Prime Minister Daviđ Oddson
Stjornarradshusinu vid Laekjartorg 150
23 December 2002
Dear Honourable Prime Minister Daviđ Oddson,
Subject: Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project: impact on Important Bird Area at Utherad
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) champions the conservation of birds and other biodiversity in the UK and worldwide, for wildlife, the environment and people. Founded in 1889, the RSPB is Europe’s largest voluntary wildlife conservation organisation, with over one million subscribing members. The RSPB works with bird and habitat conservation organisations in a global partnership called BirdLife International (of which the Icelandic partner is Fuglaverndarfélag Íslands).
The RSPB is extremely concerned to hear that, following the granting of planning consent in August by the Icelandic Planning Agency (overturning its ruling against the development a year earlier), contractors have already, ahead of the proposed start date in 2003, begun construction of the Kárahnjúkur Hydropower project, including tunnelling work at the proposed dam site at Mt. Fremri- Kárahnjúkur. This is despite the negative conclusions about the impact of this project on the environment confirmed by, among others, the Icelandic Power Company’s (Landsvirkjun) environmental impact assessment, your own nature conservation and central planning agencies and the court case challenging the scheme approval of last December.
The project will affect the Utherad Important Bird Area, which holds 4% of the European population of arctic skua Stercorarius parasiticus (= 0.5% of the global population) and 2% of the European population of greylag goose Anser anser. It is also likely to have a detrimental effect on 12% of the biogeographical (Iceland/Greenland breeding) population of pink-footed goose Anser brachyrynchus (= 6% of the global population).
From a UK perspective we are especially concerned about the impact on the pink-footed goose. Some 87% of the global population of this species is hosted by Iceland (some of which breed in east Greenland but moult and stage in Iceland); and almost all of the 225,000 individuals in this population winter in the UK.
By implementing this project, Iceland risks causing a significant decline in the global population of the pink-footed goose. This raises serious questions about Iceland’s compliance with its obligations under international treaties such as the Conventions on Biological Diversity (CBD), Wetlands (Ramsar) and European Wildlife (Bern).
We urge you to consider the consequences of this on the reputation of your country, where nature tourism is the fastest growing industry. We would ask for this project to be suspended immediately, pending a reconsideration of a more sustainable alternative.
The RSPB/BirdLife International considers this case as sufficiently serious to warrant a request for the opening of a formal case file under the Bern Convention early in 2003. I hope this will not be necessary and that you will be able to assure me that appropriate action will now be taken to halt the impending environmental damage.
I look forward to your reply.
Cc: Elliot Morley MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, UK Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs
Ms Siv Friđleifsdóttir, Icelandic Minister for the Environment
Alan J P Belda, Alcoa, USA
Eladio Fernandez-Galiano, Bern Convention Secretariat, Council of Europe
Johann Oli Hilmarsson – Fuglaverndarfélag Íslands (ISPB)
Szabolcs Nagy, BirdLife International European Division Office