The city of Reykjavík’s electricity is provided entirely by geothermal and hydro-electricity. Every one of the city’s buildings is heated by geothermal. Mayor Dagur Eggertsson knows that this is not enough. “I just got back from a United Nations event for mayors looking at climate change. We see that our social and environmental goals go hand in hand.” Dagur sees densifying the city of Reykjavík as one such tactic that ties together social and environmental aspirations. From bringing people closer to their workplaces to providing affordable housing and improving public transport, all outcomes have the potential to increase quality of life in the city while decreasing carbon emissions from transportation. “We are struggling to turn the tide on a city planned as the most advanced car city in the 1960s,” he said, while pouring us hot coffee in his downtown Reykjavík home. We were fascinated to hear that Dagur has leverage that many mayors don’t have. “The city owns most of the land in Reykjavík. We can lease it to non-profits looking to develop affordable housing in the city centre.”
With close to 40% of Iceland’s population residing in the capital, Dagur’s efforts to reduce emissions from the city’s operations are an essential part of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions strategy. As such, he’ll be headed to Paris for COP21 as part of Iceland’s official negotiation team. We hope that his enthusiasm for climate action in Iceland (0.01% of global emissions) will somehow have influence on our US negotiators and the 16.16% of annual global emissions that they are responsible for.
Dagur is passionate about cities taking leadership on climate change, believing that “cities are probably the smartest thing humans ever invented.” The necessity of mayoral leadership has been recognized widely, including by Pope Francis when he convened mayors of the world’s leading cities at the Vatican last month to talk about climate change. “I am hopeful for Paris this December due to the focus on cities. They are crucial. Number one, we are part of the problem. Number two, we are part of the solution.” Dagur believes he can change Reykjavík for the better one project at a time. As we bid goodbye I asked him if he had one sentence for other mayors seeking to move forward on climate action. “Take it seriously. Make plans. Take Action. Those were commas, not stops. One sentence, see?”