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Eruption of Grimsvötn – A reminder from nature?

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Oslo. The eruption of Grimsvötn and the cancelled flights brought back memories. When another Iceland volcano erupted, namely Eyjafjallajökull, I was one of the stranded passengers and like everybody else became an observer of what happens when nature has its way.

At the time many economic activities grinded to a halt. The repercussions of the eruption could be felt well beyond Europe. In Kenya for example, flowers destined to Europe were rotting away in warehouses and local income was lost. The global economy had to adjust its time schedule.

Vulcanic eruptions are natural hazards, geologic events humans cannot prevent from occurring. Eruptions are difficult to predict and are driven by activities in the earth’s crust.

By contrast this does not apply to global warming, which is predominantly the result of human activities. We know the climate is already changing and more change is to come with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, which rise largely because of the burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes. Here we do not have to be a bystander. We can still influence the outcome.

This requires individual behavior changes as well as transformational policy changes and larger scale initiatives at home and abroad. It includes promoting low carbon based development pathways that increase energy efficiency and promote the up-scaling of renewable energies, as well as maintaining ecosystems, that play an important role in soaking up carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the biomass.

One potential transformative initiative is REDD+, which stands for policies and measures seeking to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, enhancing carbon stocks and promoting sustainable forest management. This recognizes that the rapid loss of forests, particularly in the tropics, contributes around 15 percent to the total greenhouse gas emissions each year. The idea behind REDD+ is to provide economic incentives for forest protection and sustainable management, hence providing alternative choices for development and how natural resources are being used.

Norway is one of the leading donors having pledged substantial support for REDD+ in several tropical forest countries. Indonesia is one of them. Indonesia has also committed to reducing its emissions by 41 percent (26 percent without external assistance) by 2020 Norway has committed up to one billion of support depending on performance.

As part of steps designed to advance REDD+ activities, Indonesia recently signed a two year moratorium on deforestation activities in primary forests and peatlands. Many, including myself, were hoping for a more ambitious moratorium that would cover all natural forests, including secondary forests.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the moratorium as an important initial step. This presidential decree includes instructions to several ministries and government agencies and its relevance lies in using these two years well to improve forest governance structures and ensure that directives aimed at forest protection are effectively implemented and monitored. The ambitions certainly have to be scaled up, secondary forests need to be included if moratorium has to be seen beyond the two year time-frame.

The moratorium is one puzzle piece in a large-scale effort required to transform from an extractive industries model towards a greener economy. This is recognized by the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who announced at a recent Business for Environment Summit, a commitment to shifting economic activities onto degraded land (and hence away from existing forests).

When tackling global challenges like climate change, there is often a tendency to see things in black and white. But reality is often painted in shades of grey. Is the moratorium on deforestation a full blown success? No. Is it a complete failure? No. It is one step. Further improvements are needed in ambitions. But it is important that Indonesia and other countries, keep on making these steps in the right direction and receive the necessary support from donor countries, which also need to take initiatives at home. When the solutions are not perfect right away, it means we need to keep on walking. Giving up, stopping, going back to business as usual would be the false choices. Nobody said it would be easy. It is a complex undertaking that requires persistence and patience.

After all, this not a volcano eruption[i], but a global environmental issue, we can do something about. One step at a time. Here in Norway. And abroad.

About the author: Frank Sperling is a Senior Advisor on Climate Risks, Forests and Carbon with WWF Norway.

For more information on WWF Norway’s work on conservation and climate change, please go to:


For further information about WWF’s international Forest Climate Initiative, please see:


[i] Remark: There is some initial scientific research and evidence that climate change may actually favor more frequent volcano eruptions. Melting ice takes weight off on the volcano. Like lossening a cork in pressurized bottle, this make it easier for magma to get out:


So maybe stopping greenhouse gas emissions and halting global warming, is also a good thing for reducing some of the exposure to volcano eruptions?!

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