21 February 2008


21 February 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Envoys from both the industrialized and developing worlds today set aside the “who’s going to pay for what?” argument that usually bogs down the climate change debate and called for political will and creative thinking on the part of all stakeholders –- including businesses and city leaders -- to boost investments in renewable energy and efficiency technologies, and to promote lifestyle changes to fight global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

During a Headquarters press conference, Ólafur Ragnar Grímmson, President of Iceland, and Leena Srivastava, Executive Director, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) of India, stressed that sharing successful technologies and improving access by hundreds of millions of people to cleaner and more secure energy resources would also reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas associated with long-term global warming and help mitigate against ecological disasters.  The two were joined by Iceland’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Hjálmar W. Hannesson.

In New York to participate in panel discussion on “How to Prevent Climate Change -- A Road Map to Success”, Mr. Grímmson said the discussion about climate change was fundamentally a debate about the future of energy, especially since it had been the use of energy resources over the past 200 years -- particularly the last 40 or 50 years -- that had brought the world to the current environmental and ecological crossroads.

“We can prevent pending disaster if we have the will to fundamentally transform our countries’ energy systems,” he declared, adding that Iceland was “on a mission” to create partnerships with countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as with Europe and the United States, to help them implement some of the techniques that Iceland had developed and/or found successful to transform their energy systems to clean energy.

Iceland has long been considered a pioneer in the battle against global warming, having developed innovative ways to use its myriad natural resources to produce all the electricity, heat and hot water it needed, while protecting the environment.  Likening Iceland to “a laboratory”, Mr. Grímmson said his country hoped to inspire the rest of the world by demonstrating how it had moved, in a relatively short time, from dependence on coal and oil for 80 per cent of its energy, to near 100 per cent clean energy resources.

“If we can do it, so can others […] the technology exits and the economic and financial mechanisms are in place,” he asserted.  All that was required was for world Governments, along with city leaders, corporations and individuals, to put new technological advances to use.

“It is our moral obligation to share what we have accomplished […] we have to make our technology and business practices available for study by other countries,” he said.  Such openness would send a signal to the entire world -- from tiny villages in Africa to bustling metropolises in America –- that, based on Iceland’s experience, they could succeed as well.

“I refuse to accept that we are so special in Iceland that only we can do this,” he said, adding that, in the current climate of “distress, and even fear”, there was a need for hope and inspiration, as well as a call to action.   Iceland could be that inspiration.  It was time for all countries to implement concrete measures that drew on successful initiatives already under way in many countries and cities.

Moreover, there were two great sources of energy that the world had only just begun to understand how to use: the sun and geothermal energy from deep within the Earth’s core.  The technological challenge for Governments, along with the business and scientific communities, in the coming years would be to find ways to open access to those tremendous resources to help prevent further climate anomalies.

Ms. Srivastava said it was wonderful to have the message that “all is not lost”, but, at the same time, it was important to understand that the matter of adequate resources was crucial for developing countries.  Still, the fact that Iceland had been able to transform in a period of 40 years was definitely a cause for hope.

One challenge for countries such as India was that the impacts of climate change were already being felt, which underscored the need for adaptation, as much as it did for mitigation.  Further, there were myriad considerations in that regard; chiefly, how to spread the message about global warming and ways to adapt to it to massive populations in the developing world.

“What is the best way give them the solutions that they need?” she asked, highlighting that there were a number of promising technologies in development or in initial operation phases to both curb greenhouse gas emissions, as well as sequester those emissions.  Still, those technologies needed time to mature or commercialize.

Developing countries, therefore, needed to focus simultaneously on technological advances and lifestyle changes.  “Unless we are able to bring about greater resource efficiency and reduce our demand for energy resources, I think its going to be very difficult for the world as a whole to deal with the problem of climate change,” she said.

Developing countries such as India had the challenges of not only providing clean energy to their populations, but also being able to make that energy affordable to the millions of people within their countries that currently had no access to it.  The struggle for Governments of the South was finding a balance between meeting their obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring that their population had access to energy to fulfil their right to development.

Responding to questions, Mr. Grímmson said he was not recommending one specific plan of attack, but a complete transformation of energy systems.  By example, he said that Iceland had proved that, by tapping geothermal energy, it was possible to move, within the span of one generation, from generating enough energy to wash clothes to providing electricity to an entire city and, ultimately, the entire nation.  He added that solar and wind energy technologies could be combined to create new sources of clean energy.

He went on to call for new ways to build houses and plan cities.  Most of the skyscrapers in the world, while they had been revolutionary at their inception, had indeed been constructed in a way that was harmful to the environment.  Here, he highlighted the plans by the Government of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to development Masdar City, a master planned community that would rise out of the desert and would have zero carbon emissions and zero waste, and the “green” National Library of Singapore as proof that “this is not a dream […] there are already concrete solutions”.

So, a comprehensive transformation was needed, from the family and community level, straight through to the municipal level and national Government to the international community.  “No single mechanism like carbon trading will solve this problem,” he said, adding that it would require broad measures.  At the same time, the technology that could spark the needed changes already existed.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.