UNRIC - the United Nations Information Centre for Western Europe is launching its second European public information campaign, "CoolPlanet2009", to raise awareness on environmental issues and to mobilize citizens in support of a new climate agreement. It is no surprise to any of us that 2009 is widely regarded as a crucial year in the global combat against climate change.
Icelandic singer Björk, who is the first engaged member of the civil society to join the CoolPlanet2009 campaign, recently launched the climate friendly informal ecological movement "Náttúra" to promote green economy initiatives.
The centre piece of the campaign will be a website which will be launched early 2009.
"CoolPlanet2009 is designed to inform and engage the European Public, governments and civil society in general. The website will be a market place of ideas and host a Wall of Events where people from around the world can post ideas and initiatives and see what others are doing," UNRIC director Afsane Bassir-Pour says.
The website will include information on climate change and how individuals can act in a climate friendly manner in their daily lives.
"It's important to realize that Iceland will exceed its Kyoto commitments if the aluminum plants at Helguvik and Bakki are built, although the 8 million ton limit of carbon dioxide will probably not be exceeded before 2012. Iceland's environment minister Thorunn Sveinbjarnardottir is of the opinion that Iceland should not ask for a repeat of the exemption in the upcoming climate change negotiations. I feel Iceland needs to seriously reconsider its direction dealing with climate change, if it is to work amicably with the worlds nations." Comments from Björk´s speech at the first Cool Planet meeting.
"After touring for 18 months I was excited to return home 10 weeks ago to good, solid Iceland and enjoy a little bit of stability," says the iconic crooner, "I had done a concert there earlier this year to raise awareness about local environmental issues - especially sustainable alternatives to aluminum smelters - 10 per cent of the nation attended the concert; but I still felt it wasn't enough".
So when Bjork got home she decided to contact people all over the island who had attempted to start new companies and bring in new ways of working, but had yet to accomplish change. Bjork states, "For a long time Iceland's main income had been fishing, but when that become uneconomic, people started looking for other ways to earn a living. The conservatives in power thought that harnessing Iceland's natural energy and selling it to huge companies such as Alcoa and Rio Tinto would solve the problem".
Iceland currently has three aluminum smelters, some of the biggest in Europe; with plans in the next three years to build two more, and an expansion of one of the older ones. Bjork says that the majority of Icelanders are against this, preferring to develop smaller companies, which that they own themselves and creating local income.
Battles have ensued and last June, Iceland's Minister for the Environment forced Alcoa to include the impacts of energy exploiting in their Environmental Impact Assessment. This had not been done with the previous smelters. It seems, based of Bjork's coments, that the smelter would need energy from a handful of new geothermal power plants and possibly also some dams, damaging pristine wilderness, hot springs and lava fields.
Politicians siding with the smelters built in Iceland, forced through exemption from the Kyoto Protocol that went into effect in 2005. Iceland derives 72 percent of its energy needs from renewable energy and with little heavy industry at the time the Protocol was agreed, the country was allowed to increase its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent from their 1990 level, and no decrease in emissions were required. Since then 2 smelters have been built. Now, Iceland churns out 17 tons of greenhouse gases per capital, while the European average is 11 tons.
With economics playing a big part in Iceland, Bjork's organization, nattura.info, created a series of workshops to discuss opportunities for start-up companies interested in alternatives, and who would work in a sustainable way. Some sustainable ideas being discussed such as geo chem, which could harness the sulphur pollution derived from a thermal energy plant to grow algae, and harnessing water power by building new dams.
"Even though Iceland has been independent for 60 years it behaved here as a colony," says Bjork. She mentions that the servitude was too eager, and in her opinion, these relationships were forged in another age. She says, "Children of the industrial revolution, when the word sustainable didn't exist. Because the word sustainable is not only about leaving nature as we found it. We have to also be economically, emotionally and socially sustainable".
With focus on the upcoming summit, and Bjork helming the national media scene, there is new hope among Icelanders that Iceland remains what it is best at: being a gorgeous, unpredictable force of nature.
Adventure Girl, Stefanie Michaels is an eco-travel and lifestyle expert and an advocate for the environment. Her site Adventuregirl.com offers tips for travelers on green locales around the globe, as well as granting monthly Adventure Girl Green Awards to hotels and resorts making good on their green initiatives.
You can reach Stefanie at www.adventuregirl.com
For more info on Bjork's cause: www.nattura.info