If Iceland sticks to its plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, it will double its forest cover in the next two decades, RÚV reports. Forests cover just 2% of the country’s surface area today. Hreinn Óskarsson of the Icelandic Forest Service says afforestation can be an emotional issue for Icelanders, who are attached to the landscape in its current form.
Forests currently cover around 2% of Iceland’s total surface area, equivalent to around half of the Reykjanes peninsula. Glaciers, in comparison, cover around 10%. When humans first settled permanently in Iceland in the 9th century, forests covered somewhere between 25-40% of the island, but most of them were cleared to make room for sheep and cattle, whose grazing prevented the forests from growing back. The Icelandic Forest Service (IFS) was founded in 1908 but it wasn’t until the 1950s that large-scale afforestation began in the country.
The forests planted in Iceland more than half a century ago are now producing usable wood, comparable in quality to wood imported from abroad. Earlier this month, a new 100-metre pedestrian (and horse) bridge across Iceland’s Þjórsá river was unveiled, built entirely from Icelandic timber. It is the first project of its kind. Trausti Jóhansson, a forest warden in South Iceland, stated he is proud that forestry has reached this point in Iceland. There is growing demand for Icelandic timber, according to Trausti, and more parties getting involved in production. “We’re always developing Icelandic timber further and further.”