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.

Little Change in GHG Emissions between 2017 and 2018

smog

Almost no change in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was observed in Iceland between 2017 and 2018 (a decrease of 0.1%), according to a new report by the Environment Agency of Iceland. In a brief press release introducing the report’s findings, authors of the report state that GHG emissions in Iceland reached an all-time high in 2007. A considerable decline in emissions followed the 2008 economic crisis, but since 2011, emissions have been relatively fixed.

A negligible decrease in emissions

In a press release on April 15, the Environment Agency of Iceland referenced its National Inventory Report (NIR), which was published on the same day, and submitted per Iceland’s obligations towards the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. These commitments require that parties report annually on their GHG emissions by sources and removals by sinks.

Annual GHG emissions in Iceland, from sectors that the government has committed to reducing (in accordance with the abovementioned obligations), are shown on the below graph (taken from the EAI’s website). Since 2005, which serves as the benchmark year for Iceland’s obligations to the EU, GHG emissions have declined by 6.3%. However, as the graph indicates, emissions have been relatively stable since 2012.

(Blue: Energy, Orange: Industry, Grey: Agriculture, Yellow: Waste)

The primary sources of emissions that fall under the government’s responsibility are road transport (33%), fuel consumption by fishing vessels (18%), agricultural soil (8%), refrigerant emissions or F-gases (6%) and emissions from landfills (7%). The proportion of emissions can be seen on the below picture (sources for emissions that account for less than 4% were omitted from the graph).

The National Inventory Report

Further information about Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions can be found in the aforementioned National Inventory Report. The report, submitted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, contains information about the evolution of greenhouse gas emissions in Iceland between 1990 and 2018. The report also describes the methodology used to appraise the emissions; contains data about emissions and removals calculations from the Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) sector; and data about emissions from international air and maritime traffic (not a part of the government’s obligations).

Green Tax Would Encourage Recycling

A proposed “green tax” would make it more expensive for landfills in Iceland to bury garbage than to recycle, Vísir reports. The landfilling of waste is currently responsible for 7% of Iceland’s overall greenhouse emissions.

Minister of the Environment and Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson says there are currently two kinds of green incentives on the table. One of these is to levy a tax on landfilling waste. The other is to tax the gas used in the refrigeration machinery associated with the landfilling process. Guðmundur Ingi says that this gas is responsible for around 7% of Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Green taxes such as these are intended to encourage individuals and businesses to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviours and also increase recycling around the country. Guðmundur hopes that a green tax will help to reduce Iceland’s greenhouse emissions and thereby reduce the country’s overall climate impact.

“These are, in my opinion, very important environmental initiatives…by landfilling, we’re creating far too many greenhouse emissions, but with these taxes, it will be more expensive to landfill and more competitive to recycle,” he concluded.

The green tax was one of the financial policy proposals discussed in parliament on Thursday. It’s hoped that it will be implemented in phases in the next year.

Reykjavík to Reduce Gas Stations by Half by 2025

Reykjavík is set to dramatically reduce the number of gas stations in the city by 2030, Vísir reports. Currently, there are 75 gas stations in the capital area, but Reykjavík City Council has approved plans to reduce these to around 37 in the next six years as part of its environmental initiatives.

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertson announced the plan on his Facebook page this week, saying that the gas stations will be replaced with apartment buildings, shops, and other services. Originally, the city had intended to meet this goal by 2030, but Dagur noted that the City Council liked the initiative so much that everyone agreed to comply with a tighter deadline.

Reykjavík’s climate plan foresees gas stations largely disappearing from the city by 2040 and that vehicular traffic and public transportation will also be greenhouse emission-free by the same time. Current projections are that private cars will account for 58% of transportation by 2030, while public transportation will account for 12% and cycling 30%.

Twice as Many Travellers Offsetting Their Carbon Emissions

About 100 people have offset the carbon emissions from their flights to and from Iceland so far this year, which is already double the number of people who did so in 2018. RÚV reports that four thousand trees must be planted on one hectare [2.47 acres] in order to accomplish this balance.

Travelers wishing to offset the carbon emissions generated by their travels can register on the website of the Kolviður Fund. The fund was established by the Icelandic Forestry Association and the Icelandic Environment Association with the support of the Icelandic government and aims to “reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by increasing the carbon sequestration of forest ecosystems, binding the soil and reducing soil erosion, increasing public awareness and the awareness of companies in regard to greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting education on related issues.”

In addition to individual travelers, as many as 60 companies have also registered to offset their own carbon footprints through the website. “We’re figuring on planting around 150,000 trees this summer around Úlfljótsvatn lake,” explained Kolviður chairman Reynir Kristinsson. “It was around 100,000 last year.” It could take around 60 years for trees to achieve full carbon sequestration, he continued, but the plants will be considerably effective after even just ten years.

Two flights to Tenerife from Iceland generates as much pollution as one family car over the course of an entire year. As Icelanders become more habitual travelers and take a growing number of trips abroad, an increasing number of people are experiencing flugskömm, or flight shame, over the negative effects that increased air travel has on the environment.

Eighty-three percent of Icelanders traveled abroad last year—the highest percentage of citizens to do so since 2009. Even so, multiple surveys have shown that Icelanders are less willing to change their travel habits out of concern for the environmental impact than they are to change their consumption habits at home. 52.6% of respondents said they were planning a city break abroad in 2019, 43.5% were planning a holiday in a “sunny country,” and 34.7% said they’d be visiting friends or relatives who live abroad.

Emissions Will Increase by 10% if Silicon Plant Reopens

Stakksberg Silicon Plant Helguvík.

Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions will increase by over 10% if the silicon plant in Helguvík resumes its operations, RÚV reports. This data was provided by the Environment Agency of Iceland in response to a direct inquiry from the news agency. Stakksberg, a subsidiary of Arion Bank which took over the plant after it went bankrupt, is currently renovating it with plans to sell.

From the time of its opening, the Helguvík silicon plant, previously owned by United Silicon, was plagued by operational troubles and ultimately went bankrupt amidst widespread community outcry over the environmental and health impact it was having on the surrounding communities.

At maximum production – that is, 100,000 tonnes of silicon metal annually – Stakksberg’s newly refurbished plant in Helguvík would produce 550,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Based on figures from 2017, Iceland’s total overall greenhouse emissions would therefore increase by at least 10% if the plant goes back into production.

There’s also a chance that Stakksberg’s plant would be joined by yet another, even larger silicon plant owned by the company Thorsil. Thorsil was given an operational license in 2017 and, if its plant produces at its maximum capacity – 110,000 tonnes of silicon metal annually – it will generate 605,000 tons of CO2 per year. The Environment Agency said that these figures must be treated as theoretical at present, however, as neither factory is currently in production.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, as of 2030, European Union nations will reduce their carbon emissions by 40% (based on the levels they were in 1990). Although not part of the European Union, Iceland has ratified the agreement on the understanding that the country will reduce its emissions by a fiscally responsible and manageable percentage. It has now been determined that Iceland only needs to reduce emissions by 29% (based on 2005 levels) by 2030. Despite this, Iceland has approved a climate change strategy that still seeks to reduce emissions by the Paris Agreement levels of 40%. Prime Minister Katrín Jakóbsdóttir has taken this goal even further, setting a goal of making the country entirely carbon neutral by 2040.

Nevertheless, the government’s action plan on climate change does anticipate that up until 2030, emissions from heavy industry in Iceland will increase considerably. From 1990 until 2016, emissions increased 106%.

A silicon plant went into production at Bakki, near Húsavík in North Iceland in 2018. In addition to the two silicon plants that may be soon up and running in Helgúvík, a number of other plans for additional heavy industry projects are also in the works. but, in the words of the government’s action plan on climate change, “[s]ignificant reduction of carbon emissions in Iceland is unlikely to be possible in this sector without the emergence of new technologies, such as inert electrodes in the production of aluminum or the collection and injection of carbon dioxide.”

Icelanders Feel ‘Flight Shame’ Over Increased Air Travel Emissions

Eighty-three percent of Icelanders traveled abroad last year—the highest percentage of citizens to do so since 2009. This data was published in a report by the Icelandic Tourist Board, which also found that on average, Icelanders took 2.8 trips out of the country in 2018. Although climate change issues have become increasingly prominent in the public consciousness, Kjarninn reports that that Icelanders are generally unwilling to reduce the number of flights they take. As such, a new Icelandic word has been coined to describe Icelandic travelers’ guilty conscience over the negative effects that increased air travel has on the climate: flugskömm, or ‘flight shame.’

The Icelandic Tourist Board has conducted its survey on Icelanders’ travel habits since 2009. The survey asks respondents to comment on their travels during the previous year as well as what their travel plans are for the coming one. The percentage of Icelanders who travel abroad has steadily and dramatically increased. In 2017, 78% of Icelanders had traveled abroad; in 2009, only 44% had. As of last year, then, this percentage has nearly doubled.

The actual number of trips that Icelanders take abroad has also gone up significantly. While the average number was 2.8 trips in 2018, 12% of respondents said they’d taken five or more international trips in 2018, 20.7% said they went on three trips, and 44.9% said they went on three or more trips.

Looking ahead, Icelanders don’t seem to have any intention of decreasing their trips abroad, either: 52.6% of respondents said they were planning a city break abroad in 2019, 43.5% were planning a holiday in a “sunny country,” and 34.7% said they’d be visiting friends or relatives who live abroad.

Iceland’s emissions have been on the increase in recent years. Last year, the country’s greenhouse gas emissions were equivalent to 4,755 kilotons of carbon dioxide (excluding the LULUCF emissions from 2017). This is a 2.5% increase in emissions from 2016 and a 32.1% increase since 1990. Increased tourism has played a large part in this increase—the tourism industry has more than tripled in size since 2012. It’s five times larger than it was in 1995.

Air travel is, obviously, a big part of Icelandic tourism and the country’s increased greenhouse emissions are mostly attributed to the aviation sector. Per data published by the Environment Agency of Iceland, emissions from flights to and from Iceland increased by 13.2% between 2016 and 2017. Emissions in 2017 amounted to 813,745 tons of carbon dioxide, although this can’t be considered a final total because it only accounts for flights taken within the EEA. As such, emissions from flights to and from the Americas, the EU, and other parts of the world are not accounted for by that data.

Multiple surveys have shown that Icelanders are fairly unwilling to change their travel habits in order to lessen their environmental impact, even as they are open to changing other environmentally unfriendly habits. A Gallup poll taken in January showed that in the previous twelve months, more than half of Icelanders had changed their daily grocery shopping habits to lessen their environmental impact. In addition, just under two out of three Icelanders noted that they had made behavioural changes because of the environment. Meanwhile, 40.8% of Icelanders said they had not changed their travel habits to reduce their environmental impact in the last 12 months. About 20% said that they’d changed their travel habits somewhat and only 5.2% said they’d changed them significantly. It appears, therefore, that Icelanders are more willing to change their consumption habits based on environmental concerns than they are willing to change their travel habits.

Tourism, Consumption Main Culprits in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Increase

tourists on perlan

The release of greenhouse gases increased in Iceland by 2% between 2016 and 2017 according to a new report by the The Environment Agency of Iceland, RÚV reports. Elva Rakel Jónsdóttir, a director at the agency says the results of the report are a disappointment, although not unexpected.

“This is obviously not the results we’d like to see,” Elva says. “We’d like to see these numbers lowering, everybody does. However, we are taking action that we expect to bear fruit in the coming years.”

Elva says that a big part of the increase in greenhouse emissions is the increase in tourism in Iceland and their consumption. She would like to see a change in the rate of consumption among locals and tourists.

“I’m allowing myself to be optimistic in saying that a lot will change in the coming years, especially considering the attention these matters have been getting lately,” Elva says. According to her, people are appalled at how much greenhouse gases are released as a result of their own consumption and how temporarily they use the stuff they buy. “The situation is very serious and we need to take it seriously.”

Elva says that quickest and most effective way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions would be a switch to electric cars, a project the government in Iceland could play a decisive role in making a success. “In Norway we see that their implementation of electric cars has been very fast and that there is a high correlation between government intervention and the popularity of electric cars in the market.”

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rose in Iceland

traffic in Reykjavík

Greenhouse gas emissions directly under government responsibility rose by 2.2% between 2016 and 2017, RÚV reports. The data comes from a recent report by the Environment Agency of Iceland. Emissions from road transport, oil use on fishing vessels, domestic animals, refrigeration equipment, and landfills are the main sources of emissions that fall under government resposibility.

The report was submitted yesterday under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. It shows that greenhouse gas emissions for which the government is considered responsible have decreased overall by around 5.4% since 2005, but have been relatively steady since 2012, despite efforts to decrease them. A statement from the Environment Agency says the 2016-2017 rise in emissions can be attributed to the increase in tourist numbers and increased consumption.

Road transport biggest source of emissions, and growing

Of the greenhouse gas emissions that fall under government responsibility, road transportation is the largest contributor to the reported increase. Road transport emissions rose by 85% between 1990 and 2017, and 5.5% between 2016 and 2017. Looking at the total emissions that fall under government responsibility, 34% come from road transport, 18% from fishing vessels, 20% from agriculture, and 8% from waste.

Emissions from aluminium and alloy production in Iceland also showed a dramatic increased of 133% since 1990. This industry, however, falls under the EU trading system and is therefore not considered a direct responsibility of the government.

Iceland Must Reduce Greenhouse Emissions by 29%

Iceland needs to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 29% compared to what they were in 2005, RÚV reports. This reduction will be in service of the Paris Agreement, which Iceland and Norway both cosigned with the European Union.

Under the terms of the agreement, as of 2030, European Union nations will reduce their carbon emissions by 40% (based on the levels they were in 1990). Although not part of the European Union, Iceland has ratified the agreement on the understanding that the country will reduce its emissions by a fiscally responsible and manageable percentage. It has now been determined that Iceland only needs to reduce emissions by 29% (based on 2005 levels) by 2030.

Per the announcement on the government website, this percentage would be higher if the target goal were only based on the country’s per capita GDP. However, allowances were made for Iceland, as the country will have to accomplish its carbon emission reduction within sectors that also operate outside of European trade structures. As the announcement explains, “Iceland is thought to have a more restricted position than many other nations in regard to the practical benefits of reducing emissions.”

Despite this, Iceland has approved a climate change strategy that still seeks to reduce emissions by the Paris Agreement levels of 40%. Prime Minister Katrín Jakóbsdóttir has taken this goal even further, setting a goal of making the country entirely carbon neutral by 2040.