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Prime Minister's Office

Green Cross New York Gala Awards

Address by Davíð Oddsson
Prime Minister of Iceland

at the Green Cross New York Gala Awards
The Rainbow Room
Rockefeller Plaza - New York City
25 April 2001

I am both delighted and honoured to accept on behalf of the Government of Iceland this award from Global Green USA.

The Government of Iceland has certainly set its sights high by planning to base the Icelandic economy on renewable energy resources within a very few decades. Some people may regard this as either fantasy or science fiction. But as it happens, Iceland is well equipped to undertake such a project and in our view is to some extent obliged to be a leader in this field.

The reason is that Iceland is exceptionally well placed in terms of renewable resources. Already, more than two-thirds of the energy consumed in Iceland is produced from renewable resources, namely hydropower and geothermal energy. This is the largest proportion anywhere in the world. The bulk of our remaining energy consumption is accounted for by motor vehicles and ships. Virtually all space heating and electricity are provided by renewable resources, which also power most of our manufacturing industries.

Aluminium production is a growing aspect of the Icelandic economy. What impact does this have? The answer is that it will benefit the global environment. Manufacturing this aluminium elsewhere with the fossil fuels which power the majority of the world's aluminium smelters would generate many times more greenhouse gas emissions than the energy sources used to produce it in Iceland. This is one of the reasons for the emphasis by the Icelandic Government that the outcome of global climate change negotiations should serve to encourage production using renewable resources.

In order to achieve the goal of basing its economy almost entirely on renewable energy resources, Iceland needs to convert its motor vehicles and fishing fleet to be powered by hydrogen. A pilot project is now in progress involving hydrogen-powered buses, in collaboration between the Government and a company jointly owned by Icelandic parties, Daimler-Chrysler, Shell Hydrogen and Norsk Hydro. In the course of time the project will be extended to cover other vehicles and the fishing fleet.

Fisheries are still the mainstay of the high living standards that people in Iceland enjoy. Iceland therefore has no option but to harvest its marine resources on sustainable principles and promote balance in the ecosystem. For us this a question of life and death, so there is no scope for mistakes. Another major issue is the fight against marine pollution, which Iceland has championed in international cooperation involving the oceans. In this respect I am pleased to note the new global convention on persistent organic pollutants, which will be signed by governments in Sweden next month. The Icelandic Government initated this issue nine years ago and encouraged other countries to rally round and start the negotiations for the convention.

In recent years there has been a large increase in the number of travellers to Iceland. Tourism is a rapidly growing industry and one of the mainstays of the economy. The main reason is Iceland's highly distinctive and dramatic nature. Obviously we are pleased that the rest of the world is taking a greater interest in us, but we are determined not to achieve too rapid growth in the number of tourists, since we need time to prepare our country's sensitive nature for increasing encroachment by man.

Wherever we look, Icelanders are therefore continually reminded of the importance of living in harmony with nature. This does not prevent us from accepting nature's gifts and utilizing our land and its resources as we need. Far from it. But we must regard everything we undertake from the dual viewpoints of conservation and utilization in order to achieve successful results. Sustainable development is not one of many possible approaches, but rather the only feasible approach in Iceland.

I congratulate the other honorees and thank Mikhail Gorbachev for his generous remarks earlier. In my view, his summit meeting with Ronald Reagan in Iceland in 1986 marked the beginning of the modern era in international relations. Finally, I would like to thank the board of Global Green USA for this invitation and the honour which they have shown Iceland.

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