Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘ENDS Europe’

Iceland now has a Left-Green Prime Minister

Katrin Jakobsdottir, leader of Iceland’s Left-Green party, has become Iceland’s latest Prime Minister (within the last two years there have been four of them). Unfortunately, although she initially began discussions about forming a government with the Pirates, Social Democrats and the centre Progressive Party, the latter opted out at the last minute and so she started discussions with the PP and the Left-Greens’ “arch enemy” – Bjarni Ben’s Independent Party – much to the disgruntlement of many Left-Green voters and two L-G politicians. The Left-Greens demanded that Katrín would be made Prime Minister, even though normally BB would have become PM because his party got the most seats.

Surprisingly, those discussions have resulted in a government and they produced a manifesto yesterday (in Icelandic) outlining their plans. Environmental issues rank highly, and they may well establish a national park in the central highlands. The Icelandic Environment Association has been pushing for this for a few years, and the managing director of the NGO has now been made environment minister (the French environment minister also has a background in environmental actions). That’s a good move.

Katrin promises a new way of working so we’ll see what happens. Unfortunately, we have the same Minister of Justice, who was very unpopular in the last government. BB is Finance Minister, and elements of his party’s policies can be seen in the manifesto. Otherwise, it is thought that the Left-Greens and PP have left a definite mark on the agreement, so you never know….

This is what I wrote for ENDS Europe today:

Iceland plans to raise carbon taxes by 50% immediately as part of a raft of new environmental measures announced by the country’s incoming government on Thursday.

The measure, outlined in an agreement between the parties of the coalition government, follows a commitment by the previous government in the draft budget for 2018, which noted that the country’s current carbon tax is generally considered low in comparison to that of other Nordic countries.

The tax will apply to petrol, diesel, fuel oil and associated transport fuels. After the initial doubling, the carbon taxes will be increased in the following years in line with the country’s climate change action plan.

The coalition government – formed by the Left-Greens’ Katrin Jakobsdottir with the centre-right Independence Party and the populist Progressive Party – intends to take measures to develop a bioeconomy, using incentives to reduce the environmental impact of food production. Organic production, which is currently low in Iceland, will be strengthened, according to the agreement.

Despite the black picture depicted by the National Audit Office and the Institute of Economic Studies earlier this year, Iceland now aims to go further than the goals of the Paris Agreement and become carbon-neutral by 2040 at the latest.

The agreement states that all the government’s major programmes will be evaluated in terms of climate change objectives, and a climate change board will be set up. The coalition parties also aim to ban the use of heavy fuel oil in shipping in Iceland’s economic area and to support international agreements on marine protection.

Instead of building new power plants, which is always controversial in Iceland, the existing distribution network will be improved to better utilise existing energy production. New legislation will be implemented regarding wind turbines.

The government intends to tackle the problem of single-use plastic waste, with emphasis on preventive measures and the removal of plastic waste from both land and sea.

Legislation on protection, conservation and hunting of wild birds and mammals will also be reviewed. As Iceland is not a member of the EU, it has not implemented the Habitats or Birds Directives.

The new environment minister, Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, was the managing director of the Icelandic environment association Landvernd until his appointment on Thursday. He is a biologist by training.

No one really expects this government to last the full four years either, and political analysts say that a 3-party coalition has never lasted out. But it’s an experiment.

Colossal increase in greenhouse gases in Iceland

The emission of greenhouse gases in Iceland rose by 26% between 1990 and 2015 and amounted to 4.6 million tonnes in 2014. At the same time, there was a 24% decrease for the same time period in the EU as a whole. On a per capita basis, this is equivalent to 14 tonnes of CO2 equivalents compared to 7.4 tonnes for the EU. According to a detailed report published in Icelandic by the Institute of Economic Studies last month, emissions could increase by 53-99% by 2030 or by 33-79%, if carbon sequestration by forestry and land restoration are taken into account.

These figures were the subject of debate in the Icelandic parliament yesterday, along with measures to be taken to reduce them. The Environment Minister’s report, which was basically an abridged form of the IES report and again is in Icelandic, was well received by all parties.

The high increase from 1990 is predominantly due to new aluminium smelters and other heavy industry, while new silicon metal plants and projected increases in aluminium production account for future uncertainties. Although emissions from these will come under the Emissions Trading System, they will still have an effect on the environment. Currently, 80% of electricity in Iceland is used by aluminium smelters and other heavy industry.

The policy statement of the new Icelandic government stated that they would prepare an Action Plan in line with the Paris Agreement (Iceland did not prepare one for COP21, but instead lumped themselves under the EU objectives, under something called “part of the collective delivery”). The Action Plan will include green incentives, forestry, land restoration and renewable energy in transport. However, the IES report includes around 30 measures with varying degrees of feasibility.

Iceland is known for deriving virtually all of its energy for domestic heating and electricity from renewable sources. Clearly, more needs to be done if it is to obtain its goals for 2020 and beyond.

Note that a version of this was published by ENDS Europe today.

 

Arctic issues discussed at major gathering in Reykjavik

I like the Arctic Circle Gathering. It has now happened for the fourth time in Reykjavik, and takes over most of the impressive Harpa concert and conference centre. Indigenous artists also perform and/or display their art.

This year,  over 2000 participants from about 50 countries attended the three-day event, which is the largest event of its kind. People seem to use the event for networking as well as gaining more knowledge (or disseminating more knowledge) about Arctic matters. Lectures, plenary sessions, seminars and information stands cover a wide range of issues, from economics and investment issues to shipping and renewable energy. There are also sessions organized by a particular country, e.g. Switzerland and the Arctic.

This year I wrote a short piece about the North Atlantic Energy Network (underwater energy cables) for the European environmental news bulletin ENDS Europe, and a longer piece on sustainability and the Arctic for InDepthNews/ International Press Syndicate. Last year I wrote about permafrost and climate change for Al Jazeera. Interestingly, last year there were very few media outlets covering the event, but this year the number seemed to have tripled or even quadrupled (but we were allocated less working space than last year…). Clearly, interest has spread.

There are smaller Arctic Circle forums during the year: in Singapore, Alaska, Greenland and Québec. The latter will be held for the first time December 11-13 and will focus on renewable energy. Québec ranks second to Iceland in the proportion of its energy derived from renewables, in its case hydro. The blurb for the Québec forum includes: Discussions will focus on the sustainable development of northern regions, including Alaska, Greenland as well as northern areas of Norway and Sweden.