Iceland prez: Profits will drive action on climate change |

Iceland prez: Profits will drive action on climate change

Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was a featured speaker Tuesday at the American Renewable Energy Day Summit in Snowmass Village.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

The president of Iceland told a packed house at Snowmass Village on Tuesday that the “profit motive” will help humankind tackle climate change, based on his country’s experience.

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said Iceland has been transformed from one of the poorest countries in Europe to an international economic success story during his lifetime. Two big reasons for the turnaround are Iceland’s embrace of renewable energy and commitment to sustain ocean resources.

“We have done this in terms of clean energy and sustainable ocean resources, not because we were preoccupied with climate change 20 or 30 years ago,” Grimsson said. “It was all driven by the profit motive, by economic benefits to the communities, the country, the people.

“So I am a firm believer in the economic profitability of preventing climate change,” he said.

Grimsson is a headlining speaker at the 13th annual American Renewable Energy Day, an annual summit that relocated to Snowmass Village from Aspen this year. The ballroom at the Viceroy Snowmass was packed Tuesday for his “armchair conversation” with Sally Ranney, co-founder and president of the American Renewable Energy Institute.

Grimsson has been president of Iceland since 1996. He will step down in August.

Grimsson labeled the Arctic as “ground zero” for climate change issues. If just one-quarter of the vast Arctic countries’ glaciers melt, it will raise global ocean levels by two meters, he said. A lot of attention is being focused on how the warming planet will make oil and gas reserves in the Arctic region more accessible, he noted. But the potential to tap wind, geothermal and hydropower clean energy in the Arctic is immense, Grimsson said.

There have been enormous advances made in recent years in connecting clean energy from suppliers in the Arctic grid — Iceland, Greenland, northern Norway and Faroe Islands — to users in Great Britain and continental Europe, Grimsson said. That has attracted commercial partners and technological experts to his country.

Iceland is a clean energy leader. In 2014, a study found that 71 percent of the energy used in the entire country came from renewable resources, according to a May 31 article in the Iceland Monitor. That was the highest renewable share in Europe, the newspaper reported.

The president said now is a time of action on a global scale rather than spending a lot of time crafting the wording of international treaties on climate change. He repeated his belief that business opportunity will remove the world from the danger of climate change.

“My message is very simple — I think it’s very good business,” he said, referring to tapping renewable energy sources.

His optimism is further strengthened by the work China is doing — on its own and with Basalt-based Rocky Mountain Institute, he said — to sustain economic growth.

The AREday summit continues through Friday with scores of speakers exploring everything from the politics of climate change to tapping landfills for energy. Taj Mahal will perform a free concert on Fanny Hill in Snowmass on Thursday as part of the summit. Go to for more on the organization and summit.


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