European Union External Action

The tree is up! EU Delegation to Iceland practises what it preaches

20/12/2018 - 15:00
News stories

In late November, the European Union Delegation to Iceland planted the first of 600 birch trees that it will plant at the Friendship Forest, near Thingvellir, 40 minutes outside Reykjavik, the site of the first Icelandic parliament more than a thousand years ago.

iceland, climate

As they grow, the trees will more than offset the Delegation's carbon footprint, calculated based on the greenhouse gas emissions produced by all the professional activities of the Delegation's nine-strong staff, including internal and international travel.
The fight against climate change is one of the top priorities of the Delegation. Iceland has associated itself with the EU's commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
During the course of 2018, the Delegation has supported climate change awareness-raising events like the Reykjavik Climathon, and organised a public seminar featuring the Icelandic Environment Minister, Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, as keynote speaker.
However, the staff felt it was important not just to communicate on the importance of fighting climate change, but also to try and set a good example. 

"We need to practise what we preach," said Head of Delegation Michael Mann. "We do a fair bit of air travel over the course of a year. We need to show that it is not only possible, but also easy and inexpensive to offset this, and indeed to go even further."
The Delegation got in touch with the Kolvidur Fund, which is linked to the Icelandic Forestry Association. Kolvidur measured the office carbon footprint and calculated the number of trees that would be necessary to compensate for this level of pollution.
"We decided to plant far more than would be strictly required to offset our carbon footprint, and we're planning to make this an annual tradition," Mann said.
The effects of global warming are more visible in Iceland than in many other countries. Some of its biggest glaciers are shrinking fast.
Iceland enjoys an international reputation as a 'green paradise' which produces all of its electricity from renewable sources. However, it will surprise many to discover that it is not even on target to reach its emissions reduction target as set out in the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, let alone the tougher goals in the 2015 Paris Agreement. 
Reforestation offers interesting possibilities for Iceland. Initially largely covered with predominantly birch forests, the settlement of the island from 894 onwards led to the destruction of virtually all Iceland's forests, as the settlers cut them down for construction and heating. 
The Forestry Association is focusing on replanting native Icelandic birch as well as a hybrid, red-leaved birch.
The Friendship Forest was an initiative of former Icelandic President Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who sought to accelerate the process of reforestation. 
Many important visitors have been invited to ceremonially plant trees in the forest, including a number of heads of state and government.