23 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON ICELAND’S NEW FUND FOR ISLAND GROWTH INITIATIVE


Iceland had established a new fund to benefit small island developing States and “share achievements with natural allies”, the country’s Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde said at a Headquarters press conference today.


Announcing the establishment of the fund for the Island Growth Initiative, Prime Minster Haarde remarked that Iceland was “committed to understanding the concerns and needs of other small island States and working together as equal partners”.


The fund would support the needs of small island developing States, as outlined in the Initiative set up by the Icelandic Government last year.  The Initiative’s aims included poverty reduction, sustainable management of natural resources, fighting climate change and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.


Joining the Prime Minister at the press conference were Hjalmar W. Hannesson, Permanent Representative of Iceland; Angus Friday, Permanent Representative of Grenada; and Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu, Permanent Representative of Tonga and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).


Despite the obvious differences in climate, Mr. Haarde said, Iceland had much in common with other small island nations, including small population, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, a disproportionate dependence on international trade and high communications and transport costs.


“Island States are clearly at the forefront of the impact of climate change,” Ambassador Friday said, adding that financing was the missing link between talking about climate change and implementing adaptation strategies.  The Initiative and the fund were coming at a very critical time.


The fund would receive $6 million from Iceland over the next three years, and be available to Governments and Government-endorsed entities of eligible small island States.  To ensure good cooperation, an advisory group consisting of representatives of both Icelandic and small island States would be established to review project applications and propose project grants, Mr. Harde said.


“When my parents were born, Iceland was one of the poorest countries in Europe,” said Mr. Haarde.  The country’s substantial growth over time could to a large extent be attributed to sustainable use of natural resources, mainly renewable energy and fisheries.


Responding to a question about how Iceland could assist islands with drastically different climates, he said that, in addition to fishing technologies and experience, Iceland could also assist countries in utilizing geothermal resources, where available.  Ambassador Friday added that 99 per cent of Iceland’s electricity came from clean hydroelectric and geothermal energy, and that the whole world, not just islands, could learn from that example.


Several journalists addressed Iceland’s candidature for the Security Council, and questioned whether its current campaign and the establishment of the new fund were related.  Mr. Haarde said that, although the candidacy had raised the country’s profile considerably, Iceland had been systematically increasing its contributions to development cooperation over a period of years.  “That will continue, no matter what happens to our candidature,” he explained.


Ambassador Hannesson added that Iceland had been looking for meaningful development partners for the past several years.  “This is long-term, regardless of the outcome on the seventeenth of October.”


However, Mr. Haarde said that he “did not deny” that the campaign had made Iceland aware of natural alliances and subjects that had perhaps been overlooked.


When asked if their countries would be voting for Iceland, both Mr. Friday and Ms. ‘Utoikamanu said they did not have the authority to comment.  Mr. Friday added, however, that several island States would see the representation of another island State on the Security Council as “being very important to them”.


Asked whether Iceland anticipated the devastating affects of climate change, Mr. Haarde said that, although his country had not yet been affected in a dramatic way and did not risk being completely flooded like some of the Caribbean island States, the Government was, nevertheless, worried.


Ms. ‘Utoikamanu added that the “very existence” of some of the countries in her group had been threatened by climate change, and populations had started to move due to the impact of rising sea levels.  For countries that were only a couple of metres above sea level, “that is a very serious threat”.


Both Mr. Friday and Mr. Haarde commented on the Global Islands Green Finance Facility, which was formally introduced yesterday and would provide the group of nations with a joint platform for their development.


“We have seen, through scientific research in Iceland, Greenland and elsewhere, the overwhelming evidence that the activities of man are contributing in a negative way” to climate change, Mr. Haarde said, stressing that “we have an obligation to counter that.  The human society on Earth has that kind of responsibility all together.”


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For information media • not an official record