Jun 24 2011

Environmentalists Excluded from Master Plan on the Future of Nature Conservation

At the beginning of July the results of a framework programme, concerning the exploitation and protection of Iceland’s natural resources, will be presented publicly. The timing of the presentation has much more to do with demands from the labour market agents, rather than the government’s will to try to reach a settlement about the result, according to the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association (INCA, or NSÍ in Icelandic), which is highly critical of many aspects of the making of the framework programme.

One of the association’s primary criticisms is directed towards the fact that a particular committee, nominated to sort the areas in question into three different categories: protection, hold and utilization – did not include a single representative from environmentalist organizations. Whereas representatives from the energy and tourism industries, as well as the ministries of environment and industry, had seats on the committee. The viewpoint of nature conservation has thus no spokesperson in the working progress, states a press release from INCA.

On the website of the Framework Programme (translated as the ‘Icelandic Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources’) it is stated that “Iceland has been blessed with extensive resources of renewable hydro and geothermal energy” , of which “only a portion […] has as yet been harnessed”. The further development of energy production in Iceland, according to the website, “will be a challenging task, as user interests, other than those concerned solely with energy, will have to be taken into account.” And it continues:

Policy decisions on land use can have a significant, profound, and prolonged impact on nature, regional development, tourism and outdoor activities, employment, and on society at large. Carefully thought-out decision making will minimise the risk of mistakes and shortsighted undertakings, and enhance co-operation among all partners affected by the decisions taken.

This process was initiated by the Government of Iceland in 1999, with the aim of developing a Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources. The process has been formulated on a scientific and impartial basis – not dominated by narrow and biased interests – and is open to democratic public involvement and scrutiny.

By eliminating the environmentalist perspective from the above-mentioned committee, the framework programme is obviously not an example of “co-operation among all partners affected by the decisions taken.” Likewise, the manifested aim to “minimise the risk of mistakes and short sighted undertakings” is clearly not being practised.

The Icelandic Nature Conservation Association points out the fact that though the current government has now operated for two years it still remains a mystery what kind of a “settlement” the government wants to seek in harmony with the Framework Programme’s results. Like Saving Iceland has pointed out, Landsvirkjun (Iceland’s National Energy Company), adopting Orwellian Newspeak, plans to force a “national consensus” in favour of  the construction of 14 new power-plants in the next 15 years – mainly to meet the aluminium industry’s demands for increased energy for aluminium smelters in Iceland.

In their statement, INCA also highlights that the energy industry’s representatives in the aforementioned committee still push hard on preventing the enlargement of the RAMSAR listed Þjórsárver wetlands reserve, in order to be able to build the infamous Norðlingaölduveita hydro-utility. The same agents also work hard on getting access to the geothermal areas around the Torfajökull glacier and Kerlingarfjöll mountains, by fighting against these areas being categorized as protected. All of these areas were found highly valuable by a professional group consisting of biologists, botanists, geophysicists, aquatic ecologists, geochemists, archaeologists and geologists, to name a few of them, who were employed to evaluate the impacts of particular exploitation options on landscape, earth formation, vegetation, animal life and archaeological relics. According to these results INCA demands that these areas will immediately be categorized as protected, as well as other areas like river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, the glacial rivers in Skagafjörður and the areas around Skaftá and Tungnaá rivers and Langisjór lake, which were also found highly valuable by the group of professionals.

Since the work on the framework programme started more than a decade ago, energy production in Iceland has more than doubled. Despite the controversy of this development, manifested in an increased public opposition towards heavy industry and large-scale energy production, the plan is still to duplicate the current production – the plans of private and municipal owned energy companies not included.

Incidentally, in spite of promising to do so, the Icelandic government has still not ratified the Aarhus Convention Agreement which according to Kofi A. Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations:

… is by far the most impressive elaboration of principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which stresses the need for citizen’s participation in environmental issues and for access to information on the environment held by public authorities. As such it is the most ambitious venture in the area of ‘ environmental democracy’ so far undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations.

It seems democracy does not come easy to Icelandic governments.

Map of the Intended Energy Master Plan for Iceland Phase 1 as publicised by the Ministry of Industry in 2003.

Both of the above photos are from the geothermal area around Kerlingarfjöll mountains, south west of Hofsjökull glacier.

4 Responses to “Environmentalists Excluded from Master Plan on the Future of Nature Conservation”

  1. america says:

    As an American who visited Iceland, all I can say is you MUST stop the industrialization of Iceland. It really is the last precious place on earth. It would be a shame and a waste to see it over developed for ALUMINUM!

    What can we do to help?

  2. Andreas Krager says:

    Agreed, america.

    You can always send a letter to aluminium or energy companies, but for sure they won’t listen so maybe it is a little bit more likely to have an impact if you send a letter to the Minister of Industry, Katrín Júlíusdóttir: postur@idn.stjr.is or the Minster of Environment: postur@environment.is. Then, of course, the more letters from a variety of people – the more likely it is to have any impact.

    You can write articles in local or international newspapers or the Icelandic newspapers, and you can send an open letter or an opinion-piece to the Reykjavík Grapevine magazine, partly read by Icelanders and partly by the great amount of foreigners coming to see Iceland… and its unspoiled nature.

    You can organize a protest.. maybe at an Icelandic embassy or an aluminium company’s headquarters or smelters. And you can do whatever you feel like – also using methods that would give all the different parties involved with the heavy industrialization a good economical punch in their faces.

    It’s up to you.

  3. Jim A. says:

    Dear organizers of Saving Iceland –

    If a nation’s basic constitutional law fails to limit the POLITICAL power of large corporations to act as though they were full legal persons, then such corporations inevitably come to dominate the political processes of a nation, and begin acting as gigantic legal persons, politically — just as they have in the USA, where corporations have now gained the same full legal rights as actual flesh and blood individual citizens. {Note: The authors of the USA’s initial constitution never intended publicly-chartered business corporations to have such political power — Cf: The Federalist Papers, among other USA documents.)

    In my opinion, the most immediate challenge for progressive Icelanders is to now work with their citizen Constitutional Council members to make sure that the newly-proposed Icelandic constitution prohibits what in the USA is now called “…corporate person-hood…” — and that the constitution grants human and political rights ONLY to actual {Icelandic} human beings.

    As the people of the USA and other w. European capitalist nations are increasingly finding out: mere citizen protests against corporate abuses of the environment, or of the election process, or of the statutory law-making processes, have insufficient power to overcome the anti-democratic power of gigantic corporations allowed the full legal rights of an actual person.

    Denying legal person-hood to corporations is not pro-socialist, or anti-capitalist, or anti-business , or anti-industrialism.
    It is simply the common sense recognition that human political rights can not be conferred to non-human entities. especially when such entities operate under the legal protection of limited liability, limited responsibility, and limited accountability.

    Many of us USA/w. European progressives who love and respect Iceland’s long tradition of popular democracy and humanist social values, have been trying to interface with various IS. citizen groups, and with individual Constitutional Council members, to share our concerns about this matter — but we get the impression that this legal/constitutional issue, about the crucial need to legally limit the political powers of corporations, is not yet fully understood or appreciated among the Icelandic populace.

    Icelanders are acknowledged worldwide (and by me, too) to be among the most literate, personally intelligent, socially-enlightened, and democratically-inclined humans on earth.
    But I would say that, despite all those fine national qualities, most Icelanders are still relatively inexperienced and as-yet uninformed at dealing with the anti-democratic aspects of international capitalism and. more importantly, the sociopathic nature of mega-large, for-profit corporations operating in you midst {Cf: Egil Helgasson’s TV interview with John Perkins, filmed in Reykjavik, shortly after Iceland’s banking meltdown.)

    State Socialism is not the answer for the world’s economic and political inequalities, but neither is the domination of democratic state by hyper-capitalist manipulators and corporate sociopaths.
    But mark my words: If you in Iceland fail to legally limit the political power of the latter, as we in the USA have failed to do, you, like us, will become ruled by them.

    Best Regards to Iceland — may it become that one remaining nation in the west that now re-balances reasonably-free economic growth with commensurate democratic & humanist values, and thereby re-enlightens the rest of a faltering, sickly-corporate-dominated western civilization.

    Jim A./Missoula, MT/USA

  4. […] I look at this river and wonder what ‘they’ can be thinking. Even more so when I read that no environmentalists were involved in the initial plan drafting, only government officials and energy companies. Sound […]