Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is not the first female leader of the small island nation, but she is the first of Iceland’s Prime Ministers to be elected from the Icelandic Green Party, the “Left-Green Movement”. Since 2017, Jakobsdóttir’s visions of sustainable development, gender equality, and a country that works for the people has helped continue Iceland’s history of progressiveness, while at the same time ushering in a new era of greener, more socially involved politics.
Being a member of Iceland’s Left-Green Movement, climate action is one of Jakobsdóttir’s top priorities as Prime Minister. Iceland has set the ambitious goal of being carbon-neutral by 2040, but according to Jakobsdóttir, “The earlier, the better”. In an interview with The Nation, Jakobsdóttir says, “I can already see that the other Nordic countries are saying [that they want to be] carbon-neutral by 2045—so it’s a little bit of a race. And you can’t do this just by reducing emissions. We also have to change the way we are using lands, restoring wetlands—really change the way we think.”
The Icelandic government has implemented an ambitious strategy to combat climate change. During a speech given to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Jakobsdóttir explained that Iceland had created 34 initiatives to tackle this issue “ranging from carbon tax to food security, from battle and recovery projects to a government fund to support climate-friendly technologies and innovation”.
In order to combat climate change on a local level, Jakobsdóttir stated that, “it has been decided to ban the registrations on new vehicles that are driven by non-renewables by 2030 and effectively this will lead to the end of imported gasoline and diesel cars in Iceland”. According to the Iceland Review, by 2025, the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, will have eliminated half of its gas stations, encouraging citizens to switch to cleaner energy vehicles.
Icelandic sheep farmers are reported to be ready to cooperate with the government in making their operations carbon-neutral, contributing immensely to the greening effort of the nation’s agricultural industry. According to Icelandic Magazine, sheep farmers will invest in topsoil reclamation, wetland reclamation, and switch to renewable energy for vehicles and other machinery, rather than using fossil fuels. As Iceland is a nation with more sheep than people, Jakobsdóttir believes that these efforts have an important role in the fight against climate change.
In terms of gender equality, Iceland has consistently been ranked among the world’s most progressive nations per the World Economic Forum. Regardless of this status, Prime Minister Jakobsdóttir maintains that there is always more to be done. As Iceland’s second female Prime Minister and self-proclaimed feminist, Jakobsdóttir has been tackling the issue of gender inequality in Iceland, especially the issue of the gender pay gap.
In 2020 the World Economic Forum called Iceland “once again the most gender-equal country in the world for the 11th time in a row. It has closed almost 88% of its overall gender gap, further improving since last year”. Iceland has scored an 0.877 on the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 ranking, which is a 0.018 boost from their 2018 scores.
Jakobsdóttir looks to end this pay gap soon. In a 2018 interview with The Nation, Jakobsdóttir stated; “Closing the pay gap is doable . . . We have said that we are going to implement the equal-pay standard in five years.”
Since 2017, Iceland has been a part of the UN’s Equal Pay International Coalition, striving to achieve equal pay for men and women everywhere.
In 2018, Iceland implemented a law on the Equal Pay Certification, wherein businesses employing more than 25 workers are required to obtain an annual certification of equal pay, thereby eliminating discriminatory practices. This transfers the responsibility of equal pay
being transferred from the employee seeking and negotiating a pay raise, to the employer granting a pay raise to his/her employees.
In her speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Jakobsdóttir stated, “Our main project has been to invest significantly in social infrastructure, healthcare, welfare, (and) education”.
“The country is supposed to work for the good of the people“Katrin Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland
Improving these areas of everyday life for Icelanders has been targeted via Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Jakobsdóttir stated to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, “SDG’s are really about your daily life . . . education, health, but also how you consume, how you live, where you work, [and] your environment”.
Jakobsdóttir has been vocal about the importance of promoting healthy living in Iceland. Since becoming Prime Minister, she has helped Icelandic youth obtain healthier options when it comes to school nutrition. Jakobsdóttir stated, “When I was a student in secondary school, you just went and bought yourself a candy bar. But we actually changed all the schools so the healthy choice was the one that was offered [to] students.” Along with this, she has helped promote Iceland’s “health-promoting communities”, which ensure community members have clean drinking water, and promote travel by bicycle or walking, rather than taking a car.
As well as physical and nutritional health, Jakobsdóttir has spoken up about the importance of mental health. According to the BBC, Jakobsdóttir stated that Icelanders use more anti-depressants than their neighbouring countries. She claims that, “By adopting robust strategies to improve mental wellbeing, the aim is to reduce the rates of depression and hopefully reduce the reliance on anti-depressants . . . This involves improving accessible mental health service, and strengthening prevention through sports and the arts”.
Entering her final year of her first term, Jakobsdóttir’s Iceland has served as a demonstration of how a progressive Green leadership may govern their country; focusing on the well-being of its people, while still fighting the good fight against climate change.