Climate change impacts

Regional and seasonal changes in temperature and precipitation will directly and indirectly affect a number of sectors and areas. The following section briefly presents the expected future temperature- and precipitation-induced effects with respect to their importance for the areas for action considered in the Austrian Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change.

Within Austria, a variety of differing regional concerns are expected.

  • Agriculture and Forestry
  • Water Resources and Water Management
  • Tourism
  • Energy – Focus on the Electricity Industry
  • Construction and Housing
  • Health
  • Ecosystem/Biodiversity
  • Transportation Infrastructure
  • Business/Industry/Trade
  • Cities – Urban Green and Open Spaces

Agriculture and Forestry

  • Prolongation of the growing season
  • Shift in precipitation from the growing season to winter
    (regional differentiation is necessary here)
  • Decrease in frequency of precipitation during the summer months
  • Increase in the variability of precipitation in summer from year to year
  • Increase in the frequency of droughts
  • Heat damage to plants, especially in combination with drought
  • Probable decrease in groundwater supply and thereby increased water stress in southern and eastern Austria
  • Increase in potential evapotranspiration1 due to higher temperatures and longer growing seasons
  • Heat damage to plants and an increase in evapotranspiration may result in specific crops being abandoned in certain regions or overall. Increased risk of reduction in biodiversity
  • Changes in species composition, including new invasive species
  • Emergence of mutated and new invasive pests causing damage to plants and plant products
  • Emergence of new pathogens in animal husbandry
  • No authoritative conclusions as yet regarding the effects of extreme weather events, such as increased frequency of storms and hail or erosion due to heavy rainfall; for the effects of flooding, see the area for action “Water Resources and Water Management” (further research needed)
  • Changes in the physiological parameters of performance and quality for useful plants and crops due to changing patterns of precipitation and temperature conditions

1 Evapotranspiration: Totality of soil evaporation, plant transpiration, and evaporation from interception (retention of rainfall on the “surface”).

Water Resources and Water Management

  • Tendency to shift the risk of flooding into winter and spring in northern Austria; increase in heavy rainfall possible (thus far, not clearly documented); a possible increase in local heavy precipitation of short duration is also discussed
  • Increase in evaporation
  • Decrease in precipitation in the form of snow and in the duration of snow cover; earlier onset of melting of snow
  • Increase in precipitation in winter (especially in the north), decrease in summer rainfall
  • Increased runoff in winter (with the exception of the south), decrease in summer runoff (varies by region)
  • Continuation of glacial retreat; runoff from glacier melt should reach a maximum in 2040–2050
  • Increase in low-water runoff in the Alps in winter, possible reduction in the lowlands in late summer/autumn
  • General increase in low-water runoff in winter, decrease in summer
  • Increase in water temperatures (surface water – especially in summer – as well as groundwater)
  • Locally, the bed load potential in areas of permafrost may increase; from a regional perspective, the increase could be rather small for large discharge systems
  • In southern and eastern Austria, a decrease in groundwater recharge is likely; in northern and western Austria, groundwater recharge could increase
  • Due to the potential increase in evaporation and the decrease in summer precipitation, a reduction in spring discharges from near-surface springs cannot be excluded
  • Possible reduced dilution potential in surface waters in south-eastern Austria could lead to raised concentrations of substances
  • Higher temperatures will lead to changes in aquatic biocenoses, altering the bioregions
  • On a small scale, existing bottlenecks in water supply in areas with unfavourable water resources could worsen

Tourism

  • Increase in annual mean temperatures (year-round tourism)
  • Changes in precipitation and its seasonal distribution: a decrease in the frequency of precipitation during summer months and an increase in winter months
  • Decrease in snowfall in lower and middle elevations; reduced certainty of snow
  • Decrease in ice and frost days
  • Increase in the number of days without continuous snow cover in the mountains
  • Thawing of permafrost may lead to instability in infrastructural facilities and to a risk of rock falls
  • Glacial retreat will affect the landscape
  • Possible increased pressure on glaciers due to worsening conditions in ski areas at lower elevations
  • Increase in water temperatures (longer season for swimming outdoors)
  • Possible adverse effects on water quality in lakes (e.g., due to algae) at higher temperatures
  • Relative climatic advantage of Alpine region in summer in comparison to Mediterranean destinations
  • More severe heat waves and an increase in the number of hot days (over 30°C) in summer (e.g., city tourism – escape from urban regions into the surrounding areas)
  • Loss of biodiversity (flora and fauna) resulting in changes in the natural scenery

Energy – Focus on the Electricity Industry

  • Increase in low-water runoff in winter and earlier beginning of snow melt
  • In pre-Alp waters: increased occurrence of low-water periods in summer and autumn
  • In Alpine waters: potentially longer low-water periods in late summer; in glacial areas, summer and autumn flows could even increase in the short to medium term as glacial melting contributes to the runoff. In the long term, however, the accelerated retreat of the glaciers is expected to result in decreasing water supply
  • Increase in water temperatures, above all during dry periods in summer
  • Retreat of glaciers and permafrost and thus increased areas of glacial till
  • Potential changes in wind conditions
  • Potential changes in solar radiation
  • Potential changes in the supply of biogenic materials for energy production
  • Decrease in energy consumption for heating and increase in energy demand for cooling; changes in the number of heating and cooling degree days
  • Potential changes in the supply of renewable energy sources (e.g., wind energy, solar energy, biomass)

Construction and Housing

  • Increasing average temperatures and maximum temperatures
  • Increased incidence of heat waves leading to an increase in heat stress; especially in urban areas, intensification of the heat-island effect is expected
  • Increase in temperature-related physical demands on buildings
  • Increase in night-time minimum temperatures of over 20°C
  • Regional differences in increases in intensity of precipitation
  • Shift of flood risk into winter and spring (note that a general prediction regarding changes in flood risk for all of Austria is currently not possible)
  • Increased snow loads are to be expected at higher elevations and cannot be excluded for lower and middle elevations due to increasing climate variability
  • Currently, no robust conclusions can be drawn regarding extreme weather events such as storm and hail frequency (further research needed)
  • Regionally variable increases in heavy precipitation and the thawing of permafrost in Alpine regions may lead to increased mud flow, rock slides, rock falls, landslides, and (in winter) avalanches
  • Increased risk of forest fires and wildfires due to heat waves

Health

  • Increased incidence of heat waves leading to an increase in heat stress; especially in urban areas, the intensification of the heat-island effect is to be expected
  • New record high temperatures in low-lying areas of Austria
  • Increase in night-time minimum temperatures of over 20°C, particularly during hot spells
  • Increase in thermophysical burden on hot days and during heat waves
  • Increase in the mortality rate during heat waves, especially for high-risk groups
  • Possible performance impairment on hot days and during heat waves
  • Changes in the dispersion and transmission conditions of vectors and pathogens
  • Potentially wider dispersion of allergenic plants and animals
  • Robust predictions regarding the increase in extreme weather events (such as frequent storms and hail, heavy rainfall, and flooding) are currently not possible. Higher frequency of extreme events would raise the risk of spills, injuries, permanent disability, and fatal casualties
  • Secondary health effects of extreme weather events potentially include stress and psychological disorders, as well as mould and mildew in living spaces due to water damage
  • Summertime high-pressure fronts may contribute to the accumulation of air pollutants
  • Higher temperatures can favour the growth of microorganisms in food and thereby lead to an increase in food-borne infections
  • Possible bacteriological contamination of drinking water due to an increase in water temperatures

Ecosystem/Biodiversity

  • Increase in annual mean temperatures
  • Higher temperatures lead directly to a lengthened growing season and thus to an earlier beginning and a later end of plant transpiration
  • Increase in the frequency of droughts
  • Changes in the amount of precipitation and its seasonal distribution: a decrease in the frequency of precipitation during summer months and an increase in winter months (regional differentiation is required)
  • Heat stress in plants, especially in combination with droughts
  • Probable decrease in groundwater supply and thereby increased drought stress in southern and eastern Austria
  • Increased risk of reduction in biodiversity
  • Changes in species composition
  • Decrease in amount of snow in lower and middle elevations; reduced certainty of snow
  • Decrease in ice and frost days
  • Increase in water temperatures, above all during summertime droughts
  • Shifts in area boundaries along elevation and moisture gradients
  • Changes in species composition in biotic communities and biotopes
  • Loss of habitats and species
  • Spread of new invasive species (alien species)

Transportation Infrastructure

  • Increased heat stress can result in damage to materials and structures, as well as the deformation of pavement and rail infrastructure (road and rail buckling)
  • During heat waves, there is a higher risk of failure for electronic equipment (signal systems)
  • Changes in the amount of precipitation and its seasonal distribution: a decrease in the frequency of precipitation during summer months and an increase in the winter
  • Tendency for flood risk to shift to winter and spring in northern Austria
  • Increased runoff in winter (with the exception of the south), decreased runoff in summer (variable by region)
  • Potential increase in heavy precipitation (thus far not clearly documented); a possible increase in local heavy precipitation of short duration is also discussed
  • Heavy precipitation can result in drainage system overloads and the flooding of underpasses
  • Erosion and washouts may threaten the stability of railroad embankments and road beds
  • Increasing risk of mass movements (landslides, mud flows)
  • Decrease in precipitation in the form of snow and in the duration of snow cover;
    earlier onset of snow melt
  • Decrease in the amount of snow in lower and middle elevations; reduced certainty of snow
  • Increase in the amount of snow at elevations above 1800 m, potentially accompanied by a higher risk of avalanches in certain regions
  • Increase in the number of days without continuous snow cover in the mountains
  • Decrease in ice and frost days
  • Thawing of permafrost can lead to instability in infrastructural facilities and increase the risk of rock falls
  • Robust predictions regarding storms are currently impossible; storms can cause damage to electronic infrastructure

Business/Industry/Trade

  • Higher temperatures and heat waves increase the cooling requirements for the storage and transport of various products
  • Higher temperatures and heat waves affect working conditions (decline in productivity, endangerment of worker health and safety)
  • Changes in consumer behaviour due to rising temperatures and longer hot spells
    (e.g., beverage consumption)
  • Decrease in the availability of cooling water during heat waves/droughts can affect
    cooling-intensive production as well as power generation
  • Potential changes in the availability of raw materials and intermediate products due to changes in temperature and precipitation conditions can have an impact on the entire value chain
  • Regional differences in water supply resulting from changes in the amount of precipitation and its seasonal distribution: a decrease in the frequency of precipitation during summer months and an increase in winter months
  • Potential increase in extreme events and extreme weather conditions can cause massive damage to operational infrastructure and production processes (risk of liquidity crises for enterprises and insurers)
  • Precipitation- and temperature-induced extreme weather events (storms, hail, floods and landslides, heat waves in combination with droughts) can lead to bottlenecks in power generation and thereby interfere with production or result in production downtime
  • Impacts on internal logistics due to more frequent extreme weather events, impairment of transportation and storage infrastructure
  • Through globalization, both the supply for production in Austria and the sales of Austrian products will be influenced by climate effects in other regions of the world
  • Both climate protection requirements and climate change can result in innovations in products and processes – for example, innovations in the insulation industry, in the development of coolants and new building materials, in renewable energy, or in terms of flood protection, slope stability measures, and other forms of adaptation

Cities – Urban Green and Open Spaces

  • Increased incidence of heat waves leading to an increase in heat stress; especially for urban areas, the intensification of the heat-island effect is expected
  • Increase in thermal extremes and new record high temperatures in low-lying areas of Austria
  • Increase in night-time minimum temperatures of over 20°C, particularly during hot spells
  • Increase in thermophysical load on hot days and during hot spells
  • Increase in the mortality rate during heat waves, especially for high-risk groups
  • Potential performance impairment on hot days and during heat waves
  • Reinforcement of the thermal urban climate effect through an increase in power demand during heat waves (increase in the use of air conditioning)
  • Summertime high-pressure fronts may contribute to the accumulation of air pollutants
  • Shift of flood risk to winter and spring (more general predictions regarding changes in flood risk for all of Austria are currently not possible)
  • Changes in the amount of precipitation and its seasonal distribution: a decrease in the frequency of precipitation during summer months and an increase in winter months
  • More frequent summer thunderstorms and heavy rainfalls with heavy peak rainfall flows
  • Robust predictions regarding storms are currently impossible; storms can cause damage to electronic infrastructure
  • Changes in urban flora and fauna and the spread of thermophile plant and animal species, especially invasive alien species
  • Decrease in the evaporation capacity of vegetation
  • Lengthening of the growing season
  • Increased vulnerability of vegetation during dry periods or droughts