Icelandic Clergy Urge Government to Declare Climate Emergency

priest national church of iceland

Clergy of the National Church of Iceland are calling for the government to declare a state of emergency due to climate change, RÚV reports. The church’s environmental project manager says it is urgent to restore wetlands on church property, promote forestry, and use electric vehicles in the National Church’s work.

Some 200 Icelandic pastors and deacons meet yearly at a synod to discuss church affairs. Attendees of the 2019 meeting adopted extensive environmental resolutions, including measures such as restoring drained wetlands on church properties, undertaking large-scale forestry, and carbon-neutralising the church’s transportation within the next three years. Clergy also seconded the Icelandic Environmental Association’s call for the government to declare a climate emergency.

“I think it’s becoming clear to people, and not least of all to most Christians, that we need to take more radical action on climate change issues,” stated Halldór Reynisson, the church’s environmental project manager. “That’s why we want to start by doing what we can.”

The resolutions agreed upon at the synod will now be put before the church’s board. If approved, they must be submitted to the church council this fall before they take effect.

Single-Use Plastic Bags Banned in Iceland

Bónus plastic bag

The Icelandic Parliament passed a bill yesterday banning single-use plastic bags, Fréttablaðið reports. As of July 1, stores will not be allowed to provide plastic carrier bags free of charge to customers. A total ban on single-use plastic bags will take effect on January 1, 2021.

The ban extends to plastic produce bags available free of charge in grocery store produce sections. Stores can, however, continue to sell plastic sandwich bags and garbage bags on their shelves. The ban will not apply to carrier bags made of other materials.

Icelandic grocery stores have been adopting single-use bags made of materials other than plastic in recent months. “We are very happy about these changes and they are in line with our emphases,” says Gréta María Grétarsdóttir, CEO of grocery chain Krónan. The bill was passed with 43 votes and 7 abstentions and is part of an 18-step government action plan to reduce the use of plastic.

Increasing Danger of Landslides in Iceland

Reynisfjara

Experts say landslides are becoming more common in Iceland, partially around glaciers and along the island’s south coast. Geologist and landslide researcher Þorsteinn Sæmundsson told RÚV there is a need to increase monitoring of areas which are at risk of such geological events, especially those which happen to be popular tourist sites.

“Rockfalls and landslides are of course natural geological processes where external forces are evening out the earth,” says Þorsteinn. “But now, since 1990, there appears to be an increase in large landslides [in Iceland]. Whether that’s exactly connected to climate change or not, that’s of course difficult to say.”

Risk of flood

“We are seeing an increased frequency of landslides and rockfalls on glaciers,” says Þorsteinn. Landslides that occur above outlet glaciers such as Svínafellsjökull carry additional danger. They may cause sudden tidal waves by displacing water in the glacial lagoons below. It’s a simple question of physics, Þorsteinn explains. “You can try it yourself at home, you can fill your bathtub with water and jump in, and then you’ll see how the water goes out.”

A large crevasse which has formed above Svínafellsjökull outlet glacier in South Iceland is one location being carefully monitored by experts for this reason. “We are producing a risk assessment there which is in the works,” says geologist Jón Kristinn Helgason of the Icelandic Met Office. Jón says that increased occurrences of large landslides are encouraging more research and monitoring at the institution.

Svínafellsheiði
[/media-credit] Crevasse in Svínafellsheiði above Svínafellsjökull.

Danger to tourists

Non-glacial areas are also becoming more prone to landslides. Þorsteinn says the most likely reason is warming soil. “With that, slopes which we have until now considered to be stable become suddenly unstable.” The South Coast of Iceland, which features the world’s most powerful waves, is also of concern, including popular tourist sites such as Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara black sand beach. “While the nature there is both beautiful and magnificent, it’s also incredibly dangerous,” says Þorsteinn. “This is a changed situation which we need to take seriously and monitor.”