Conference of Ambassadors Accredited to Iceland - Reykjavík, June 18, 1998
Address by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Excellencies, ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to begin by welcoming you all to this meeting and express my satisfaction with the fact that so many of you were able to attend the 17th of June celebrations this year. I would especially like to welcome newcomers in our group.
Last year I had the pleasure to meet with most of you and discuss the main aspects of Icelandic foreign policy. This year our meeting will be more thematic. I will focus in my speech on Icelandic Policy on the Use of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection in a Global Context, and later, Mr Einar Benediktsson, former Ambassador to the United States, will discuss our Millennium Celebrations and the Bishop of Iceland, the Right Reverend Karl Sigurbjörnsson, will discuss the one-thousand-year anniversary of Christianity in Iceland.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
over the past few years, it has become increasingly clear to us that Iceland is a part of an international community which brings us unprecedented opportunities and responsibilities. Events in the economies and markets of foreign countries have direct and indirect effects in Iceland. In political co-operation and cultural matters we are also aware that our fate is intertwined with the fates of other nations as never before. This globalisation can largely be traced to the recent revolutionary progress in technology and communications. The international community is more conscious now than ever before of the common responsibility borne by the inhabitants of the world for one another and for their environment.
It should come as no surprise that resource management and environmental issues are taking the stage as a decisive and growing factor in international co-operation. Iceland's participation in such co-operation has been growing steadily over the past few years, which is understandable in light of the fact that we base our existence largely on the utilisation of natural resources. The protection of our interests requires constantly more vigilance, especially as decisions made by the international community regarding natural resources can have a direct impact on our survival in this country.
The Foreign Ministry plays an important leadership role in promoting Iceland's views in international fora. In the light of these altered circumstances, the decision has been made to reinforce the activities of the Ministry through the establishment this fall of a separate Resource and Environment Division. The task of the Divison will be to handle Iceland's resource interests internationally in co-operation with the specialised ministries involved at each time.
The concept of sustainable development has made its mark on resource and environmental matters in recent years. As regards natural resources, the concept involves on the one hand the right and the obligation to utilise these resources and on the other hand the duty to preserve them. Obviously, these are two sides of the same coin. Iceland has been successful in utilising natural resources in a sustainable manner, which is not surprising when we bear in mind that our future interests depend on such utilisation. Our chief resources are the clean and renewable energy sources and the living resources of the sea. Over the past few years, however, it has become painfully obvious to Icelanders that there is no guarantee that the ongoing debate on sustainable utilisation will take into account our right to utilise our own natural resources in a sustainable manner. This is one of the gravest problems we face at this time.
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From the start of negotiations on climate change, Iceland has emphasised its position that our scope for utilising our clean and renewable energy sources for power-intensive industry must not be restricted, even though such activities may be accompanied by some local emission of greenhouse gases. Such emission will of course occur regardless of where the industry is situated and therefore efforts must be made to ensure that it is situated where energy resources are renewable and where the total emissions are kept at a minimum. Any other approach would be in direct contradiction of the objective of the Framework Convention on Climate Change and Agenda 21, which emphasises increased use of renewable energy sources in the power economy of the world. It should be kept in mind that if all greenhouse gases are included, an aluminium plant utilising energy from fossile fuel power plants would result in seven times more emissions than if the energy is harnessed from hydropower or other renewable energy sources. It is of course unavoidable that power projects and other utilisation of natural resources have some impact on the environment. Therefore we need to reconcile economic, regional and environmental views.
The provisions of the Kyoto Protocol on emission limits take some account of Iceland's special position, but the Protocol is inadequate in this respect and therefore unacceptable to us in its present form. However, further recognition of our special position is contained in a separate consensus of the Conference of Parties in Kyoto which provides that special account should be taken of the situation of countries where single projects can have a disproportionate impact on the total release of that country. This provision is clearly applicable to Iceland's situation. At the next Conference of Parties in Buenos Aires in November, Iceland will emphasise the implementation of this consensus. Any conclusion must allow us to continue to utilise our clean and renewable energy resources. This is one of Iceland's most vital interests and one of the government's most important tasks at this time.
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This year, the United Nations Year of the Ocean, the attention of the international community is directed to the living resources of the sea. The sea is mankind's most important source of protein and at the same time it plays a key role in the world's biological chain. Iceland's dependency on the resources of the sea is well known. About three quarters of our export revenues and more than half of our foreign currency revenues derive from fisheries. Obviously, participation in international co-operation on fisheries is an important aspect of our work on foreign affairs.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 ensures the sovereign rights of coastal states over the living resources of their economic jurisdictions. However, the Convention is more than an agreement on resources; it lays down the principles of the Law of the Sea in relations between the nations of the world. Bearing in mind that 70% of the world's surface is covered by oceans, it is no exaggeration to say that the Convention ranks among the United Nations' most important contributions to peace and security in the world since its foundation. In 1995 we saw the conclusion of the Convention on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, which lays down further details of the implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. This convention establishes a framework for the control of fisheries and protection of deep-sea fish stocks within regional fisheries organisations.
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In recent years, the spotlight has been on pollution, overfishing and the impact of human activities on the marine biosphere. About 80% of the pollution of the sea comes from land-based sources. The Icelandic Government has in international fora warned against the release of so-called persistent organic compounds into the sea, as these compounds have a tendency to accumulate in the marine biosphere.
The serious condition of some fish stocks around the world is also a subject of debate, though the doomsday predictions of some environmental organisations are far from the truth. The negative discussions of fisheries, the extremist opposition to whaling and unfounded generalisations and prejudices regarding the pollution of the oceans are a matter for special concern. Icelandic fishing grounds are virtually free of pollution and the fish from those areas is therefore a wholesome, quality consumer product. We like to draw attention to our success in fisheries control, which has laid the foundation for sustainable fisheries and a viable community here in the sub-arctic region of the world. The Icelandic system of fisheries control has attracted deserved attention in other countries as our fish stocks have grown stronger and the profitability of our fisheries has increased.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is clear that the utilisation of natural resources will remain a basic constituent of our economy and therefore we must show caution in this utilisation, and at the same time we must explain our situation and our views to other nations of the world. The right to utilise our own resources on land and on sea is a matter of vital significance for coming generations, a matter which touches on our independence and our sovereignty. It would be a novel development if Icelanders surrendered beforehand in the defence of their economic independence which is based first and foremost on the utilisation of our renewable natural resources. If that had been the attitude of our ancestors we would not now possess vigorous industries which are and should remain the basis of favourable living conditions into the distant future.