Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson’

Ambitious climate programme ignored

Is climate change considered unimportant by Iceland’s citizens? Early in the week, the Icelandic government unrolled an ambitious Action Plan to tackle climate change, with the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2030. But no one is talking about it. Progressive trade union leaders, politicians and the general public remain stuck in the traditional “we need more money to live on” mindset and criticize elements of the Budget related to that.

Iceland’s PM, Katrin Jakobsdottir, is from the Left-Green Party, which is the second-largest party in the parliamentary Althingi and is part of a three-party ruling coalition with the conservative Independent Party (the biggest party in the Althingi) and the central Progressive Party. The Left-Greens have been accused of pandering to the Independent Party and ignoring their own demands. There may be some truth in that, given that it’s a difficult situation and requires a balancing act to get matters through.

Although the Climate Action Plan has elements from six ministries in it, it was primarily the responsibility of the environment ministry and its minister, Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson. And he is from the Left-Green Party. Jakobsdottir signalled the plan as a watershed in Icelandic environmental matters, with increased funds put aside to follow up the 34 actions on the list.

The main emphasis is on alternative forms of energy for vehicles, especially land-based ones, as registration of new vehicles fuelled by diesel or petrol will not be allowed from 2030. Increased carbon sequestration by forestry and land reclamation is another emphasis, along with wetlands reclamation – maybe this will include increased funding for the Wetland Fund, which was set up earlier this year. The ministries used the services of environmental consultancy Environice during the development of the strategy.

The Action Plan is only available in Icelandic, but can be downloaded here. Mention is made of food waste in Iceland, which is the first time I’ve seen quantifiable figures, namely 120 kg per person from the catering and restaurant sector and 60 kg/person from individuals.

It’s worthy of consideration and shouldn’t be ignored.

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.