Global Issues: Austria & Czech Republic/Sustainable Development
This chapter looks at sustainable development and environmental degradation in the countries of Austria and the Czech Republic. The sources for this chapter include government reports, government databases, personal experiences from ten days of travel within the region, news articles, information provided by non-governmental organizations (NGO's), and international inter-governmental organizations (IGO's). Some of the various topics that will be explored relating to Austria and the Czech Republic will be land development, transportation, energy usage, industrial development, water quality and the importance of the Danube River. Also how a planned system of growth has provided a high quality of life rating for cities like Vienna, Austria.
One of the key factors while looking at sustainable development and environmental degradation within any country is the size of the population and the size of the country in square kilometers in relation to how quickly the annual population growth rate is expanding. This mathematical formula contributes greatly to the understanding of the urgency of sustainable development and its ultimate success or failure. It is important to understand the global implications of a world population which as of June 24, 2010, according to the US Census Bureau was estimated at 6,829,330,046. With a global population soon to exceed the 7 billion mark, it is crucial that we develop strategies that are effective in creating an environment where humans can flourish and the planet's resources are not destroyed. By studying Austria and the Czech Republic and their actions or lack of action, we can learn from some of their initiatives in trying to create a more sustainable way of life globablly.
The Czech Republic has an estimated population of 10.3 million people within its 78,864 square kilometer borders (roughly the size of the State of Virginia in the US) and has an annual population growth rate of just 0.1%, according to the US Department of State. The largest city in the Czech Republic is Prague, its capital city with a population of approximately 1.21 million people. Austria, by comparison, is slightly larger in terms of size in square kilometers; however, has a lower population of 8,332,000, and a higher annual population growth rate of 0.4%. Austria's largest city is Vienna, the capital city with a population of 1.68 million people, according to the US Department of State. Both countries have a fairly modest population growth rate, which combined with a heightened public awareness of sustainable development, provides a much brighter future for the region than the rapid urbanization that is taking place in many still developing countries.
The other part of the sustainable development formula besides population growth is land usage. The Czech Republic launched the National Strategic Rural Development Plan in 2007 with its goals being to stabilize rural populations and improve quality of life in rural towns. 73.6% of the total area of the Czech Republic falls under the category of rural land, while about one quarter of the population reside in these areas. The Czech Government realizing one of the greatest risks to rural development is the loss of young people who tend to migrate toward urban areas where jobs have traditionally been available has funded programs to open opportunities for young people in rural areas. In terms of agricultrual land development, about half the country is utilized for this purpose with the size of agricultrual land decreasing every year. Forested lands surprisingly are on the increase in the Czech Republic with approximately one third falling under this land use category.
Industrial development in the Czech Republic has soared since the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989 and the freedom that followed many years of communist planned economies. At one point in the Czech Republics free market embrace it was the fastest growing economy in Europe and one of the worlds most dynamic economies only lagging behind China and South Korea in terms of expansion. This became somewhat of a double edged sword with growth on one side and all of the social and environmental issues on the other. It seems as though rapid expansion and all of the issues that go along with being a magnet country in Europe have lessened to a degree as the worlds economies have slowed.
In urban areas of the Czech Republic and Austria, one of the things that struck me, while in the region, was how well a balance has been found between development and preservation of cultural heritage. Both countries capital cities of Prague and Vienna enjoy listings as world heritage sites in their historical city centers. Recognition by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers these sites as having a universal value that transcends borders. It has been a fine line between development and preservation that Austria and the Czech Republic have found in their city centers, adding to the draw of many international visitors. Many of the historical features of the city centers have been preserved while adding into the modern fabric of these cities infrastructure for transportation, communication, and energy delivery. City planning has been a tradition for many years in both countries, with an excellent example in Austria being the historic "Ringstrasse", which began implementation in 1858. These cultural heritage sites represent many forms of architectural design, including Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, Neo-Classical, and Art Nouveau almost all well preserved.
Another great example of well planned sustainability in Vienna is how well green areas are worked into the cities design. The "Weinerwald" or the Vienna Woods is a huge track of open space preserved for outdoor recreations, measuring 1,250 square kilometers. This green area within the city consists of forest, vineyards, hiking trails, and bike paths. The "Prater" is another type of park worked into Vienna's cultural fabric and is an easy retreat with many family attractions, including arcades, a giant ferris wheel, and "beirgartens". The "Volksgarten" or "peoples garden" is a third type of park within Vienna, much smaller in size but set aside for residents and visitors to relax among thousands of rose bushes. On a typical day you might find people reading a book, relaxing, or just enjoying an opportunity to get away from typical city life for a moment. One interesting green initiative was launched in 2006 called the Austrian National Cycling Strategy, which seeks to increase the use of bicycles as a means of transportation in Austria from 5% to 10% by the year 2015.
The Czech Republic on December 8, 2004 implemented the Sustainable Development Strategy. One of the key objectives focused on transportation of people and products. The objectives laid out in this Government Resolution 1242 were: " create conditions for ensuring a quality transport with focus on its economic, social and environmental impacts within the framework of sustainable development principles, and lay realistic foundations to initiate changes in proportions among individual transport modes." The Resolution called for improving railway systems through technological upgrades mainly by modernizing existing systems, improving and promoting water transportation corridors, as well as several initiatives to reduce harmful emissions. Besides the bycycle transport initiative the Czech Government introduced a tax system that penalizes fuels that lead to pollution and promote clean energy usage that benefits the environment.
Transportation planning in Vienna and Prague is based upon the principle that if clean, efficient, and well organized systems of Trams, buses, and subways are offered as an alternative to private vehicles there will be a long term sustainable benefit. One of the many promoting factors of using public transportation in Vienna and Prague is that one ticket allows access to buses, subways, and trolleys. In Vienna for example, which has one of the most efficient transportation systems in the world 35% of city trips are taken through public transportation versus 32% by automobile. Austria has increased public transportation usage outside of city centers as well with higher percentage growth in the use of rail and bus lines for holiday travel.
The Austrian Transport Master Plan focused on more sustainable practices and called for spending of 45.000 million euros with a 2/3 share dedicated to railway infrastructure while 1/3 share set aside for traditional road work. Austria similarly to The Czech Republic has instituted a tax structure that rewards green initiatives and penalizes CO2 emission polluters. One interesting initiative samples air quality from monitored stations and when levels of emissions are high the speed limit for autos can be lowered to reduce output of CO2 gases. Public awareness of green issues are supported by a National Car Free Day which has become one of the most successful public awareness campaigns in Austria.
Interconnected with the issue of transportation is the topic of energy usage in a sustainable economy. The Czech Republic has pushed for a complete overhaul of its energy sector while overcoming two unique hurdles to its economy. First, the country moved from a communist regime that planned all aspects of its economy, to a free market economy all in the last twenty years. The Czech Republic has also had to overcome its separation from Slovakia in the early 1990's. The Government has put forward its three E's of its energy future 1) Energy security 2) Economic growth 3)Environmental sutainability. The Czech Republic currently draws half of its energy needs from domestic sources of which coal provides the largest share at 40% of domestic output. The second largest sector is natural gas at 22% with nuclear power providing 17% with a new reactor Temlin having been brought online in 2003. The Czech Republic is now able to export electricity through its nuclear facilities and shows a promising trend for its economic growth. Part of the energy sectors transformation has been to close some out dated coal fired power plants and replace them with more modern and cleaner facilities. The Czech energy transformation has been further spurred on by participation in The European Union and has set goals for reform in line with EU standards. Currently, the goal for 2010 is to achieve 8% of Czech energy requirements from renewable sources.
Austria has stressed "eco-friendly" initiatives for many years however recently a European Commission study released information that Austria is one of the least effective countries in reducing green house gas emissions. The study detailed that Austria was unable to reduce its CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2008, it actually increased emissions by 9.6%. Only Spain and Luxemborg were bigger polluters percentage wise, in the EU then Austria and according to the Kyoto Agreement were supposed to reduce emissions by 13%. Green jobs in Austria are a popular issue with The Government investing 760 million Euros in a sustainable future. Austria has set a much higher bar than the Czech Republic in terms of renwable energy with goals of 34% by the year 2020. "Eco-taxes" are slated to be the engine in the push for sustainable and renewable energy sources.
Water Quality/The Importance Of The Danube River
The Danube River is Europes lifeline with 83 million people in ten countries enjoying its benefits. The European Commission "recognizes the Danube as the single most important non-oceanic body of water in Europe." Many of Europes most ecologically important areas rely on the Danube. In Austria, the Danube provides a source of clean drinking water, a clean source of water to irragate crops, an alternative transportation system, a habitat for dynamic bio-diversity, and an area for many types of recreation. In the last thirty years special emphisis has been placed on conservation of the Danube. Many of the past conservation problems were created by the construction of dams and shipping channels which have cut off drainage routes and creating major problems with flooding in cities like Vienna.
The Danube was once known as the "Blue Danube" however much of its length has now been turned brown because of poor engineering, deforestation, and farm pollutants. The main contributors to Danube pollution are 50% farm related, 25% industrial waste, and 25% human related waste. In Vienna as the Danube cuts through the city it is easy easy to spot some of the threats to Europes most vital lifeline. From a vantage point in the cities hills four sections of the Danube are discernable, the canal section, the old Danube section, the new Danube section, and the lake section which is completely cut off from its natural flow. Only the lake section retains its famous blue color, nevertheless many Viennese rely on the wealth of benefits provided by the Danube.
Quality Of Life
In a recently completed survey by Mercer (based in London,UK) of 221 world cities and their respective quality of life, found Vienna, Austria as the number one city to live. Among the many considerations factored into Vienna's top ranking were issues related to transportation, housing, air pollution, public utilities, cultural venues, drinking water, and economic conditions. Prague ranked a respectable 70th or in the top 1/3 of world cities. Many of the issues related to sustainable development and environmental degradation contributed to the positive results for Austria's and the Czech Republic's capital cities.
In conclusion, many of the key issues of sustainable development are interconnected and help to reinforce each other. For example, in Vienna by improving transportation systems, energy usage declines, air quality is improved, urban sprawl is reduced, traffic congestion is eased, and the overall quality of life is vastly improved for residents and visitors alike. Policies and awareness campaigns are most successful when a multi-faceted approach is taken towards sustainable development. The return on investment in a sustainable way of life ensures that for many generations to come the same high qualitity of life is possible beyond Vienna and Prague.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, National Report, Austria (2009). Retrieved June 24, 2010 from http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_aofw_ni/ni_natiinfo_austria.shtml
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, National Report, Czech Republic (2009). Retieved June 24, 2010 from http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_aofw_ni/ni_natiinfo_czechrepu.shtml
Austrian Times.at "Green Austria Red Faced Over EU Emissions Study". Retrieved June 24, 2010 from http://www.austriantimes.at/news/General_News/2010-06-02/23902/%27Green%27_Austria_red-faced_over_EU_emissions_study