation measures. Concrete support materials have been developed, such as CLIMA-MAP, which uses maps to illustrate climate change impacts in Austria’s municipalities and regions.

Climate change adaptation and resilience efforts are well described in Austria’s national energy plans, creating a clear link between climate and energy policies. The National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) and the Austrian Climate and Energy Strategy both mention the Austrian Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change, recognising the overlaps between climate change adaptation and climate action in the energy sector. These energy plans do not, however, offer a detailed list of actions and an implementation plan for adaptation and resilience, but other prioritised issues (e.g. decarbonisation, research and innovation) are backed by concrete actions.

References
  1. Based on the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 scenario.

  2. Based on the RCP 8.5 scenario.

  3. Under the RCP 8.5 scenario.

  4. By 2071-2100, compared with 1971-2000 under the RCP 8.5 scenario.

  5. Storm indicates any disturbed state of the atmosphere, strongly implying destructive and unpleasant weather. Storms range in scale. Tropical cyclone is the general term for a strong, cyclonic-scale disturbance that originates over tropical oceans. In this article, we used these general terms, tropical cyclones and storms, but those can be divided into different categories in detail. A tropical storm is a tropical cyclone with one-minute average surface winds between 18 and 32 m/s. Beyond 32 m/s, a tropical cyclone is called hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone depending on the geographic location. Hurricanes refer to the high intensity cyclones that form in the south Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific; typhoons in the northwest Pacific; and the more general term cyclone in the South Pacific and Indian ocean.