Statement by Ambassador Hjálmar W. Hannesson
Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations
Thank you, Madame Chair
Climate change is already devastating the lives of millions. How we address this issue will be a test of our commitment to the values of the United Nations. The poorest in developing countries tend to be hardest hit, those who are least responsible for causing climate change. We have to focus on their needs in our common effort in fighting this global threat. The Kyoto Protocol provides a basis for the continuation of action in reducing emissions, which, however, is not enough. We need a comprehensive post 2012 climate agreement. The Bali meeting in December should decide on modalities for a process leading to such agreement in Copenhagen in 2009.
Climate change and desertification remain inextricably linked. In the last millennium Iceland has lost 50% of its vegetation and 95% of tree cover. With the oldest Soil Conservation Service in the world, established in 1907, Iceland gradually reversed the process and gained experience and knowledge in combating land degradation and desertification. Based on this knowledge the Government of Iceland has recently decided to fund an international training program in land restoration and soil conservation. It is being developed as a 3-year pilot project that started this year, the first fellows attended a course on soil conservation in Iceland during the summer. As of next year, the program will provide about six to eight experts from developing countries with a six month training programme in Iceland to learn about soil conservation, land restoration, and sustainable development. The Land Restoration Training Program is under consideration to become a part of the UNU Training Programs. Two such programs already operate in Iceland; the UNU Geothermal Training Programme and the UNU Fisheries Training Programme.
Improving energy services in developing countries is a key to eradicating poverty. Increasingly we learn more and more about the complex relationship between the use of energy resources, climate change and sustainable development. Our challenge is to find a way to safeguard the world’s ecosystems, while raising the level of development and fostering economic growth. We should not have to make choices between development and a clean environment. If we reduce our dependency on fossil energy sources and substantially expand the share of renewables in the world energy demand, we could have both, i.e. cleaner environment and development. We are pleased that this is well presented in the Secretary General’s report.
Increased use of renewable energy offers various economic, environmental, security and reliability benefits. The basic technologies are already at hand. It is therefore worrying that the use of renewable energy resources remains considerably below its potential. What is needed is an enabling policy framework and leadership. The International Financial Institutions should be encouraged to raise the profile of renewables in their lending strategies. The UN has a role to play in promoting this development.
Iceland’s journey from poverty to economic growth and wellbeing was mostly fuelled by harnessing the country’s renewable resources, including its energy resources. Today geothermal energy and hydropower account for more that 70 percent of Iceland’s primary energy consumption. Iceland has a long-standing commitment to international cooperation on the sustainable use of energy and the United Nations University’s Geothermal Training Programme, hosted by Iceland, has for many years been a valuable tool for the sharing of geothermal expertise with developing countries. Iceland’s bilateral development cooperation agency, ICEIDA, has supported Uganda developing its geothermal potential for a number of years. Most recently Iceland has been engaged in ARGeo, the African Rift Geothermal Facility, a UNEP-GEF/WB program supporting the African Rift countries developing their geothermal resources.
ICEIDA’s most recent bilateral development partner, Nicaragua, has considerable geothermal potential and so do about 90 other countries. Iceland is initiating a long term engagment with the Government of Nicaragua, enabling it to manage it’s geothermal resources sustainably.
Climate change is already a dangerous threat to the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and their adaptation to current and future impacts of global warming should be a priority for all of us. We thank the Secretary General for his report on the implementation of the Mauritius strategy for Sustainable Development of SIDS, which is a good overview of actions. Although much has been done we need to do more. The small island states are least responsible and most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
We are committed to doing our part in promoting the implementation of the Mauritius strategy. As an island state, Iceland shares many of the SIDS concerns in the area of sustainable development and there is indeed scope for cooperation in many areas. Since the Mauritius meeting we have used at least 1.7 million USD under the umbrella of the Icelandic SIDS initiative on many different projects and we will continue with our efforts.
Development initiatives of the Icelandic Government draw primarily on Iceland’s expertise and experience in fisheries, clean energy development and related issues. Within the framework of Iceland’s Policy on Development Cooperation, special attention is given to cooperation with SIDS. Icelandic authorities have been approached by authorities in the SIDS, as well as investors and developers in the Icelandic energy sector, with the interest of exploring the possibility of geothermal power in small islands. Building on this interest the government of Iceland is now in the process of forming a public-private partnership with stakeholders in the SIDS, to develop pilot projects in the geothermal energy sector. In order to advance the partnership between Iceland and SIDS, it is proposed that High-level Fora of officials, business leaders, key scientists and university experts be held in the first half of 2008 under the heading, “Iceland and SIDS’s Approach to the Sustainable use of Natural Resources”, one in the Caribbean region and another in the Pacific region. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Iceland will take responsibility for organizing the Fora.
Icelandic companies have been exporting know how regarding harnessing of geothermal energy. The largest project Icelandic companies have been involved in is a geothermal district heating project in the city of Xian yang in China. Furthermore, an Icelandic investment fund, Reykjavik Energy Invest (REI), specializing in sustainable energy investments, has decided to invest 150 million US dollars in geothermal development in Africa during the next 5 years, starting in Djibouti.
I have only addressed few of the many important issues under the agenda item on sustainable development. The issues that I am not able to address today are equally important. Sustainable Development is our common challenge and Climate Change is a difficulty, which we have to address together. I will conclude by quoting Mr. Winston Churchill:“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.
Thank you Madame Chair