Government Publishes First-Ever Joint Policy on Land Reclamation and Reforestation

Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has released the Icelandic government’s first-ever joint policy on land reclamation and reforestation. This per a press release on the government’s website on Friday.

The plans for land reclamation and reforestation look ahead to 2031, but the primary action plan covers 2022-2026 and will shape the government’s priorities in these areas for the coming years. The action plan calls for research on the impacts of land reclamation, reforestation, and the restoration of biodiversity in the wetlands, as well as the creation of new quality criteria for reforestation land selection, and an evaluation of carbon balancing for emissions accounting. Another primary objective aims to restore the ecosystems of disturbed lands, wetlands, and both natural and newly cultivated forests.

In her capacity as Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s focus is on the protection, proliferation, and integrity of Iceland’s ecosystems, reads the press release. She also seeks to promote nature-based solutions in climate matters, as well as solutions that are in line with international agreements, support sustainable land use, increase knowledge, cooperation, and public health, and promote sustainable development in rural Iceland.

“I place a lot of emphasis on food production that’s based on sustainable development, whether that’s at land or at sea,” remarked Svandís. “With this plan, land reclamation and reforestation both contribute to sustainable development of communities all around the country. There will be employment opportunities in richer natural resources and development will be built on a sustainable foundation.”

See Also: New Report Examines Food Self-Sufficiency in Five Nordic Island Societies

The policy has been prepared in accordance with recent laws on land reclamation, forests, and reforestation and outlines the government’s vision for the future in these areas, as well as its core values and attendant priorities. The policy is also guided by developments at the international level and Iceland’s international agreements with the United Nations and other global organizations.

It has been in the works since 2019, when project boards were appointed with the task of formulating proposals for both a land reclamation and a national forestry plan. The two boards presented their proposals at an open forum in spring 2021, after which, the proposals were submitted to the Ministry along with an environmental assessment and a summary of the main comments received. The full policies, both the long-term 2031 plan and the 2022-2026 action plan, are available on the government website.

Scientists Document Glacier Melt in Real Time: ‘We Have to Make a Conscious, Informed Decision About Which Future We Choose’

New footage and photography compiled by a team of scientists at the University of Iceland shows three decades of glacial melt in just over three minutes. CNN reports that the team superimposes archival aerial photos on top of contemporary drone footage to show the dramatic effect that warming climates have had on glaciers in Southeast Iceland. Some of these glaciers are retreating at a rate of 150 metres [492 ft] a year. Since 2000, it’s estimated that Iceland’s glaciers have decreased by some 800 km2 [309 mi2].

The team is led by Þorvarður (Thorri) Árnason, director at the Hornafjörður Research Centre. “About 14 years ago, I started to do repeat photography at one of the glaciers here, Hoffellsjökull,” Þorvarður told CNN. “I went once a month for eight years. It’s like visiting an old friend, there’s a sense of familiarity.”

Iceland has twenty outlet glaciers that extend from the Vatnajökull ice cap. All of them, Þorvarður says, have receded in the time he has been observing them. Some experts say that if global warming conditions continue apace, Iceland’s glaciers are at risk of disappearing completely.

See Also: Snæfellsjökull Could Be Gone in Thirty Years

“We need to tell people what the reality is,” says Þorvarður. “On the other hand, we don’t want to frighten people, to immobilize them through anxiety.”

Having documented the present situation, Þorvarður and his team are now turning their attention toward the future. “We want to pre-visualize what our fastest retreating glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, will look like 100 years from now. Based on worse-case, business as usual, and best case. There is always a range of potential futures that is open to us. There is still a chance for the wounds to heal and for the glaciers to recover, at least to some extent. We have to make a conscious, informed decision about which future we choose.”

See the full documentary short, in English, on CNN, here.

Icelandic Youth Mark One Year of Weekly Climate Strikes

Climate Strike Iceland

Students demonstrated in Austurvöllur square on Friday, demanding that the government take action on climate issues. Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the first weekly School Strike for Climate in Iceland. To mark the day, primary, secondary, and college students gathered in front of Hallgrímskirkja just before noon and marched to Austurvöllur square, in front of the Icelandic Parliament, where student leaders delivered speeches demanding action on climate change.

Vísir reports that young Icelandic activists involved in the ongoing #FridaysForFuture school strikes say the government has yet to take meaningful steps towards addressing climate issues in the country. This was the 52nd Friday that young people in Iceland have demonstrated in support of climate change action.

Jóna Þórey Pétursdóttir, the president of the University of Iceland’s Student Council, told reporters that she believed students’ ongoing protests have had a measurable impact thus far, particularly in terms of making the topic of climate change a public debate and raising awareness about climate issues. “…[W]e’re showing that young people are ready to take matters into our own hands. The goal, of course, was to demand increased measures from the government and we’ve yet to see those. Which is why we’re going to continue,” she remarked.

“We want a bright future,” Brynjar Einarsson, a student at Háteigsskóli primary school, told reporters. “A future that isn’t polluted. One where we can live without needing to be worried that we’re going to die because of climate change.”

Brynjar’s 13-year-old classmate, Jökull Jónsson, has been involved in the school strikes for climate from the beginning, and expressed a certain amount of pessimism about the future, although he did have specific ideas about ways in which Iceland could meaningfully address climate change issues.

“Really, we just need to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible and try to be environmentally friendly.”


Akureyri Builds 13th Gas Station

While Reykjavík has one gas station per 3,000 residents and London, England has one per 10,000, Akureyri, North Iceland, has one gas station per 1,500 residents. Reykjavík City Council has implemented an action plan to halve the number of gas stations in the city by 2025, Akureyri is working in the opposite direction, RÚV reports.

Akureyri is the largest town in North Iceland, with a population of just under 19,000. Despite the Icelandic government’s plans to institute a total ban on new diesel and petrol cars by 2030, the town is currently constructing its 13th gas station, on Sjafnargata street. Akureyri City Councillor Sóley Björk Stefánsdóttir of the Left Green Movement says car culture prevails in the town. Earlier this week, children and those with respiratory conditions were warned to stay inside due to high levels of particulate pollution.

Car culture dominates

“There is no clear spirit within the local council to address the issue and think about how we’re going to use this space that’s being covered by gas stations,” Sóley remarked. “There is a huge emphasis on car ownership here and that everyone needs to drive. I forgot my lunch at home and I’m on my way to a meeting and I realised I had to turn around to get a banana because I can’t buy a banana downtown in Akureyri, but I can take gas.”

Tryggvi Þór Ingvarsson, chairman of the planning council, says that the reduction of space at Olís gas station on Tryggvabraut resulted in the decision to allocate the company a plot of land on Sjafnargata. When asked whether he believes the number of gas stations in Akureyri was reasonable, Tryggvi responded: “Yes and no, it has a historic explanation. It may not be reasonable for there to be 1,500 people per each gas station, but it’s not necessarily unreasonable either.”

Chicken Feathers an Underutilised By-Product of Poultry Industry

A poultry company and a research organisation have put forth a new use for chicken feathers: feed for pigs, domestic pets, fish, and other animals. RÚV reports that Matís, a government-owned, independent research firm, and Reykjagarður ehf., the company behind the Holta poultry product brand, have published a report which concludes that chicken feathers are an underutilised by-product of the poultry industry.

The partners’ research indicates that chicken feathers are rich in protein and could, for instance, replace up to 30% of fishmeal without having any ill effect on farmed cod.

“In order to utilise chicken feathers as feather meal nutritious for animal cultivation, proteins are degraded to make the feather meal digestible for farming animals,” reads the report’s English summary. “In this project feather meal from chicken feathers was hydrolysed to increase the digestibility. The chemical content of the feather meal was examined as well as amino acids composition. The Icelandic feather meal was also compared to results of researches conducted elsewhere on feather meal. Feather meal has an 80% protein content and its digestibility is comparable to fish meal. Feather meal has been used for a long time in feed in North and South America and has in recent years been pushing itself as a cheap protein source for farming animals in Europe.”

Iceland produces around 2,000 tonnes of chicken feathers every year. Therefore, the report continues, utilising this poultry by-product as feed would make the poultry industry more environmentally friendly, as the feathers are currently landfilled. Iceland intends to reduce the amount of waste that is landfilled every year by 2020; finding a new use for chicken feathers would aid in that goal, say researchers. The feathers would also not have to be imported, like other kinds feed, and would create additional value within the poultry industry.


How is the Icelandic government promoting electric vehicles?

electric car charging station

The Icelandic government has put forward a plan to replace fossil fuels with electricity in the next decades. Among the government’s goals is a total ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. The government aims to have 30,000 electric cars in Iceland by 2026. To make this transition go smoothly, charging ports have […]

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Stricter Regulations on Marine Fuel Proposed

overfishing iceland

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has published an amended draft to the current regulations on the Sulphur content of liquid fuels. RÚV reports that if these amendments are adopted, the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) would be prohibited within Icelandic territorial waters starting at the beginning of next year.

Heavy Fuel Oil is “the generic term [that] describes fuels used to generate motion and/or fuels to generate heat that have a particularly high viscosity and density.” HFOs “are mainly used as marine fuel, and HFO is the most widely used marine fuel at this time; virtually all medium and low-speed marine diesel engines are designed for heavy fuel oil.”

About 22% of the marine fuel sold in Iceland in 2016 was HFO; it is used by some Icelandic fishing vessels. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the pollution from cruise ships, which run on HFO, and according to current Icelandic law, the use of such fuel is prohibited when a cruise ship is docked at an Icelandic port.

The current law, which went into effect in 2015, allows for the Sulphur content in marine fuel used within Icelandic territorial waters to be up to 3.5%. If the amendments go into effect, this percentage would go down to .1%. This is lower than the updated Sulphur pollution regulations that are outlined in the revised International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships agreement, or MARPOL Annex VI. Per the revised regulations, which go into effect on January 1, 2020, cosignatories to the agreement, including Iceland, will not be allowed to use marine fuel that has a Sulphur content that is higher than .5%.

If Iceland puts a stricter Sulphur content limit in place, ships using a higher percentage fuel would need to employ approved methods of reducing their Sulphur Dioxide emissions while within Icelandic territorial waters. A .1% Sulphur limit would, however, be in accordance with restrictions already in place in the so-called ECA areas in the Baltic and North Seas.

Students Start Weekly Strike for Climate

A demonstration will be held in Austurvöllur square on Friday afternoon to raise awareness and urge governmental action on climate issues. The event, which is being organized by the National Union for Icelandic Students (LÍS) and the Icelandic Upper Secondary Student Union (SÍF), was announced on Facebook and per the description, will be held every Friday going forward from noon to 1pm.

“The strike is inspired by Greta Thunberg whose school strikes for climate in Sweden have garnered widespread attention,” explains the event post. “Tens of thousands of youth have followed her example and went to the streets to object to the authorities’ lack of action, in Belgium, Britain, USA, Australia, Germany, Sweden and other countries.”

The organizers point to a recent Gallup poll in which 62.6% of Icelanders reported having changed their behaviour in recent years to lessen their impact on the environment and climate. The survey showed that 51.6% of Icelanders have specifically made changes to their daily shopping habits in order to reduce their environmental impact. Around one quarter of Icelanders also reported having changed their travel habits for the same reason.

“The government published an environmental plan for 2030 with the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2040” write the student organizers. “While we support this plan, further action is needed. The current plan is not conducive to reaching the goal of staying below 1,5° C warming. We demand actions that have the capacity to reach that goal.”

“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2,5% of GDP must be reserved for actions towards keeping the temperature rise within 1.5° C. The Icelandic plan is to spend 0,05% of GDP per year for the next five years. We demand that Iceland rise to the challenge, listen to the scientists, declare an emergency and reserve at least 2,5% of domestic GDP for direct climate actions. The labour market must also take responsibility and therefore a certain change of mindset must take place.”

“We demand drastic action,” the event post reads in closing. “Now. For coming generations.”

New Conservation Laws Go Into Effect at Hornstrandir

New land management and conservation regulations around the Hornstrandir nature preserve in the Westfjords went into effect on Friday, RÚV reports. The new regulations now ban camping outside of specially designated areas and put significant restrictions on cruise ship landings, among other measures that have been put in place to keep the preserve as “untouched as possible” for future generations.

Hornstrandir was established as a nature preserve in 1975. The updated Hornstrandir regulations are the result of a collaboration between local land owners, as well as planning authorities and the Environment Agency of Iceland. They reiterate the overall conservation plan for Hornstrandir, and also lay out an action plan for the more pressing concerns related to the preserve and the order in which they need to be prioritized between now and 2023. Travel habits have changed a great deal since the last time these regulations were examined, Kristín Ósk Jónasdóttir, a specialist working with the Environment Agency, points out, which is why it was important to update them now.

Per the new regulations, it is no longer legal for visitors to camp in Hornstrandir except in specifically designated areas where sanitary facilities have been provided. Likewise, visitors may not ride bikes or bring dogs within the preserve (exceptions are made for dog owners who live within the boundaries of the preserve, as well as people with rescue or service dogs). Tour group size will be limited: a maximum of 30 people in the western part of the preserve and 15 in the eastern part. Larger tour groups will need to apply to the Environment Agency for an exception. The landing of cruise ships with 50 passengers or more will also no longer be permitted within the preserve. It’s also requested that the Coast Guard update its navigational chart such that all ship traffic must be at least 115 metres [377 ft] away from all sea bird colonies and require that permission to take videos or photographs be specially obtained from the Environment Agency, as both can have a negative effect not only on other visitors’ experience, but also on the wildlife itself.

Kristín Ósk says that maintaining the tranquility of the preserve is important, which is why helicopter landings and drone operation is also not allowed within its boundaries. Similarly are small aircraft landings only allowed within designated areas in the preserve. “In all reality, we’re trying to keep the preserve as untouched as possible and what we’ve been trying to do in the preceding decades should still be possible for coming generations to do as well.”

Four Million Trees to be Planted in 2019

The Icelandic Forest Service intends to plant nearly four million trees this year as part of a long-term climate action plan, RÚV reports. The new plantings will supplement the three million that the Forest Service planted last year, and will include birch, larch, black cottonwood, lodgepole pine, and sitka spruce trees, among other species.

“There are exciting times ahead,” remarked National Forest Division Chief Þröstur Eysteinsson. “This summer, we decided that reforestation would play a big part in Icelanders’ climate action plan and that we should plant a lot more trees in the coming years than we have so far. This won’t start all that quickly, but we expect to get close to four million trees in total and then go up from there.” Tens of millions of krónur are currently being invested in reforestation projects, and Þröstur hopes that by 2020, investment will increase to hundreds of millions.

Iceland’s five-year fiscal plan anticipates spending ISK 6.8 billion [$56.4 million; €49.2 million] on climate-related expenses. The majority of this funding, or ISK 4 billion [$33.2 million; €28.9 million], will be allocated to CO2 capture efforts lead by the Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service. The Forest Service will receive an increase of ISK 450 million [$3.7 million; €3.3 million] by 2020, going up to ISK 1.7 billion [$14.1 million; €12.3 million] by 2023.

This year, the Forest Service will be planting a large percentage of its new trees on land in its ownership, particularly in Skorradalur in West Iceland. There will also be significant plantings in in South Iceland at a new grove near Þorlákshöfn—aided by this year’s seedling fundraiser to benefit ICE-SAR—as well as one on Mt. Hekla.