A Change In The Weather: Iceland And The Climate Crisis - The Reykjavik Grapevine

A Change In The Weather: Iceland And The Climate Crisis

Published June 19, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photos by
Art Bicnick

The party leading Iceland’s coalition government—the Left-Greens—has, as its name implies, a very strong emphasis on environmental issues in general and tackling the climate crisis in particular. Rhetoric from the party’s leadership reflects this, whether from party chair Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir or Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson.

However, being part of a coalition government, the Left-Greens are not the only party leading the government, and some of the government’s budgeting decisions raise questions about how great a priority the climate crisis is to them. 



Going green



Iceland is facing the effects of the climate crisis on multiple fronts. Our glaciers are receding at an alarming rate; an estimated 90% of animal species on and around the island could disappear—by local extinction or migrating to more welcoming climes—within the next 50 years; and some animal species, such as the biting midge, have already moved into parts of the country that seldom, if ever, experienced them before.



Apart from policy platforms, the Prime Minister has been publicly outspoken on the importance of stemming the climate crisis. She reiterated this in her speech during Independence Day celebrations on June 17th, saying in part, “The government has put forward a clear vision of Iceland being a carbon neutral country no later than 2040, and that Iceland will meet its international obligations in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”



The Minister for the Environment has also signed a statement of willingness to this effect. But how does government policy measure up to these strong words?



The budget speaks for itself



How these goals will be met is fairly mysterious, given the priorities set by the government’s own budget. While they have allotted some 6.8 billion ISK towards reducing greenhouse gases, Isavia—a government company which operates Keflavík International Airport—is planning to expand, at an estimated cost of over 91 billion ISK from 2019 to 2022. While they also estimate that the final cost will be less than this, it is still strikingly more tax money going towards the expansion of the site of one of Iceland’s biggest producers of greenhouse gases than is going towards reducing emissions.



In point of fact, we already know which companies in Iceland emit the most greenhouse gases. Eight of the top ten most polluting companies are in heavy industry; the other two are Icelandair and the now-defunct WOW Air. 



Despite the Left-Greens’ long record of opposition to heavy industry, and its renewed enthusiasm for putting the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions, how the government will deal with the eight heavy industry companies that are responsible for the lion’s share of pollution still remains to be seen.


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