Native downy birch emerging from former desert in Southern Iceland. Retracting glacier in the backgr…
Native downy birch emerging from former desert in Southern Iceland. Retracting glacier in the background. Photo: Pétur Halldórsson

Iceland will reach carbon neutrality before the year 2040. This is the ambitious goal set by the government of Iceland in September 2018 when it introduced a new climate action plan to get the nation there.

Ms. Katrín Jakobsdóttir  Prime Minister of Iceland since November 2017 recently published an article on United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification's website. There she explains the different measures the government will be taking to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2040.

Ms. Jakobsdóttir has been the Chairman of the Left-Green Movement in Iceland since 2013. From 2009 to 2013, she served as Minster of Education, Science and Culture and Minister for Nordic Cooperation during the same period. Katrín is Iceland’s second female prime minister, after Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who took the post in 2009. Katrín joined the Left-Green Movement in 2002 and has been a member of Althingi for the Reykjavík North Constituency since 2007.

Katrín's article is as follows:

Iceland will reach carbon neutrality before the year 2040. This is the ambitious goal that my government set in September 2018 when it introduced a new climate action plan to get us there.

Our action plan marks a crucial turning point in Iceland’s contribution to fighting climate change for two reasons.

Firstly, climate mitigation measures will get a substantial increase in funding – almost 7 billion Icelandic krónur [about US$59 million] – in the period 2019-2023. Never before has the government allocated funding at the level we have reached. This is to ensure we can carry through our ambitious agenda. Secondly, there is broad political support for the action plan. The strategy was introduced by seven ministers.

But it is also clear to me that we will not be able to reach this goal with the government acting alone. We need a joint effort with all sectors and individuals, which I believe is the case elsewhere in the world.


Þjórsárver nature reserve: Photo by Hugi Ólafsson

The new plan sets us up for success in two areas. First, achieving our goal of carbon neutrality before the year 2040. Second, of achieving the Paris Agreement goals before 2030.

We have also set two clear priorities. First, to speed up the transformation of the transport sector. Second, to increase carbon sequestration by reforesting, revegetating and reclaiming drained wetlands that emit carbon dioxide.

The latter actions will enable us to contribute to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal target of achieving land degradation neutrality.

The carbon sequestration strategy to be developed will emphasize achieving climate change goals, and other environmental goals, such as combating soil erosion and revegetating denuded lands, and restoring and adhering to the principles of biological diversity.

We are taking actions that tackle the three major global environmental challenges – on biological diversity, climate change and desertification – simultaneously.

Thus, the strategy has 34 wide-ranging actions – from a carbon tax and the recovery of wetlands, to phasing-out of hydrofluorocarbons and building infrastructure for electrical cars. Most actions continue or strengthen existing initiatives, but some of the actions, such as the ban to register new gasoline or diesel cars by 2030 are new.

In the past few months, I have put special emphasis on the role of business. I am encouraging the sector to work together in adopting ambitious climate policies. Not only is their role vital, but the change is an opportunity for growth.

Companies around the world are forging international alliances for joint actions or to share experiences. I believe in the Federation of Icelandic Industries doing good and in their contribution towards reaching these goals.

Stone arch in Stóri-Endi, by: Frederick W.W. Howell, Einar Þ. Guðjohnsen, IFS -Hreinn Óskarsson

As our next step, we will set aside a period for consulting industry, municipalities and civil society on how to implement the strategy and the individual actions. We want the public to weigh in, and will subject the plan to public consultation.

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) Conference held in Iceland last September was a step in this direction. Academia, governments and the business sector shared ideas and discussed land rehabilitation, and identified ways of achieving multiple benefits.

The updated plan, which takes into account comments and suggestions from the public, NGO’s and others, will be presented next year.

Actions to address climate change and environmental degradation are pillars in the vision and policy of Iceland’s coalition government. We have a comprehensive plan that will cover all the major carbon sources and sinks. And we are committing considerable resources for these measures.

Iceland may be a small country, but it has something to contribute to the discussion. We have a habit of trying to punch above our weight. When it comes to climate action, this is absolutely necessary.

 Text: Pétur Halldórsson