1 year ago

Climate Action 2016-2017


ICELAND’S COUNTRY PERSPECTIVES PATHWAY TO SUSTAINABILITY Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, President of Iceland, gives a highly relevant insight into two important facets of his country’s history, geothermal energy and sustainable fishing. Image by the Icelandic association of fisheries, SFS 44

Image by Árni Sæberg. COUNTRY PERSPECTIVES Aerial view of an Icelandic geothermal power plant. The history of Iceland, which spans close to 1,200 years, can be presented in two parallel and striking tales: one is a story of energy usage, the other a story of fishing. Both these narratives describe a development from primitive exploitation to sustainable and highly rewarding practices. THE ICELANDIC ENERGY STORY To start with energy: when Iceland was settled in the 9th century it had considerable forests which provided fuel for the population. Obviously wood was needed for heating the primitive housing in the rather chilly island, and it was needed for the production of charcoal and, by extension, for iron-working. Unfortunately the forests, which never contained a lot of tall trees anyway, were very vulnerable and Iceland lost practically all its trees in less than 400 years. The loss of trees, along with volcanic eruptions and climate changes, caused some serious desertification as the wind could erode the grasslands more freely when the trees were gone. Ahead of us were centuries of poverty when the population had to squeeze what we could out of peat and other low-grade combustibles. The forests, in other words, had been harvested without foresight. Without the notion of sustainability, without planting trees "Without the notion of sustainability, without planting trees to replace those that were used, the valuable forest asset was destroyed." to replace those that were used, the valuable forest asset was destroyed. Then, around 1900, fossil fuels triggered a historical shift for us like so many others, and the use of coal and oil in our growing fishing fleet made possible the wonder of trawler fishing, with largescale harvesting of our productive fishing grounds. We also used fossil fuels to heat our houses, of course. Fortunately, however, we also started harnessing some of the hydropower resources we had to produce electricity so we could light up our streets and houses. This all worked very well far into the 20th century until oil prices started climbing dramatically in the 1970s. The oil crisis had a serious impact on our national economy, and we realised that something had to be done: we had to look at other sources of energy to survive. Accordingly a large project to produce electricity from geothermal steam was started not far from the capital city, Reykjavik, and under its auspices. This geothermal power plant became a huge success and was soon followed by other similar and more technically advanced power plants in other regions. At the present moment we are looking at the option of adding wind turbines to our primary energy mix; and we are also working hard to reclaim some of the forests that we so sadly lost in earlier centuries. Hydropower and geothermal energy now account for more than 99 per cent of our electricity production. They are sustainable and clean energy sources that we are proud to present to visitors. Most of our houses are heated by geothermal district heating systems. FISHING: PROBLEMS OF SUCCESS The other area of interest, in the case of Iceland, is the management of our marine resources. For the first thousand years, Iceland was to a large extent a society dominated by farmers. The people who went fishing at designated harbours around the country were farm hands 45