Ávarp á vetnisþingi 02.03.2001


Valgerður Sverrisdóttir,
iðnaðar- og viðskiptaráðherra

Ávarp ráðherra flutt á vetnisþingi
2. mars 2001

Iceland}s Political Position on the Use of Hydrogen as Fuel

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The subject we are going to discuss at this conference is a very interesting one, and one of great importance for Iceland no less than other countries in the world.

All over the world, scientists and politicians have been stressing the importance of sustainable development in the future. Only recently, the United Nations announced the disturbing news that the steady increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the past few decades will lead to even higher temperatures than were previously predicted. All the experts in this field therefore regard it as a matter of urgency that all nations make every possible effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the near future.

In most countries, the use of fossil fuels as sources of energy plays an important role – with consequences for the atmosphere. Chapter 9 of the United Nations' Program of Action Agenda 21 addresses the protection of the atmosphere. It summarises the ultimate objective in this area as follows:

First, to reduce the polluting effects of energy use on the atmosphere and, second, to increase the proportion of efficient energy exploitation which does not pollute the atmosphere and of renewable energy especially. According to the Agenda, governments should review energy use with the aim of promoting clean energy and harmonise regional energy programs wherever possible to enable the utilisation of clean energy from new and renewable energy sources.

Here in Iceland we regard our use of renewable energy resources as being consistent with the objective of Agenda 21 and the UN Convention on Climate Change, which was de facto adopted in Rio.

Long-term plans must be drawn up to decide the time frame for producing clean fuel, and how we are to use our renewable and clean energy resources for doing this. Fossil fuel reserves are limited, even though experts disagree about the long-term availability of oil and natural gas, and everybody agrees that the production of clean fuel should be a target for the future. It is therefore important for us to be prepared to use our renewable energy resources to produce clean fuel as soon as this becomes technically and economically feasible. Of course there is no way of being certain about when the start-up phase of development will begin, but it seems likely that this will depend not only on the price of oil and gas in the future but also on the technical development of fuel cells, hydrogen production and new technology in car batteries. It has been very encouraging to watch developments in this area over the past few years, which have seen the cost of fuel cells and hydrogen production fall.

It is a pleasure for me to be able to tell you here that I have decided on close co-operation with my colleages, the Minister of Transport and the Minister for the Environment, to set up a working group of experts from our ministries and their institutes. This working group will be entrusted with making a thorough study of present energy use and probable future developments in the transport sector in Iceland. The aim of the study will be to give the Government an overview of the situation and to monitor developments in the near future. Only by doing this will the Government be in a position to make the necessary adaptation, when the time comes, to a new era of clean fuel, based for example on the use of hydrogen.

We should be aware that the transport sector and the fishing fleet account for about one quarter of primary energy consumption in Iceland. This accounts for about 80% of all imported fuel oil, and for two thirds of all carbon dioxide emissions in the country. Because the nation's economy is heavily based on these sectors, it is very difficult or impossible to make any significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by these sectors while they use fossil fuels as a source of energy. The only way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in this sector is to change over to clean fuel sources when this becomes possible.

It is the Government's policy to promote increased utilisation of renewable energy resources in harmony with the environment. Thus, the production and use of hydrogen when this proves to be economically feasible is in line with our policy. One approach towards this goal is the production of environmentally friendly fuels for powering vehicles and our fishing fleet. Liquid hydrogen is an example of such a fuel. The development and research being carried out in the field of hydrogen fuel technology by the company Icelandic New Energy, which is owned by Icelandic parties and several international companies, is very important for opening up new opportunities in this field.

Iceland therefore welcomes all studies, technological developments and other initiatives in promoting the use of clean fuels. We look forward to the future hydrogen development based on the use of our renewable engergy resources.

Thank you for your attention.


Valgerður Sverrisdóttir