How can Iceland meet the Paris agreement obligations?

The article was originally published (in Icelandic) by the Icelandic newspaper Kjarninn.

The great forests of Iceland getting ready for winter, picture from Bishop from Unsplash.

In all likelihood, Icelanders will not meet the Kyoto Protocol's commitments by 2020 and will require enormous effort to comply with the Paris Agreement by 2030. In a report by the Institute of Economics from the University of Iceland, countermeasures are proposed in 7 sectors along with land reclamation, forestry and regeneration of wetlands [1]. The 7 sectors are; energy production, transportation, fisheries, fishmeal processing, agriculture, waste treatment and industry.

Mitigation measures for the Paris Agreement

In the first 4 sectors, the report draws attention to the need to significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels by maximizing electrification. This applies mainly to the car fleet and fishmeal production. It is also proposed to increase the use of fuels derived from biomass for fisheries [1]. Carbon capture and storage also needs to be increased from geothermal power plants.

In agriculture, feed needs to be improved to reduce methane production, airtight the storage of fertilizer, produce methane from manure and increase the use of livestock manure as fertilizer at the cost of nitrogen fertilizers [1]. The main ways of treating waste are landfill, landfill, methane processing, combustion and recycling [1].

The good thing about these solutions is that in many cases they are ready to be, or are being implemented. Also, extensive experience of their application consists both domestically and abroad. Electric cars have been a common sight on the streets for a long time and the use of livestock manure fertilizer is an old and trusty tradition.

Furthermore, some fishmeal plants have been electrified, but in order to complete that process, electricity infrastructure must be strengthened in certain areas of the country. Methane has been produced at Álfsnes for some time from landfilled waste, powering a respectable amount of cars. But as far as biofuels for fishing vessels and carbon capture and storing from geothermal power plants are concerned, further experience and research is needed.

Electric car charging, picture from Nuescheler from Unsplash.

What's even more exciting than these solutions existing, is that they are related to each other. It is possible to sequestrate carbon from geothermal power plants by pumping down and storing it in basalt as the energy company Orka Náttúrunnar has done [2].

But it is also possible to capture it and generate methanol using electricity to electrolyze hydrogen from water as the firm Carbon Recycling has done [3]. Methanol produced in this way can also be called electrofuel and has been mentioned, along with methane from both waste and agricultural manure, as a future solution for Denmark and even Europe, since methanol and methane are used on those vehicles that are not easy to electrify, e.g. coaches, airplanes and fishing vessels [4, 5].

This is probably the case for the future of Iceland in these matters as well, which is why all these sectors are connected and why it is necessary to organize coherent work in the future through cooperation in all these sectors.

Greenhouse gas emissions from Icelandic industry is mainly derived from aluminum production, silica production and ferrosilicon production. The report from the Institute of Economics states that the possibilities of reducing carbon emissions from aluminum production by 2030 is not great [1].

But carbon capture and use of electrodes could become a feasible possibility around 2030. Carbon capture can also be a solution for the production of ferrosilicon and silica, but its feasibility is still unclear and calls for research and development [1].

Today it is possible to increase the use of a wood residues in ferrosilicon plants, and in silicon production, it is intended to maximize the use of biomass in production, where operating licenses are based on the best available technology.

Thus, it is unlikely that emissions from silicon production will decrease by 2030 according to plans. But with more emphasis on development, it is theoretically possible to produce silicon with electrolysis.

However, if fossil fuels are not used in the future in transport and fisheries, the carbon that can be captured in the industry could be needed to generate carbon fuels, thus ensuring 100% domestic production as it is unlikely that domestic biomass production will be sufficient to meet all needs. Therefore heavy industries could become part of the solution.

The mitigation measures mentioned in the report from the Institute of Economics [1] are not limited to emission reduction. The potentials of of increasing carbon sequestration by land reclamation, forestry and recovery of wetlands are also discussed.

This work can also be used to support countermeasures in other sectors of the economy, e.g. by increasing biomass crops that can be used for biodiesel production, like the consultancy group led by Jón Bernódusson, Director of Research and Development at the Transportation Agency, proposed two years ago [6], and / or the production of electrofuels by increasing the supply of carbon to work with. It should therefore be clear that a coherent plan needs to be constructed where all of these solutions and mitigation measures are organized together.

The solution of the future is to connect the industry sectors, picture from Bengtson from Unsplash.

But with all of these mitigation measures mentioned above and based on the current plan on sequestration, the total emission will only be 18% lower than in 1990. In contrast, if a wetland reclamation is implemented, the extent of land reclamation and forestry is doubled compared to the current plan and if the land use rate is fourfold, it is possible that the net emissions will be 39% lower than in 1990 [1].

There is therefore a huge need for investments and changes in the 7 large industries along with immense increase in carbon sequestration to have a slight chance of reducing the net release of greenhouse gases by 2030, in accordance with the Paris Agreement.


[1] Hagfræðistofnun. Ísland og loftslagsmál. Skýrsla nr. C17:01

[2] Orka Náttúrunnar;

[3] Vísir;

[4] B.V. Mathiesen, H. Lund, D. Connolly, H. Wenzel, P.A. Østergaard, B. Möller, S. Nielsen, I. Ridjan, P. Karnøe, K. Sperling, F.K. Hvelplund, Smart Energy Systems for coherent 100% renewable energy and transport solutions, In Applied Energy, Volume 145, 2015, Pages 139-154.

[5] D. Connolly, H. Lund, B.V. Mathiesen, Smart Energy Europe: The technical and economic impact of one potential 100% renewable energy scenario for the European Union, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 60, July 2016, Pages 1634-1653

[6] Vísir;