Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson umhverfis- og auðlindaráðherra flutti eftirfarandi lokaorð á alþjóðlegri ráðstefnu sem haldin var í Reykjavík dagana 25-29. maí 2013 undir yfirskriftinni Soil Carbon Sequestration, for climate, food security and ecosystem services.
Ladies and gentlemen
We have now come to the close of this very successful conference on soil carbon. The wide participation, with more than 30 countries represented here, shows that soil carbon is of global importance.
I appreciate greatly that this conference takes place in Iceland, with the presence of so many well-known international scholars in this field. I thank the organizers – especially the Soil Conservation Service - for their great work to realize this event. Our expectations are high towards the outcomes of your work.
We can say that soil carbon has been a priority in Iceland since the 19th century – although it was not phrased in that way at that time! The settlers of Iceland began to cut down woodlands 1100 years ago, but did not know how fragile the ecosystem was, with its loose volcanic soil and windy climate. In the beginning of the 20th century, land degradation was recorded on most of Icelandic lands and almost all of our forests and woodlands were lost.
The pioneering legislation from 1907 on Forestry and Protection against Soil Erosion was a major milestone in Icelandic efforts to address land degradation. On the basis of this legislation, the government established specific authorities to work on these issues. One of them gradually developed into the current Soil Conservation Service, which is acknowledged as the first such specific authority worldwide. The 100 years of organized work to combat soil erosion is a great story, that we are proud to communicate to others. It is the basis of the establishment of the international Land Restoration Training Program we run in collaboration with the United Nations University. The effort by a few pioneers to halt marching sand dunes a century ago has gained new relevance for Iceland and for global issues.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Earlier this month the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million. This is the highest level since three to five million years ago. This is a stark reminder to us all to work on fulfilling the internationally agreed goal to limit the rise in global average temperature to two degrees Celsius.
This goal can be reached by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by soaking up carbon from the atmosphere in soil and vegetation. Iceland has been active in discussions on the land use sector in the international climate negotiations. Revegetation is eligible as an action for mitigation in the Kyoto Protocol, based on a proposal by Iceland. Another Icelandic proposal, on wetland drainage and rewetting, has also been agreed on within the Kyoto Protocol. This has helped to draw attention to wetlands, an important but overlooked pool of soil carbon. Some are sceptical on the role of land use in the Climate Change Convention and in Kyoto, as the science and rules are complex. This is why we need you, the scientific community, to guide us and improve our knowledge. If we put the right policies in place, we can reap multiple gains. Soil carbon is a climate change issue, but also essential to agriculture, food security and biodiversity. These issues are evermore pressing as the world population increases from 7 billion to a projected 9 billion in 2050. The science of soil carbon may seem a specialized field, but it is of utmost policy relevance for the future of the planet.
In closing I would like to thank the organizers for their hard work, the presenters for sharing their knowledge, and all of you here for making the conference a success. I wish you all a safe journey home.