Iceland has new climate change action plan

24.06.2020 - 12:05
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 Mynd: RÚV - Grímur Jón Sigurðsson
An updated version of Iceland’s climate change action plan was unveiled by government ministers yesterday, after nine months of delays. “Although the action plan has been delayed, we have been starting projects one after the other,” environment minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson (pictured) assured—though it is not known exactly how successful government action to cut emissions has been so far.

The 2018 action plan was backed up with seven billion krónur and the updated version boosts that to nine billion, as well as increasing reporting and oversight requirements.

The new version of the climate change action plan is different to its 2018 predecessor in that it specifies precisely how much impact each action is expected to have in reducing emissions.  

Iceland is on course to live up to its international emissions obligations, and hopes to go even further, according to Guðmundur Ingi. 46 billion krónur will be spent on climate change action in the national budget in coming years. 

“I would say that the big news from this plan is that we believe we can achieve the goals we have set ourselves. To tell the truth, we were running a little blind when we announced [the plan] at Austurbæjarskóli in 2018, but now our scientists’ calculations say that we will be able to stand up to our obligations,” said prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir—adding that the authorities believe they can go even further than that. 

“There is emphasis on switching fuels, as we know, and ten percent of cars are already eco-friendly [mostly electric, hybrid, methane, or hydrogen] and more than 50 percent of new cars registered so far this year are eco-friendly. Electric vans are also multiplying fast and emissions from cars running on conventional fuels have dropped by 30 percent in recent years, so there is a lot going for us in this case and it’s clear that the public are on board with making sure our climate goals are reached,” said transport minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson. He went on to speak about how to convert the country’s sizeable fleet of ships to run on alternative fuels like electricity and rapeseed oil. 

The 2018 climate change action plan contained 34 financed actions, though some of them were acknowledged to be insufficiently defined and the Environment Agency was therefore unable to include them in emissions calculations and projections to 2030. 

Of the previous plan’s 48 financed and non-financed actions, it was possible to monitor the outcomes of 23. The new plan adds a further 16 to that number. It is still impossible to measure the benefits of nine of the actions, which include educational projects, for example. 

The scientific team appointed to assess the action plan has concluded that Iceland’s commitment to cut emissions by 29 percent between 2005 and 2030 will be reached and the country is on course to cut emissions by 35 percent. The government is pushing for 40. 

The action plan is wide-ranging but places most emphasis on phasing fossil fuels out of transport and binding carbon in wetlands and forests. Among the 15 new actions are carbon capture from heavy industry, agricultural feed that reduces methane emissions from cattle, increased domestic fruit and vegetable production, and eco-friendly hire cars. 

Auður Önnu Magnúsdóttir, head of the Landvernd environmental NGO, says the new action plan is much better than the old one and is welcome, but warns the country still risks missing its Paris Agreement emissions targets. She says the plan over-emphasises land transport, and the ten years until 2030 are not long enough to achieve the desired results—especially given the large increase in transport emissions that has taken place since 2005, despite reductions in recent years. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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