Austrian ministry announces plan for a speedy Energy Transition

The legal basis for the construction of renewable energy plants varies considerably between Austria’s federal provinces. While in some provinces, suitable zones have already been examined and designated, energy planning is completely lacking in others. The Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action now proposes that a separate dedication should no longer be necessary if no such planning has been done by the federal province. The suitability of the area should then be examined solely in the course of an EIA procedure, thus eliminating the need for multiple examinations. If there is an energy spatial plan with designated zones, a separate dedication should also no longer be necessary in these zones. The positive examples, such as the zoning for wind power in Styria from 2014, show how it can be done. It is also crucial to ensure public participation in the preparation of these plans, for which the Strategic Environmental Assessment provides the necessary legal framework. Additionally, overriding public interest for energy transition projects is also projected to be implemented. This step was criticised by some NGOs for its potential conflict with biodiversity arguments in vulnerable zones like pristine mountain rivers.

Aarhus Community elects UN Special Rapporteur for the Protection of the Environmental Defenders

At an extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention in June 2022, a Special Rapporteur for Environmental Defenders was elected unanimously. This is the next step to implement the so-called “Rapid Response Mechanism” (RRM) for environmental activists who have come under pressure. Whether it is because of persecution by public institutions, lawsuits or threats by public authorities or private companies, the RRM is intended to serve as a point of contact for all members of the public affected. According to article 3 (8), Parties shall ensure that persons exercising their rights in accordance with the Aarhus Convention are not punished, persecuted, or harassed in any way for doing so. Despite this obligation, numerous cases are known within Europe, in which entities try to hinder environmental defenders through strategic lawsuits or other threats from taking action. For these cases, the usual complaint mechanism before the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) has proven to be too slow. The newly created mechanism is intended to counteract this. Complaints to the Special Rapporteur can relate to acts or omissions by government agencies, private companies, and individuals. Complaints may be submitted by those affected by such acts or omissions, as well as other members of the public who wish to act on their behalf. Parties to the Convention or the Aarhus Secretariat may also address the Rapporteur by means of a complaint.