Iceland to cut emissions by 40% – or not?

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson PM.

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson PM. Photo: Árni Sæberg

A speech given by the Icelandic PM at Saturday’s UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York has generated some confusion as to Iceland’s future policy on the reduction of greenhouse gases.

The Icelandic Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, told the Summit that he was “optimistic that we will see an excellent result from COP21, indeed Iceland recently pledged a 40% reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030”.

A policy change?

This was interpreted initially as a new policy decision by the PM. Hitherto, Iceland had only announced its participation in a joint European Union (EU) initiative to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% by 2030.

Norway, who is also taking part in the EU pledge, has unilaterally promised a 40% reduction – whereas Iceland had not yet put a specific figure on its own contribution.

The Icelandic government had so far only announced its intention to sign up to a joint target – together with the European Union (EU) and Norway – for reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

US President Barack Obama addresses the UN Sustainable Development Summit.

US President Barack Obama addresses the UN Sustainable Development Summit. Photo: AFP/Don Emmert

Gunnlaugsson’s seemingly clear-cut New York announcement appeared to put an end to the uncertainty, but such conclusions were quickly rejected by the PM’s political assistant, Jóhannes Þór Skúlason.

“This is not a unilateral announcement by Iceland to reduce emissions by 40%, but a commitment to reduce emissions by 40% in conjunction with the EU,” explains Skúlason.

This explanation, however, does not necessarily tally with the words of the PM in New York. The speech contains no mention of cooperation with the EU and Norway and refers specifically and solely to Iceland.

PM’s words welcomed

Árni Finnsson, Director of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, welcomes the ‘official’ announcement and means to take Gunnlaugsson at his word. “Anybody reading the speech will see that there is no mention of the EU and Norway,” he says.

Until now, the stated position was that, once the EU/Iceland/Norway has committed itself as a bloc to a 40% reduction, Iceland would negotiate its specific contribution. The PM’s speech would appear to be something of a policy change in this regard.

Iceland’s high level of renewable energy has in the past been used as an argument for needing to cut carbon emissions less than other countries. As indicated above, Norway – a big user of hydropower – has committed itself unilaterally to a 40% cut in emissions.

You can read the full text of the PM’s speech here.

Related article:

Iceland joins 40% emission target

The EU has promised a collective 40% reduction in emissions ...

The EU has promised a collective 40% reduction in emissions by 2030. Photo: AFP/Oli Scarff

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