ICELAND, RENEWABLE ENERGY, & SUSTAINABLE TOURISM, SHARING BEST PRACTICES WITH COUNTRIES SUCH AS INDIA
March 15, 2017
BY SONALI P. CHITRE
In early October 2016, I helped to lead a delegation of US companies and foundations through the NEXUS Climate Change Working Group to the Arctic Circle Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. There we met with Former President Grimsson, the Minister of Education Science & Culture, the Minister of Environment, and the Minister of Innovation.
Currently 85% of Iceland’s primary energy supply is from renewable energy sources. However, Iceland’s per capita emissions compared to India’s per capita emissions come in at a ratio of 14:1, which must give us pause in considering the high carbon lifestyles of some western countries, which also must be a factor in the climate negotiations.
I think that Iceland should be a model for the rest of the world in terms of sustainable energy, particularly because of its innovations in geothermal energy, and also because it is a country with a particularly strong democracy and system of accountability.
With a population of only 330,000, Iceland is ranked #1 on the Social Index, having a 100% literacy rate and very little poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. Iceland also ranks first in the world in terms of Internet use and social media use (per capita). The country’s storytelling tradition goes back to the sagas of the 1200s, and there is a huge “biodiversity of thought” in the country.
Icelandic society is based on democracy, humanism, and individualism. It has a creativity based culture and a connected society, and it places great emphasis on nature and sustainability. What makes Iceland a perfect tourist destination is also its long culture of peace following the Cold War. Iceland has demonstrated its commitment to transparency, openness, accountability, and intolerance of corruption. When the Panama Papers were released in 2016, Iceland’s Prime Minister Signundur Gunnlaugsson stepped down in less than one week, and with the implication of bankers in corruption, at least 30 of them were jailed.
A big issue now is that Icelandic tourism, which is causing a lot of GHG emissions from ships, planes, and cars, needs to be sustainable. Eco-tourism is a big part of that. Mr. Oliver Luckett is working with the Annenberg Foundation on preserving and expanding the Icelandic National Park, a massive initiative called, “Halendid.” The initiative aims to protect the largest area of untouched wilderness in Europe.
I believe it is essential that other countries, in particular developing countries such as India, learn from the Icelandic model and adopt more renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, and that those governments will also opt for more transparency, accountability, and openness to foster a hospitable investment climate that will lead to economic growth and sustainable development.
India, the world’s largest democracy, is a country that has a constitutional right to a clean environment, but because of weak implementation of environmental laws, disjointed energy standards across states and local areas, tremendous poverty, over population, lack of education for millions of citizens, and lack of infrastructure, many are without proper hygiene and sanitation and are experiencing enormous air and water pollution.
I believe that India has the intellectual horsepower, political will, and engaged citizenry to change the internal problems that have been plaguing the country ever since Independence in 1947, and I believe that India can and will create the business climate necessary to increase investment and partnerships with developed countries.
India would be a fantastic partner for Iceland, especially because India has great geothermal potential. I hope that India sends a delegation to 2017’s Arctic Circle Summit to share best practices and build collaborations. India could also be a bastion of sustainable tourism – the State of Kerala, or “God’s Own Country,” with a matrilineal society, extremely high literacy rates, three major religious groups living in harmony, beautiful temples, natural preserves, and miles of pristine coastline, is already leading the way.