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Sound and independent information
on the environment


Climate change mitigation (Iceland)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Increased temperatures related to Climate change have been recorded in the last decade and the consequences are less sea ice, decreasing glaciers, earlier spring river floods, changes in distribution and feeding patterns of fish stocks, migration of new marine species into Icelandic waters, changed tree line etc. Climate change may have biological effects and impacts on biodiversity, economy, transport, health and sea level, and also lead to increased frequency of extreme and hazardous weather (1).



(1) Climate Change and consequences, Science comittee. Report in Icelandic.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Between 2000 and 2006, some 0.62 % of Iceland’s surface area changed its land-cover types. The most prominent changes occur in forests and semi-natural surfaces. The largest land-cover change is the retreat of glaciers in recent years because of global warming. Between 2000 and 2006, the glaciers shrank by 180 km2 or 1.63 % which corresponds to an annual reduction of 0.27 % (1).

Figure 1. Spatial distribution of land-cover changes in Iceland between 2000 and 2006. The most obvious changes are due to melting (decrease) of the icecaps and spatial fluctuations of some of the glacial rivers

Figure 1. Spatial distribution of land-cover changes in Iceland between 2000 and 2006. The most obvious changes are due to melting (decrease) of the icecaps and spatial fluctuations of some of the glacial rivers (from 1).



(1) Corine Land Classification in Iceland 2000-2006. Report in Icelandic.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Iceland’s Assigned Amount Units for the first commitment period are 18.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents, or 3.7 million tonnes per year on average. Iceland’s total Annex A greenhouse gas emissions were 4.9 million CO2-equivalents in 2008, or 43 % above 1990 levels and an 8 % increase from 2007. As the Icelandic population in 2008 was approximately 315 500, this amounts to 15.5 tons/capita. Emissions have increased in all sectors since 1990 except fisheries (21 % reduction) and agriculture (2 % reduction). The greatest increase in emissions was from the aluminium industry. However, emissions per tonne of aluminium produced have decreased while aluminium production has increased from 88 000 tonnes in 1990 to 780 000 tonnes in 2008. It should be noted that over this period (1990-2008) the Icelandic population grew by about 24 %.


Figure 1. Emission of greenhouse gases (in million tonnes) by categories in Iceland 1990 to 2008


Figure 1. Emission of greenhouse gases (in million tonnes) by categories in Iceland 1990 to 2008 (1).


The greenhouse gas emissions profile for Iceland is in many regards unusual. Firstly, emissions from the generation of electricity and from space heating are very low, since they are generated from renewable non- or very low-emitting energy sources. Secondly, about 80 % of emissions come from industry, transportation and fishing vessels (2).



Figure 2. Emission of greenhouse gases (in %) by sector in Iceland 2008

Figure 2. Emission of greenhouse gases (in %) by sector in Iceland 2008


Industrial processes

Production of non-ferrous metals is the main source.

Energy production

The main part is from geothermal plants (4 %) (1).


Road transport is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions from transport. The number of passenger cars increased by 32 % between 2000 and 2008 and freight vehicles by 64 % in the same period.


The fisheries sector accounts for 12 % of total emissions. Fuel combustion in the fishing fleet is the main source.

The Kyoto targets

According to the Kyoto Protocol, Iceland’s specific obligations concerning greenhouse gas emissions are twofold:

1) Greenhouse gas emissions from Iceland should not increase by more than 10 % over and above 1990 levels, that is, remain within approximately 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year, on average, during the period 2008-2012.

2) Emissions not exceeding 8 million tonnes of CO2 from industrial processes during the commitment period, falling under 'single projects', according to Decision 14/CP.7, shall be reported separately and shall not be included in national totals to the extent that it would cause Iceland to exceed its assigned amount (1, 2).



(1) Emissions of greenhouse gases in Iceland from 1990 to 2008. National Inventory Report 2010. Report in English.

(2) Iceland’s Climate Change Strategy. Report in English.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Technical possibilities of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in different sectors of the Icelandic economy were explored by a committee of experts in a report published in 2009 (1).
The bulk of greenhouse gas emissions in Iceland comes from industrial processes (41 % in 2008) and energy (43 %), followed by agriculture (12 %) and waste (4 %). The industrial process emissions are mainly from primary aluminium production and production of ferro-silicon. These industries, which utilise electricity from hydroelectric and geothermal energy resources, will become part of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) in 2013. Mitigation methods that are technically feasible before 2020 distribute unevenly between sectors, and the cost of mitigation differs substantially. These options are currently being weighed by a committee appointed by the minister for the environment to prepare an implementation plan for greenhouse gas mitigation in Iceland.

Global warming and its effects in Iceland (2) have been described by a scientific committee, appointed by the minister for the environment, in a report published in 2008 (2). The main findings are that average warming in Iceland until the middle of the century will be around 0.2 °C/decade and that precipitation will increase by 2‑3 % for each degree Centigrade. The frequency of rainy days and the intensity of precipitation will increase. The number of cold spells during winter will decrease and heatwaves during summer will become more common. Rapid retreat of glaciers is expected during the 21st century resulting in increased run-off until the middle of the century when run-off starts to decrease because of continuous thinning and recession of the glaciers. This will result in significant land rise with increased volcanic activity and glacial river beds will change. The effects on marine life will depend on how ocean currents, mixing processes and borders between warm and cold currents will react to climate change. Warmer climate will have a positive effect on the potential of terrestrial ecosystems to sequester carbon in soil and vegetation. Changes in vegetation, e.g. expansion to higher elevations and increased natural birch forests, will have an effect on insects and birdlife. A positive effect is expected on the potential of growing crops while pests, plant diseases, storms and sea-level rise can pose threats. Possible threats to human health imply increased risks of allergies and communicable diseases, but the impacts will probably be minor given the current strength of the health-care system. The effects described above apply to the remainder of this century and beyond and the intensity will depend on how emissions of greenhouse gases will evolve in coming decades. Some of the effects are likely to be already visible in 2020.




(1) Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in different sectors. Report in Icelandic with English summary. 


(2) Climate Change and consequences, Science comittee. Report in Icelandic.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

An Act on reduction of net emissions of greenhouse gases was passed by the Icelandic legislature, Althing, in March 2007. The stated purpose of the law is to create conditions for Icelandic authorities to comply with international obligations in limiting emissions of greenhouse gases. The law covers the national system for the estimation of greenhouse gas emissions and removals by sinks, the establishment of a national registry, emission permits and the duty of companies to report relevant information to the authorities.

The Government´s Climate Change Strategy was adopted early in 2007 (1). The Strategy sets forth a long-term vision for the reduction of net emissions of greenhouse gases by 50-75 % until the year 2050, using 1990 emissions figures as a baseline. The Strategy will be reviewed regularly in view of new scientific knowledge, developments in international cooperation to combat climate change, and governmental priorities at any given time

The Strategy sets forth the Icelandic government’s five principal objectives with respect to climate change, which aim toward the realisation of the above-described long-term vision:

The Icelandic government will fulfill its international obligations according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. Greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced, with a special emphasis on reducing the use of fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources and climate-friendly fuels. The government will attempt to increase carbon sequestration from the atmosphere through afforestation, re-vegetation, wetland reclamation, and changed land use. The government will foster research and innovation in fields related to climate change affairs and will promote the exportation of Icelandic expertise in fields related to renewable energy and climate-friendly technology. The government will prepare for adaptation to climate change.

The Strategy contains provisions for measures that will be adopted in order to achieve these objectives (1).

A committee, led by the Ministry for the Environment, with representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance, Fisheries, Industry and Commerce, Transport and Communications, and the Prime Minister’s Office, is working on an Action Plan based on Iceland’s Climate Change Strategy and guided by the results of the Expert Committee on measures to reduce net emissions. The Federation of Icelandic Municipalities is also represented in this committee. A draft Action Plan was released in early December 2009, and key stakeholders were asked for a feedback on the draft. The Action Plan is drafted in a consultative manner with stakeholders and civil society, including environmental organisations. Eight action steps are presented in the draft action plan that could result in 19-32 % less net emissions by 2020.

Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area (together with Norway and Liechtenstein), which entails, e.g. Iceland’s full participation in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The Council of the European Union has noted with appreciation a request by Iceland to conclude a joint fulfillment agreement with the EU for the emission reduction commitments that the EU and Iceland may undertake in the framework of a future international climate agreement (2).

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for the implementation of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto-protocol, and coordination of pertinent international relations.



(1) Iceland’s Climate Change Strategy. Report in English.

(2) Council Conclusions: Joint Fulfilment Agreement with Iceland with regard to a future international climate agreement. Report in English.



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