In the eyes of most tourists and visitors, Iceland is a veritable beacon of eco-friendly practices. Reykjavik is regularly described as one of the greenest cities in the world, while travel guides and websites love to remind us that Iceland uses roughly 85% renewable energy. But does Iceland deserve this reputation?
According to a recent Greenpeace and Icelandic Environmental Association (Landvernd) seminar, it doesn’t,particularly—especially when it comes to the oceans.
Since May 31st, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza has been docked in Reykjavik, an early stop on its bold pole to pole trip in an effort to raise awareness for the conservation and protection of the world’s oceans. The final goal is for an ambitious ‘Global Ocean Treaty,’ a ‘Paris Agreement for the oceans’, that will provide protection for 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030. As part of this aim, Greenpeace has been holding multiple events, concerts and forums to discuss the threat to the oceans. One such event was held in Reykjavík on Tuesday June 4th.
Listen and learn
The public seminar was opened by President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who spoke about the importance of the oceans and emphasised the actions being taken by the Icelandic government, including climate funds, forums and environmental initiatives, such as the ongoing efforts to reclaim the wetlands. While he couldn’t promise to agree with all that was said, he said he would endeavour to “listen, to learn, and to use what he had learnt to support a good cause.” He was then graciously presented with gifts, including brochures, t-shirts and a highly presidential game of ocean themed bingo.
The seminar itself consisted of five key figures in the fight for Icelandic sustainability. It opened with a discussion of Greenpeace’s initiative and the threats facing the ocean, but the discussion quickly moved on to broader issues. Particular attention was focused on the increasing acidification of the oceans, and Icelanders came in for some fairly withering criticism, with author Andri Snaer Magnason talking of a psychological disconnect between many Icelanders and the significance of the issues they face. He pointed out that, while increasing acidity could do colossal damage to Iceland’s crucial fishing industry, the media and parliament as a whole have given the issue very little coverage, and he argued that environmental initiatives in Iceland were disproportionately focused on the land, despite Iceland’s total territory being over 87% ocean.
Auður Anna Magnúsdóttir, director of Landvernd, had an even starker message, accusing Icelandic politicians of ‘being asleep’ in the face of this crisis and saying that “hope is no longer enough – we need action.”
However, the action of Icelandic youth participating in school strikes was praised, as was the Greenpeace’s initiative, as the panel generally acknowledged that to combat the issues Iceland faced, a global, fundamental change was needed.
What to do
So, strong warnings all round. But what can the regular Icelander or tourist do to help?
The panel discussed what actions should be taken by individuals. It was generally accepted that a major reduction of CO2 emissions was needed, and that driving and flying less, as well as potentially shifting to less meat-heavy diets would be crucial in reducing carbon levels. Attention was also brought to more locally significant solutions, such as the use of apps like Seafood Watch, which can evaluate the sustainability of the fish on sale in your local supermarket or restaurant. Finally, Icelanders were encouraged to be politically active, campaigning and pressuring politicians to make changes to industry, such as encouraging more carbon neutral developments.
The Greenpeace Esperanza will remain in Reykjavik until June 6thth before heading south towards the so-called ‘Lost City’ in the mid-Atlantic ridge, in protest against planned deep sea mining.
You can view the full seminar on the Landvernd’s Facebook page.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!