Environmental protection has become a more and more important social and economic issue in Austria. Conservation measures are formulated not only by the federal but also by the state and municipal authorities; in part because of the sheer complexity of the problems involved, and in part because historical precedent has determined that public responsibilities are allocated among various public authorities.
The amounts invested in Austria in environmental protection are substantial. In 1997 they totalled 45 billion Austrian schillings or 2.8 per cent of the countrys gross domestic product.
By European standards, Austria upholds very stringent regulations in the fields of waste disposal, chemicals and air pollution from furnaces. The maximum permissible limits for air pollutants are within the same range as those in force in, for instance, the United States, Japan, Germany and Switzerland. Biological considerations are playing an increasingly important role in Austria's agriculture, and the regulations governing the use of pesticides and fertilisers are very strict.
The Federal Government has recently passed an Environment Information Act that provides for greater public access to environment-related data. The Environmental Compatibility Control Act takes account of public concerns regarding health and the environment.
Several targeted programmes have been carried out to raise the quality of the water in Austria's lakes to a very high level. Priority has been attached to safeguarding and improving the protective function of the forests - a key factor in a country as mountainous as Austria. On the latter issue the Agriculture Ministry and the federal states have drawn up a national protective forest plan. The Federal Forestry Commission will supplement this plan with its own package of measures to constitute a comprehensive programme.