Halting anthropogenic climate change is a global priority in terms of environmental protection and sustainable development. Increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly caused by burning of fossil fuels, have numerous adverse effects. These include sea-level rise, melting of snow-caps and glaciers, more extreme weather events, droughts and ocean acidification. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) have now surpassed 400 ppm from about 270 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Adverse effects of climate change will get progressively worse if action is not taken to reduce emissons.
International cooperation on climate change is based on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change from 1992. The treaty focuses, inter alia, on mitigation, adaptation, finance and transfer of technology. Iceland in one of 197 Parties to the Convention. The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has the responsibility in Iceland for implementation of the UNFCCC and the agreements made under its auspices, the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Agreement (2015). Iceland also takes up some EU climate legislation through the agreement on the European Economic Area, and takes part in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which applies primarily to heavy industry and aviation.
Iceland has commitments to mitigate climate change under the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Iceland‘s mitigation actions aim at limiting emissions of greenhouse gases and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere by afforestation and revegetation.
Iceland‘s emissions profile is in many ways unusual. Almost all heating and electricity generation is provided for by renewables – hydro and geothermal energy. In most developed countries energy production is the biggest source of emissions, with the biggest potential for mitigation. The biggest source of emissions (not counting land use) is industrial processes, mainly from aluminium and ferrosilicon production. Other sectors with the highest share of emissions are road transport, agriculture, fisheries and waste management. Iceland‘s total greenhouse gas emissions (as reported to the Kyoto Protocol, not counting land use sources) were 4,5 million tons CO2-equivalent in 2016.
A climate action plan was adopted in 2010, aiming to help Iceland meet its mitigation target for 2020. A new action plan is being developed looking at targets for 2030. In its manifesto, the new government in Iceland announced in 2017 that Iceland would aim to be carbon neutral by 2040. This will be achieved by cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon uptake by soil and vegetation by actions in land use.
In general, climate-related regulations for Icelandic industry are comparable to that of other European countries (EU, Norway, Switzerland). Actions aimed at mitigating climate change include:
- Carbon tax (was increased by 50% in beginning of 2018).
- Participation in EU Emissions Trading Scheme; currently 11 Icelandic companies, mostly in heavy industry and aviation participate.
- Support for clean transport: Electric cars and other clean-technology vehicles get lower or zero fees and taxes, and a government fund supports charging stations for electric cars.
- Afforestation and revegetation: The government supports actions in these fields, which soak up CO2 from the atmosphere; the Icelandic Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service work on programmes in these fields, and the government also supports initiatives by local and regional forestry associations.
- Reclamations of wetlands: A programme has been launched under the auspices of the Soil Conservation Service.
Adaptation and Impact of Climate Change
Scientists at the Icelandic Met Office lead the work of a Scientific Committee on Climate Change in Iceland and the Met Office is the national focal point for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The third report on impacts of climate change in Iceland is due in January 2018.
Climate change will have a big impact on Iceland and Icelandic waters, as on most other countries and regions. Almost all of Iceland‘s glaciers are receding, and scientists predict that they may largely vanish in the next 100-200 years. Of special concern to Iceland is ocean acidification, which may have a profound impact on the marine ecosystem. Rapid acidification is observed in parts of Icelandic waters, shrinking the habitats of bivalves and many other organisms.