Ladies and gentlemen,
It is good to be with you here today, and I think you picked a good week to convene here in Iceland.
On Monday, the Icelandic government introduced a new climate action plan. I like to think that it marks a watershed; not only because that is what a Minister would say about their policies, but because it is designed to step up our game in tackling climate change here in Iceland.
The strategy consists of 34 actions, ranging from a carbon tax to the phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons, from recovering wetlands to building infrastructure for electrical cars. Some of the actions are new, like putting a ban on registering new gasoline or diesel cars in 2030. Others are a continuation or strengthening of existing initiatives.
But what is new is that there are substantial resources allocated to these measures, much more than any time before. There is also broad political support for the action plan, as was demonstrated by the fact that it was introduced by our Prime Minister plus six other Ministers. We have set clear priorities. On one hand we aim to speed up the transformation of transport, from using fossil fuels to using electricity and other low- or no-carbon energy. On the other hand, we want to increase carbon sequestration by afforestation and revegetation, and reclaim drained wetlands that emit carbon dioxide. We will commit considerable resources for these measures, but the plan is also comprehensive and concerns all major carbon sources and sinks.
This, we hope, will allow us to reach our Paris Agreement goals for 2030. We also see the action plan as an instrument to help us to reach the ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040, which the Government announced when it was formed at the end of last year.
Now, Iceland will almost certainly not be emissions free by 2040. So how can we reach carbon neutrality? We have to look at the other side of the coin – on how we can draw carbon out of the atmosphere.
This, as it turns out, is easily done by an ancient technology – called photosynthesis. This is what plants do, and we have ample room for this here in Iceland. We have lost most of our woodland and soils since settlement, and we want to reverse this. As it happens, this goal fits nicely with the present emphasis on climate mitigation. So we hope to take carbon from the air – where there is too much of it – and put it in the soil, where it is needed.
But there is also a role for modern technology here. I see from the agenda here that many of you have thought deep about a solution for the climate problem. Several kilometers deep, even. That is quite impressive.
I think some of the ideas discussed here would have sounded fancy or unreal some decades, or even just years, ago. How can you pluck carbon from thin air and bury it in the bowels of the Earth?
Well, that is pretty much what is done here at Hellisheiði, where carbon dioxide from geothermal steam is pushed underground, where it becomes mineralized. Similar innovative schemes are run in other parts of the world.
Time will tell how much we can rely on carbon mineralization, and capture and storage, and other such technologies. But it is hugely important to explore this avenue. We can not rely only on curbing emissions, if we want to stay within the 2°C or 1,5°C goals of the Paris Agreement. We need to remove carbon from the atmosphere. We need negative emissons.
We need science for this task. We need new ideas, even crazy ideas. I think that turning carbon dioxide gas into stone must have sounded a bit crazy to many. Yet this is what is being done here in Iceland.
We need engineers and doers who take ideas and test them and turn them into reality. Not all ideas will succeed as planned. But that is the nature of research and development. Some ideas fail, others lead to products and solutions. We should applaud both, because we can not know everything beforehand, and we need to test which avenues take us forward towards solving the climate crisis, and which ones do not. Let us test and try, and then do what works.
I am pleased and proud that this conference is taking place here. One of the measures in our new climate action plan is to set up a fund to support climate-friendly technologies and innovation. This is surely one of the most important keys to solving our problems.
Some have asked if a small country like Iceland has anything to contribute in a big global task like curbing climate change. I most certainly think so. First, all of us must take part. Second, new ideas and solutions can pop up in any place, regardless of population size. Iceland wants to be among the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to tackling climate change. We want to learn from others, and we want to set an example.
Good luck in your work here. Think deep, learn much and work hard. But I also hope you have a good time here. Tackling climate change should not be about doom and gloom. Sure, the worst-case scenarios are bleak. But in curbing climate change we are also working for a better future and better life for all of us. We are working for cleaner air and greener land, for less conspicuous consumption and more quality of life. That should bring us joy.