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Climate change tops talks between Merkel, Nordic leaders in Iceland

Climate change and efforts to mitigate it were at the top of the agenda when German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Nordic leaders in Iceland on Tuesday, August 20, 2019.

Chancellor Angela Merkel
Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands. Photo credit: Magnússon

Merkel’s visit also offered her a chance to see some of the signs of global warming in Iceland, which at the weekend unveiled a commemorative plaque for Okjokull, which lost its status as a glacier due to global warming in 2014.

The Nordic government leaders concurred that climate change is “visible” in their countries, but that is also the case in Germany, Merkel said.

“The price of doing nothing will certainly be higher than the price of action,” Merkel told reporters after a working lunch with the other leaders.

Tuesday’s meeting took place almost exactly one year after Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg staged her first climate strike outside the Swedish parliament.

The 16-year-old refuses to fly, citing the CO2 emissions caused by aviation, and is travelling to New York on a racing yacht that set sail a week ago to take part in UN climate meetings and protests.

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She tweeted: “1 year ago I started school striking for the climate outside the Swedish parliament, simply because something had to be done. Since then I have continued every Friday alongside millions of others. And we will go on for as long as it takes.”

Prior to meeting the Nordic leaders, Merkel visited the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant. Iceland – known for its many volcanoes and geological activity – harnesses geothermal power for district heating and electricity production.

There is also a project to capture carbon dioxide (C02) and store it underground.

Iceland is aiming to become climate neutral by 2040, a decade before Germany’s envisaged date. Other Nordic countries also have voiced similar ambitions.

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The country’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said the Nordic countries and Germany had agreed “to cooperate more closely” on issues including sustainability, the future of work, and democracy.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen underlined the need to act on climate change.

“It is not enough to talk about it…we need to show our people, and especially our children and our young children that we are taking responsibility,” she said.

Stefan Lofven of Sweden said the Nordic leaders had agreed to go to the upcoming UN climate summit in New York “with a strong message that the climate issue needs to be addressed very practically.”

Earlier, the heads of government of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden met separately with the head of Greenland’s self-ruling government.

They also met with business leaders from the grouping Nordic CEOs for a Sustainable Future, which are seeking to integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their corporate strategies.

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Windswept, deforested Iceland with its stark volcanic landscapes and location about halfway between Europe and North America is an appropriate venue for talks on climate and international politics.

Merkel arrived on Monday and held separate talks with Jakobsdottir at the historic Thingvillir National Park, a world heritage site near the capital.

The German chancellor noted how she had been reminded in 2010 of the forces of nature that are very visible in Iceland when the eruption of a volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier disrupted air travel for several weeks.

Merkel also noted Iceland’s leading role in promoting gender equality.

Iceland currently holds the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The Nordic leaders meet annually for informal talks.

Frederiksen arrived after her first official visit to Greenland, the semi-autonomous Danish territory that made headlines after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be interested in buying it from Denmark. Both Greenland’s self-ruling government and Frederiksen have underlined that Greenland is not for sale but would welcome business investments. 

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