WWF will continue the fight for an Iceland national parkOslo, Norway - WWF, the conservation organization, today vowed to continue to press for a national park in Iceland and condemned Alcoa and the Icelandic government for their decision to forge ahead with plans to build a controversial aluminium smelter and hydropower complex in Eastern Iceland.
Alcoa, the world's largest aluminium producer, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Icelandic Government and Landsvirkjun, Iceland's national power company, last week to go ahead with the combined project, which will irreversibly damage large parts of the Eastern Highland area.
The combined project will be the largest ever infrastructure development in Iceland, involving the construction of a 190-meter high dam as well as other smaller dams, tunnels, power lines, roads and a 57-square kilometre reservoir.
It will affect wildlife and plants over three thousand square kilometres of Icelandic wilderness - some three per cent of Iceland's total land area - as well as destroying parts of the unique Dimmugljufur canyon, Iceland's "Grand Canyon".
WWF criticised the Icelandic Government for ignoring strong support for a national park in the Eastern Highlands. "A new Gallup poll in Iceland shows that 65 percent of Icelanders want a national park in the Eastern Highlands, which includes the area the project will destroy. But the Government seems determined to build this project before it will seriously consider the different options for a park," said Samantha Smith, director of WWF's International Arctic Programme. "If the project stays on its fast track, some of the most valuable areas will be destroyed before a national park is in place."
Previous surveys carried out in Iceland showed that only 47 per cent of Icelanders supported plans for the combined hydropower and aluminium project.
WWF also criticised Alcoa for its involvement in the project. "Alcoa is ignoring its own principles of environmental integrity," said Samantha Smith "It is ignoring the objections of many Icelanders, Icelandic NGOs and other conservationists around the world, and even the conclusions of the environmental impact assessment commissioned by the Icelandic Government which says that this project will cause significant damage to a very valuable area."
WWF, and an alliance of Icelandic conservation organizations, including the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, campaigned for Alcoa to withdraw from the project since it stepped in when the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro pulled out of a similar project earlier this year.
The national park that the alliance is proposing in the Eastern Highlands would be bordered by the Vatnajökull glacier in the south, the Vonaskard canyon in the west, the Lonsoderaefi highland plains to the east, and the National Lands boundary to the north.
WWF is offering to commission an initial study for the national park, including detailed boundary planning, protected area categorisation, and implementation planning. The study would also look at eco-tourism, research and other low-impact activities in the area as alternative income sources for local communities, and provide an analysis of the political and formal steps necessary to implement such a comprehensive protected area plan for Iceland.
"We may have lost the first skirmish in our battle to stop the project and make this area a national park, but we have not lost the war. Despite signing the Memorandum of Understanding, we believe there is still time for Alcoa to pull out of their agreement with the Icelandic Government, and we are urging them to live up to their environmental principles and do so," Samantha Smith added.
WWF has been involved in Icelandic conservation efforts since the late 1960s. In 1967 WWF helped establish the Skaftafell national park south of the Vatnajökull Glacier and in 1996, WWF helped provide funds for the development of the Breidafjoerdur Conservation Area.
For further information:
Arni Finnsson, Iceland Nature Conservation Association, mobile: + 354-897 2437
Julian Woolford, WWF Arctic Programme, tel: +47 93 00 64 47