Iceland to Buy Emission Allowances to Meet Kyoto Commitments

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

The Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Climate has decided to buy emission allowances from other nations in order to meet its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, an international environmental treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It has been clear for some time that Iceland has fallen significantly behind meeting it climate goals, far exceeding its original allotment of carbon credits in the quota system established by the Kyoto Protocol. By the time the figures are settled in the middle of this year, Iceland will need to buy emission credits for the equivalent of 3.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to the Environment Agency of Iceland.

Read More: Energy Credit Market Means Only 13% of Icelandic Energy is Renewable

Notably, Iceland has up until now refrained from buying emission allowances. In a recent memo by Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, however, buying emission credits will become key to Iceland meeting its environmental commitments.

According the results of a working group commissioned in 2020, Iceland could best make use of AAU and CER credits. AAU credits, or Assigned Amount Units, correspond to the original emission allowance given to nations under the Kyoto Protocol. Nations with unused emission credits can sell these on the market to other nations exceeding their allotment. CER credits, or Certified Emission Reduction, are given to nations engaged in climate-friendly development projects in under-developed nations.

Vísir reports that no decision has yet been taken on which credit is to purchased by government.

Current estimates indicate that some 800 million ISK [$5.7 million; €5.3 million] will be needed to purchased the required credits. The decision to buy credits is still under consideration, so the funds are not currently allocated. Such an expenditure would require a budget authorisation to finalise.

Critics Say Emission Allowance Leads to No Change

Some critics have vocally opposed Iceland’s intention to “greenwash” through accounting. One particularly outspoken critics has been Pirate representative Andrés Ingi Jónsson.

In a statement to Vísir, Andrés Ingi said: “Iceland will get away with not having implemented real, systematic changes for environmental issues. It will instead be able to resort to accounting tricks and paying fines, actions which have no actual affect on improving the climate.”

According to Andrés Ingi, flaws in the Kyoto system have led to an oversupply of emission credits, meaning that Iceland is allowed to buy these credits at a significant discount. At current market prices, Iceland will be able to buy off each tonne of carbon dioxide produced with around 235 ISK [1.$67; €1.57].



Sustainability Conference Centres Around Iceland’s Climate Goals

katrín jakobsdóttir prime minister iceland

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson met today with other ministers and officials for the founding of the Council for Sustainability.

The meeting was held at 14:00 today in the House of Collections.

Read more: Iceland Lagging Behind on Climate

Pursuant to Iceland’s being a signatory of the Paris Agreement, Iceland is obligated to cut greenhouse emissions by 40% by 2030. Additionally, Icelandic policy aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. Mechanisms exist to incentivize the fulfilment of these goals, and if Iceland fails in this, then the consequences may prove costly.

Although heating and electricity are covered by renewable energy, much of Iceland’s energy goes towards energy-intensive industries, such as aluminium smelting. Iceland is still also very dependent on cars, especially in rural parts of the country.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir gave a speech at the meeting, calling for a more ambitious approach to Iceland’s climate goals.

The Council of Sustainability will be chaired by the Prime Minister, and will work in cooperation with local municipalities, parliament, NGOs, and private companies.

According to Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the energy transition must be a top priority, but it must also act as a “guiding light in all areas of society.”

Read more of our coverage of Icelandic conservation efforts here

Local Health Board Asks Again for Akureyri to Monitor Cruise Emissions

The Health Board of Northeast Iceland has reissued its request that the Town of Akureyri invest in a device that would monitor cruise ship emissions in the area, RÚV reports. Opinions are divided as to how polluted cruise ship emissions are, but hazy white smoke is often visible hanging over the town when ships are berthed in the harbour.

Almost 200,000 tourists travelling on 200 cruise ships will visit Akureyri this summer. There is usually more than one ship in port at the same time and in certain weather conditions, a white haze can be observed hanging over the town. On a windless day, like Friday, exhaust from the cruise ships in Akureyri’s harbour is easily visible.

Pétur Ólafsson, Akureyri’s harbour master, says he isn’t concerned about the emissions. “Many of the ships that come to Iceland now have really excellent cleaning equipment, called scrubbers, which clean their exhaust by around 98% so it’s often just steam coming out. People understandably think it’s all pollution, but it isn’t.”

While he admitted he hadn’t chemically analysed the haze that was hanging over Akureyri on Friday, Pétur noted that the ships in the harbour on Friday “use legal fuel” and no heavy fuel oil.

Scrubbers help, but they also create their own pollutants

Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is a widely used but controversial fuel for large vessels. It’s comparatively inexpensive, but has a thick, viscous consistency, has a high sulphur concentration, and is incredibly difficult to clean up in the event of a spill, as evidenced by the 2020 incident in which a Japanese freight carrier started leaking HFO into the Indian Ocean around the coral reefs of Mauritius.

As of that same year, Iceland issued a number of restrictions on marine fuels, including limiting the sulphur content in marine fuels used in Iceland and within the pollution jurisdiction of Iceland to .5% and mandating that vessels at berth in ports “shall use shore electricity instead of marine fuels as possible.” In the event that shoreline electricity cannot be used, “vessels in ports in Iceland shall not use marine fuels with a sulphur content exceeding 0.1% (m/m).”

But even if the cruise ships aren’t using HFO and are using scrubbers, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any risk of pollutants and emissions. According to a statement on the subject of scrubbers issued by HFO-Free Arctic in 2019: “Using a scrubber to extract the sulphur from a ship’s exhaust results in the production of scrubber effluent or waste which will need to be disposed of. Most scrubbers are “open loop” which means the waste produced, which can be high in sulphur and also other pollutants such as heavy metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, can be dumped straight into the sea. There are also concerns that if a scrubber malfunctions in cold temperatures or due to ice, ships will continue to burn HFO and will emit high levels of Sulphur.”

First request for pollution to be monitored issued in 2019

The Health Board of Northeast Iceland first requested that Akureyri purchase a device that could monitor pollution from cruise ship emissions in 2019. The request was turned down. Alfreð Schiöth, the managing director of the Health Board noted that ports in Faxaflói, the bay that extends between the peninsulas of Reykjanes in the south and Snæfellsnes in the west and also includes Reykjavík and the West Iceland town of Akranes.

“The ports along Faxaflói taking doing really precise measurements at present and we’ll be watching them closely because those are the same ships that are coming [north].”


New Technology for Prawn Fishing Uses Light to Reduce Emissions

An Icelandic company has developed a technology for prawn fishing that uses light to herd prawn up from the sea floor. This allows the fishing equipment to remain off the sea floor, leading to less disturbance of the environment and lower emissions than conventional trawling. The technology is set to be put on the market soon.

Herding prawn with light

“We are developing the next generation of fishing equipment. Fishing equipment that can fly close to the bottom without touching the bottom. Then we have a light that herds,” Halla Jónsdóttir, founder of Optitog, told RÚV reporters. Optitog has named this patented light beam technology “Virtual Trawl” and has data that shows that it results in higher yields, compared to using the equipment with the light off.

“We have a special light that forms a sort of wall or line in the sea and we see that it works to herd [the prawn].” The prawn swims ahead of the light, up off the sea floor and into the nets. It’s possible to set the equipment so that it travels a consistent distance above the sea floor, for example 30 centimetres [11.8 inches].

Lower emissions

Because Optitog’s equipment does not trawl along the sea floor, it encounters 30% less resistance than conventional trawling, meaning the method drastically reduces fuel consumption. By leaving the sea floor largely undisturbed, the new technology also reduces CO2 emissions caused by disturbing organic material on the bottom of the ocean.

Halla says that a Norwegian party is working to put Optitog on the market as an environmentally-friendly fishing technology. Halla believes the technology could be applied to fishing other species.

Icelandic Student Takes Second Place in European Statistics Competition

Ólöf María Steinarsdóttir, a student at Reykjavík’s Technical College, won second place in the 16-18 age group of the European Statistics Competition (ESC) for her statistical analysis of why Iceland has such high greenhouse gas emissions per capita. RÚV reports that 17,000 students from 19 countries took part in the competition.

The ESC is a competition organized by Eurostat and participating national statistical institutes, aimed at encouraging secondary students to become literate in statistics and official statistical sources. The competition is divided into two phases, national and European. Participants first participate at the national level and then those winners proceed to the European finals. This is the fifth year the competition has been held, but the first year Iceland has participated.

After winning the national competition in Iceland, Ólöf María and her fellow finalists were asked to produce two-minute videos on the environment. “Contestants had to present their findings on what official statistics tell about the environment in their country/region,” explains the press release on the Eurostat website. “The students produced really powerful videos, some even in the form of a rap song. Their message is clear: we need to build (statistical) knowledge about environmental issues and take action!” A jury of European experts reviewed the 66 submissions and selected the top five videos in the 14 – 16 age group (32 submissions) and the 16 – 18 age group (34 submissions). Ólöf María’s video placed second in the latter group, behind the team from Bulgaria. (A description of, and links to, all the top-placing videos can be found here.)

‘The Green Facade: The Story of Iceland Told by Statistics’

In her video, ‘The Green Facade: The Story of Iceland Told by Statistics,’ Ólöf María examines why Iceland produces 5.24x as much in emissions as its larger European neighbours. This despite the fact that on a household-level, emissions are low in Iceland, and have been consistently so for over 25 years. Industry, and most specifically aluminum production, produces 90% of Iceland’s emissions. See the full, two-minute video, in English, below.

Clearing the Air

carbon neutral Iceland 2040

Not long after it signed the Paris Agreement, the Icelandic government set an even more ambitious goal: to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, ten years earlier than the agreement outlined. Since then, the City of Reykjavík, the National Power Company, and the National Church have all hopped on board, with their own timelines for reaching carbon neutrality by 2040 or sooner. While it seems that Icelanders are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work, they have a daunting task ahead of them.

So how do you make a country carbon neutral? Experts, activists, and decision makers are realising that it’s not one step at a time. Rather, it’s many steps at once, in time with the steps of others – a co-ordinated dance towards a brighter future.

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