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Stakeholder meeting in Austria: a report

The Stakeholder Meeting took place in Vienna on 16th February 2016, between 2.00 pm and 6.00pm, at the Aula (altes AKH) of the University of Vienna. The meeting was organized by the SEFIRA project partner from Vienna. The meeting was attended by 25 stakeholders, including representatives of civil society organizations, the Federal Environment Agency, Austrian Energy Agency, public administration in charge of policy implementation, monitoring and quality control, politicians from the federal level in Austria, scientists from research institutes and institutions of higher education involved in the issue of air pollution, representatives of non-government organizations, medical doctors and independent experts.

The topic of the Stakeholder Meeting was “Air Quality: Between Expertise, Policies and Every-Day Behaviours”. The meeting addressed Vienna’s air quality and the first results of the SEFIRA survey (16.000 inverviews). Another important objective of the meeting was to provide a forum for different stakeholders to present their own views and opinions about air quality policy but also to share scientific and technical questions.

The first presentation was held by Prof. Michaela Maione who gave an overview of the SEFIRA project, its aims and the importance of exploring the socio-economic dimension in order to understand the acceptability of air quality policies. She also addressed the main issues that emerged since the previous meetings. In addition, she invited the Stakeholders to join the SEFIRA final conference at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels on the 20th of April 2016.

The second presentation was given by Dr. Markus Amann, the Program Director of the Mitigation of Air Pollution & Greenhouse Gases Program and co-leader of IIASA’s Greenhouse Gas Initiative. He highlighted the different sources of total PM2.5 emissions in Austria, especially in Vienna and Graz, which are more than 100% higher than the WHO guidelines (10µg/m3). He showed that in Austria sources of air pollution are mainly coming from the industrial sector, agriculture and private households. Dr. Markus Amann emphasized that a high degree of particulate matter pollution comes from Austria’s neighbouring countries and that it is important to collaborate on the international level in order to achieve sustainable clear air.

Prof. Martin Williams from King’s College London held the third presentation on “The challenges for policy makers and practitioners”. He explained that over the past decades, there has been a failure of regulation on air quality policies and that research highlighted this in the last 4-5 years. With reference to the Volkswagen emission scandal, Prof. Martin Williams illustrated two methods used to acquire information on car emissions in real-world driving, namely PEMS (Portable Equipment Measurement System) and remote sensing that has not been used in official emission tests (which are taking place in laboratories). The on-road emission results showed that only one vehicle actually was below the formal emission thresholds. The results from ICCT unveiled the Volkswagen emission manipulation.

The last presentation was given by Prof. Yuri Kazepov on the preliminary results from the SEFIRA survey. He showed that in 2014 – compared to 2004 – air pollution has risen to be the most important environmental concern in the seven SEFIRA countries. SEFIRA data, however, shows that there is an extremely high discrepancy between perceived and actual impact of different sectors on air pollution. Industry and transportation are overestimated and agriculture and domestic behavior are by far underestimated (see table). This discrepancy is a key issue that needs some more in-depth explanation. Moreover, individuals’ awareness and perception of own responsibility to act environmentally friendly is unevenly distributed in the SEFIRA countries. For instance, in Austria only 19,22% agreed to the statement The decision to adopt an environmentally friendly behaviour is not up to me, whereas in Belgium 30,30% agreed to this statement. Also, some socio-economic differences of the willingness to pay for policy drivers for Austrian people where stressed. For example, the willingness to pay to avoid a reduction of mobility is 40% higher for males then for women in Austria.

Following the presentations, two roundtable discussions were organized to have not only the Stakeholders’ feedback, but also hear their concerns and priorities. The participants commented on some presented topics and had the chance to share their own experiences. Both working groups addressed the knowledge discrepancy in the different roles of pollutants affecting air quality. The participants agreed that the media representation of crises and scandals might bring public opinion to overestimate the role of sources like industry, compared to other sources. Lobby groups may also play a crucial role to underestimated pollution (e.g. agriculture and farming, or transportation). Mobility habits are a key contributor to the pollutants in urban environments; nonetheless – as participants to the working group agreed – this does not match with a perception of self-responsibility. From these comments, participants started to consider some alternative solutions in order to both raise awareness and foster an active change in behaviour. Lifelong learning and early education, starting at the kindergarten and the socialization at home, plays an important role in order to stress environmental issues, improve air quality and support sustainable mobility and eating behaviour. Also, communicating correct information to no-experts is a key issue and was mentioned in both groups. It was exemplified that the effectiveness to accept a policy or to change individual behaviour depends also on the “translation” of technical/chemical terms on air quality to a simple language in order to address as many people as possible. Labelling policies and producing “coolness” (e.g. car sharing, biking etc.) may also increase the acceptability to change behaviour.

Another aspect that has been discussed in the working groups was the importance of a “feedback loop” after a policy is introduced. It allows to evaluate the effect of a policy, its impact on a target group and to have an institutional learning progress also within the political arena.

To conclude, the meeting fully met its initial objectives: The current issues were identified and the various stakeholders had an opportunity to share their visions and ideas regarding the air quality policies.


Presentations in PDF


SEFIRA GA Vienna Feb 2016


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Socio Economic implications For Individual Responses to Air Pollution policies in EU +27

SEFIRA has the objective of creating a European coordination of transdisciplinary scientific and socio-economic resources in order to support the review and implementation of air quality legislation by the European Commission (EC) led by DG Environment. SEFIRA will coordinate some of the best scientific and socio-economic resources and will review air quality policies and legislation at the interface between environmental, economic and social sciences in order to achieve a deeper understanding of these complex issues. The main fields involved in the action will be atmospheric sciences, environmental and legal sociology, anthropology, geography and economics.