News Archive

posted 11/18/03

Iceland's President Cites Sustainability as Secret of Success
Speech at Fisheries Workshop Emphasizes Responsible Use of Ocean Resources

                    Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Iceland, shown above 
                    at left, with Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute

President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Iceland, shown above at left, with Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute. President Grímsson spoke at a fisheries workshop on sustainable fishing practices at the invitation of Sachs.

“Sustainability of fishing is as important to Iceland as sovereignty itself,” said President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Iceland, noting that countries that “cannot be disciplined by sound science will go in the direction of self-interest.”

At an Earth Institute workshop on Sustainable Fisheries at Columbia University on November 12, 2003, President Grímsson constructed an inspiring case study of his country’s success. Fishing is sometimes seen as a backwards, regional type of industry, he noted, but in Iceland it is the foundation of what has become an economy with one of the highest per capita incomes and life expectancies in the world.

At a time when major fish stocks everywhere have declined dramatically, President Grímsson emphasized that Iceland’s fishery managers base their policies and quotas on the recommendations provided by Iceland’s Marine Research Institute, with an emphasis on “preserving fish stocks and controlling utilization of ocean resources in a responsible way.”

Innovations such as a system of tradable fishing quotas, leading fishery-related software companies, and global partnerships all help explain Iceland’s rise in one generation, which, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs joked, was “theoretically impossible.”

President Grímsson spoke forcefully against “harmful systems of state subsidies,” which encourage the overfishing that has imperiled many of the world’s fisheries. “No single action will bring about success in such a short time as abolishing subsidies,” he said. A global surveillance system, similar to that currently used to track airplanes, would be desirable to support enforcement of global fishery trade agreements.

The workshop, called Sustainable Fisheries and the Importance of Fish in Human Nutrition, was sponsored by the Earth Institute at Columbia University and organized by Giulio Pontecorvo, an Emeritus Professor at the Columbia Business School who has been engaged in economic analysis of the global fishery management problem. It was held at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.