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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Hydrogen use in an international context

Hydrogen use in an international context

Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson
Director of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Iceland

At a seminar on hydrogen use at the
Permanent Mission of Iceland to the United Nations

9 November 2004

Thank you all for coming and thank you Ambassadors Hannesson and Baja for hosting this presentation today.

The fact that countries as far apart geographically as Iceland and the Philippines are sponsoring this event, underlines that new ways of utilizing renewable energy, including hydrogen, have become a worldwide concern. Of course, hydrogen is of particular interest to countries like ours that do not possess their own sources of hydrocarbons.

Growing energy demand is one of the greatest challenges of the world we live in and we are being reminded of that at the gas pump these days. Energy services are an integral component of our economic wellbeing in the industrialized world. They are also a crucial part of poverty alleviation in the developing world, where around two billion people do not have access to electricity.

Furthermore, energy issues are highly relevant in the context of the ongoing debate on global climate change. Today, as we speak, the Arctic Council is launching, at a symposium in Reykjavík, the first comprehensive regional assessment of the impacts of climate change since the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention. It shows that temperatures are rising in the Arctic at twice the global average. Glaciers are melting and the whole ecosystem changing at an accelerating pace. If the projections of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment are accurate, as we have every reason to believe that they are, the Arctic should be seen as a bellwether for the rest of the world.

As we adapt to the impacts of climate change, we must also find ways of mitigating its possible anthropogenic sources. One way of doing so is through the adoption of eco-friendly energy solutions.

Therefore, whether looked at in terms of climate change or poverty alleviation, energy issues have become fundamental to our joint efforts to ensure sustainable development. This is why world leaders set themselves three major goals in the area of energy when they met in Johannesburg two years ago: of increasing access to modern energy services, increasing energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable energy.

Iceland is convinced that hydrogen can have a role to play in securing those three long-term objectives. Our government made clear its intention to progress towards the hydrogen economy six years ago and you will learn more about this from our experts.

However, no one country will make a successful transition to the hydrogen economy in isolation from the rest of the world. There are still a number of technical obstacles to the commercial utilization of hydrogen. To develop the technology and applications needed to overcome those obstacles, cooperation is needed between governments and between governments and businesses.

But this is may not be enough. We need also build an international consensus for eco-friendly energy solutions to accelerate technological innovation and lower production costs. We need to gain international approval and support for the development of hydrogen as a flexible energy carrier.

Fortunately, things are moving in this direction. Different actors, like the International Energy Agency and the European Union, have been working for some time on hydrogen issues. Last year, fifteen countries set up the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy, led by the United States. Developing countries, including Brazil, China and India, are actively participating in this partnership.

Within the United Nations system we will be focusing special attention on energy for sustainable development in the Commission on Sustainable Development in the 2006/2007 two year cycle. This will be an excellent opportunity to discuss the full range of options available, including the option of hydrogen. With your support, I hope Iceland, the Philippines and other interested countries will be able to work together to make the best possible use of that opportunity.


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