Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘Katrin Jakobsdottir’

Is the U.S. military on its way back to Iceland?

The U.S. military left their military base in Iceland in September 2006. With that, the last vestiges of a military presence in Iceland disappeared, as Iceland does not have an army of its own.

But since 2016 (if not before) the American military has surreptitiously been carrying out various activities in the security zone of the former base, including submarine surveillance. And that same year, the U.S. military asked the State Treasury for more finance for submarine monitoring and other projects.

More details have emerged from time to time about this funding, and I wrote about it in an article and a blog. At the same time, there has been daily military presence at the former base.

Now it has emerged (Icelanders can read about it here) that the U.S. military want to set up basic facilities for about 1000 military personnel in the security zone, along with a zone with appropriate facilities where planes carrying “dangerous goods”, such as bombs and fuel, could land.

Why? It sounds very suspicious to me.

A friend in the U.S. warned me last year that Iceland would have to be careful that the U.S. did not start using the situation for “quiet back-room deals”

In 2016 I published an article that indicated, amongst other things, renewed military presence in Iceland.

Here is part of what I wrote:

… earlier this year (2016), the U.S. requested the use of a hangar for submarine monitoring, so they could fly over the sea and detect submarines using sonar.

Then in June the U.S. Department of Defense met with the Icelandic Foreign Affairs Minister, Lilja Alfredsdottir, about wanting to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. military once more, because the security situation had changed since 2006.

Then in July 2016, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a report in which they openly suggest: “NATO can optimize its ASW [anti-submarine warfare] posture to ensure that the right capabilities are in the right places at the right time by reopening Keflavik Naval Air Station in Iceland and encouraging Norway to reclaim and reopen its submarine support facility at Olavsvern.”

The same article also details various activities related to the NATO agreement which are permitted.

Note that the CSIS link no longer works, and that Lilja Alfredsdottir is now Education Minister; Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson is now the Foreign Affairs Minister. I don’t know anything about Olavsvern, though I just found this article which again is based on the CSIS report.

Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland’s Left-Green Prime Minister whose party is opposed to NATO and military operations in general, says that the decisions were made before she became PM and she cannot do anything about it.

Nevertheless, many people are unhappy about the situation.

 

 

 

Promised report on Iceland’s whaling activities full of holes

Last summer, Iceland’s PM Katrin Jakobsdottir promised that a review would be done of the economic, social and environmental ramifications of whaling before any decision would be made about whether to grant Kristjan Loftsson and his whaling company Hvalur permission to hunt fin whales for the next five years or so.

The University of Iceland’s Institute of Economics has now produced what presumably is the report (in Icelandic) that Jakobsdottir had promised last year. It doesn’t sound promising for those hoping that 2018 would be the last year that Iceland kills whales. It even says that it might be worthwhile to hunt other species of whales! Ye gods!

It also has a dig at whale-watching companies and says they need to be regulated to ensure that they don’t affect the behaviour of whales and deter them from feeding and such like. They also say that whaling doesn’t seem to have deterred tourists from visiting Iceland, which seems to be one of their main concerns.

Like the first report the Institute composed, there is substantial information about the effect of whales on fishing stocks, based on papers that I have already written about – but nothing on how whale faeces can lead to increased fish stocks.

They also mention minke whaling, but put the low number of minke whales killed in 2017 and 2018 (17 and 6 respectively) to bad weather conditions. That’s not true – well, not for 2018 anyway, as minke whaling stopped soon after they started, as the whalers said they weren’t sure whether it would be economically worthwhile to hunt minke whales. The extension of the protected area near Reykjavik was making life difficult for the minke whalers. In theory, they can hunt over 250 minkes per year.

Granted, the authors say that fin whaling wasn’t profitable between and including 2014 and 2017, much of the proceeds going on wages and transport to Japan.

One would presume that whaling would be inadvisable, but apparently not – according to them.

I suspect there will be ramifications from this – watch this space.

Update: It appears that no one likes this report apart from Kristjan Loftsson and (perhaps) the Fisheries Minister, Kristjan Thor Juliusson. It has been torn to pieces left, right and centre. I think a new report should be done by the environmental consultancy Environice – clearly these economists know nothing about ecology.

Update: Kristjan Thor Juliusson is being cautious, see here. He says that Iceland’s leading scientists say it’s too hard to say for sure what the ecological effect of killing whales will be on fish populations.

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.

That rare whale killed by Icelanders was a hybrid …

Genetic analysis of the rare whale killed by one of the Hvalur crews on July 7 showed that the whale was definitely a blue whale/fin whale hybrid (blue whale mother, fin whale father) rather than a blue whale. Some of the early coverage of the “whoops, what sort of whale is this” affair stated that it was a blue whale, and some experts in the UK concurred.  The whaling team at the Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) were completely sure that it is a hybrid, and the MFRI employee present when the whale was brought in took samples and measurements, as well as reporting it to MFRI.  Kristjan Loftsson, the man responsible for Iceland’s killing of fin whales also observed the dead whale closely and concluded it was a hybrid whale when it was dragged into the whaling station.

Initially samples were going to be sent abroad for testing at the end of the season, but the MFRI decided to ask for fast service due to the severity of the matter.

Fin/blue hybrids are rare but not unknown around Iceland. For instance, one was reported to visit Skjalfandi Bay off Northeast Iceland year after year a few years ago, and a skin sample was taken to make sure. Gisli Vikingsson from MFRI told RÚV, Iceland’s state broadcasting service, that six to seven such hybrids had been seen off Iceland over the years (and been caught), and that instances of a protected being caught had been previously brought to the attention of the International Whaling Commission, who also see to the problem of hybrids on a one-by-one basis.

If there are few enough blue whales that they are considered endangered, it’s obvious that hybrids of blue/fin whales are even rarer. Probably it has not been thought necessary to focus on them specifically in the legal sense because of their rarity – but that doesn’t make it OK to kill them. In the general sense, Icelandic law says it’s illegal to kill any animal if permission has not been given (it has been in the case of fin and minke whales).

Like with fin whales, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) prohibits the selling of meat from hybrid whales.

So what will Loftsson do with the meat from this whale? Will it be lumped with the other fin whale meat he is trying to sell? Or will he keep it separate and eventually dispose of it because it’s in a class of its own?

Loftsson says it’s impossible to tell a fin whale from a fin whale hybrid unless it breaches out of the water. If it’s impossible to tell the difference, it is even more reason to stop all whaling.

Iceland’s PM, Katrin Jakobsdottir, was confronted by many reporters at the NATO meeting which she was attending in Brussels, at the time when news of the “whoops, what sort of whale is this” affair was at its peak. She must have been made acutely aware of the attitudes of other countries towards Iceland’s whaling. Her party is against it, and she has said that a committee is looking into the economic, environmental and social consequences of whaling. A decision will be made at the end of the season.

Maybe the death of this particular whale will make a difference.

It looks like minke whaling is on the way out, though. After getting only 17 whales last year, whaler Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson says he’ll be satisfied with getting 10 this year as their main hunting area is closed to them.

Update: Another hybrid whale has  been killed (on August 24), again a male blue whale/fin whale hybrid. It was whale no. 98.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATO demands cause consternation in Iceland

My latest article has just been published, this time on disarmament issues and the military, and whether growing NATO demands indicate that the U.S. military might be considering a return to Iceland. Basically, the U.S. want a hangar on the old military base to be upgraded so it can accommodate more P-8A submarine reconnaissance planes to track Russian nuclear and conventional submarines in the areas around Iceland, commonly known as the GIUK Gap (Greenland, Iceland and the UK Gap).

The article, entitled NATO demands create headaches in Iceland, also touches on the role of Iceland in disarmament and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and whether having a PM (Katrin Jakobsdottir) who is from a party opposed to NATO’s presence in Iceland might make a difference. In point of fact, as the article points out, the other two parties in the government have completely different viewpoints on the matter, but you never know.

One point that I could not mention in the article came from a friend in the States, who said that Iceland would have to be careful that the U.S. did not start using the situation for “quiet back-room deals”. Given that the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a report in July 2016 in which it openly suggested: “NATO can optimize its ASW [anti-submarine warfare] posture to ensure that the right capabilities are in the right places at the right time by reopening Keflavik Naval Air Station in Iceland”, his comment should not be dismissed too quickly.

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.

Icelandic politics: unbelievable but (maybe) true

One more election over, and one more to come in the near future if the formal talks now starting result in a government spanning right, left and centre. The promising start between four left-to-centre parties fizzled out when the centre party, the Progressive Party (PP), decided that a majority of one was not enough. Informal talks between the Left-Greens (LG), Independent Party (IP) and PP have now resulted in formal talks.

Left-Green supporters are not pleased, and there is also antipathy and outright opposition within elected LG party members towards working with Bjarni Ben’s IP party. His party got 16 seats as distinct from 11 for the LGs and 8 for the PP. Usually, the IP would get the right to form a government but in this case it was Katrin Jakobsdottir from the LGs who got it originally, and returned it when the first talks came to nothing.

Nevertheless, she is still playing a major role. She turned to BB and started informal discussions with him and the PP, which were accepted by her fellow MPs on the basis that she would become Prime Minister rather than BB – this still seems likely to be the case. It was reported that the LGs didn’t want BB anywhere near a Cabinet position, and even that ministerial positions should be filled by people outside of elected representatives, but these demands now seem to have got lost. BB is supposed to become the Finance Minister (hello Tortola).

As predicted beforehand, some people have already resigned from the Left-Greens because of the projected alliance with arch-enemies IP. A year ago, only 25% of Bright Future supporters wanted to enter into a coalition with the IP and its splinter party Vidreisn, and support for BF dropped from 7.2% in the 2016 elections to 1.2% now. Disgruntled voters saw that they wouldn’t have a voice under BB and voted accordingly this year. The same will happen with LG supporters, who did not vote for the party on the basis that they would end up with their arch-enemies as bedfellows.

Two of the elected LG members (11 in all) voted against forming an alliance with BB and it’s still possible that the party as a whole will reject the current talks. Katrin has promised “a different way of working” but voters have heard that before, and with the IP around it doesn’t happen. Stay tuned – next update is likely to be at the end of the week.

Iceland elects corrupt politicians yet again

Eight parties won seats in the Icelandic parliamentary elections on Saturday, held 364 days after the previous elections. The run-up was short and there was little discussion of issues – I think that many politicians thought that general public would remember their last promises – and the campaign revolved more around personalities. 63 seats were contested.

Despite the Left-Greens having a marginal lead early on, Bjarni Ben used his 4th life (like cats, I’m convinced he has nine lives and unfortunately hasn’t used them all up yet) to bring his party to 25.25% share of the vote and 16 elected candidates, whereas the Left-Greens got 11 people in and 16.89% of the vote.

Three weeks before the election, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of Wintris fame, who was booted out of his Prime Minister role after the Panama papers interview and who had done virtually zilch after he lost his position as leader of the Progressive Party, formed his own party, the Middle Party, and got 7 people in, some of whom had been representing his old party. He will, I suspected, remain alienated from other political parties with the exception of Bjarni Ben’s crowd, who have no scruples. But now it appears he is in league with a new “populist” party, the People’s Party, that got in with 4 candidates on the basis of working on behalf of the elderly and disabled. Some of their policies had been somewhat spurious but I suspect that at least some of the people who voted for them did so on the basis that they were not SDG or BB.

The party that walked out of the last coalition government, Bright Future, paid for their allegiance to BB with a disastrous election result of 1.22%, and at the time the last coalition was formed only 25% of BF voters were happy with the idea. Those people switched their allegiance to other parties this time round – and the same thing will happen to Inga Saeland and her People’s Party.

The other coalition party with BB, Vidreisn/Reform, also lost seats in this election. On the other hand, the Social Democrats (who had also had a bad experience of working with BB’s party prior to the bank crash) rose up from the ashes to get 12.05% of the vote and 7 seats this time instead of scraping in with 3 like last time.

The Pirates lost 4 seats and now have 6 – they admit that they probably forgot to talk about issues. Their main issue was the need for a new constitution, which is important but obviously not enough to win supporters. SDG’s old party, the Progressive Party, got 8 seats and 10.71% of the vote. As part of the opposition over the last year, they had become (temporarily at least) left-wing.

Katrin Jakobsdottir from the Left-Greens wants to have a coalition government made up of the four parties who were in opposition last time around, i.e. Progressive Party, SDP, Pirates and Left-Greens, and will have a one-seat majority. BB of course wants to form a government and so does SDG, but both parties will have difficulty finding enough parties willing to work with them due to the corruption scandals of their leaders. (Interestingly, the investigative paper Stundin had done an article on how parties would handle corruption and two of the three parties which didn’t reply were those of BB and SDG – which are precisely the parties that need to address the issue the most.)

Although Iceland has proportional representation, its voting system is somewhat complicated so that the PP got more seats than the SDP despite having a smaller proportion of voters electing it. This is something that a new constitution should address.

 

 

 

Parliamentary procedures run smoothly in Iceland despite the lack of a formal government

Although no formal government has been formed in Iceland since the elections at the end of October, the parliamentary Althingi reconvened on December 6 with all its new members to discuss the Budget for next year and a few other urgent items. Around the time they met for the first time, Katrin Jakobsdottir from the Left Greens and Birgitta Jonsdottir from the Pirates both said it would be an interesting experience to see how it worked out.

And it has worked surprisingly well. The MPs have been working flat out, with one committee meeting after another, and have been looking at solutions rather than fighting each other. Major matters have been dealt with successfully one after the other without filibustering. It’s all quite refreshing actually.

Talks on who will work with whom have been postponed until the urgent business is finished. And that’s fine. Maybe the need for a way round the problem of who should work with whom has created a new way of working, more tolerance and a more open viewpoint.

Political situation in Iceland complex

In the recent parliamentary election in Iceland, the Independent Party gained 21 out of 63 seats and its leader, Bjarni Benediktsson, was given the mandate to form a government. But it turns out not to be a simple job. The fact that some parties said prior to the election that they wouldn’t work with certain other parties isn’t making life easy for him, as the next largest parties, the Left-Greens and the Pirates – which both gained 10 seats – refuse to work with the Independent Party because of its Panama connections. Bjarni Ben is making moves with Vidreisn and Bright Future, which will give them a one-person majority, but some members of the IP are more interested in working with the Left-Greens as well as with the Progressive Party (PP), whose ex-leader Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was exposed in the Panama Papers. Not surprisingly, the Left-Greens don’t want to work with the PP either. Oh, and the PP is split because most of the PP politicians don’t want to work with SDG.

Vidreisn is essentially a splinter party from the IP but is pro-EU (the IP is anti-EU). Some members of the IP view Vidreisn with animosity because of the splinter. Bright Future is centre in terms of politics, and have said that they’re not particularly keen on the idea of working the the IP.

Bjarni Ben said yesterday that if he feels he’s not getting anywhere (and he’s not), he’ll relinquish his mandate of forming a government, which means it will probably then go to Katrin Jacobsdottir from the Left-Greens, who wants to form a government with all parties except the IP and PP. It might well be that the Left-Greens will form a ruling coalition with Vidreisn and BF, with the Pirates and the now-miniscule Social Democrats on the sidelines, ready to support the coalition if need be. The Pirates are happy to relinquish ministerial positions, and the Social Democrats – who had said they were happy to form a Left-Centre alliance prior to the election – performed so badly that they have said they don’t want to be part of the ruling coalition.

It’s problematic also because Iceland has always had a two-party ruling coalition, but with 7 parties in the parliament the numbers don’t work this time and it has to be three.

I predict that the next Prime Minister will be Katrin Jakobsdottir. And the world will take notice.

UPDATE: It’s now over a month since the elections and talks have happened twice, first between the Independent Party, Vidreisn and Bright Future and then between the LG, Pirates, BF, Vidreisn and Social Democrats. But both sets of talks petered out. Vidreisn and Bright Future appear to have become inseparable. After having given the mandate to form a government to first Bjarni Ben and then to Katrin Jakobsdottir, he decided on Friday to let the parties sort it out themselves for the time being. Stay tuned.