Making a Difference, Step by Step
Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, Government of Iceland
2005 Fulbright Foreign Student to Yale University
Chairman of the Fulbright Association in Iceland (2017–2018)
As an Icelander, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson sees the impact of climate change up close: Iceland’s glaciers are rapidly retreating and studies suggest that in two centuries there may be no ice left in Iceland. Mr. Guðbrandsson, Iceland’s Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, leads the charge in creating a comprehensive plan to reduce the country’s emissions, aiming for carbon neutrality in 2040. In his work, Mr. Guðbrandsson centers the need for global collaboration to address the complexities of climate change.
After earning a master’s degree in environmental management at Yale University as a 2005 Fulbright Foreign Student, Mr. Guðbrandsson served as guest lecturer at the University of Iceland, the Agricultural University of Iceland, and the University Centre of the Westfjords, while also working as an Iceland park ranger. From 2011 to 2017, Mr. Guðbrandsson served as CEO of Landvernd, the Iceland Environment Association, while simultaneously conducting research in ecology, environmental sciences, and global studies at the University of Iceland and The Soil Conservation Service of Iceland (SCSI).
Mr. Guðbrandsson is heartened by the recent shift in thinking surrounding climate change. He believes people are willing to see governments take bold action. As climate-forward thinking continues to evolve, he stresses that adaptation and mitigation are essential: the more we limit emissions and increase ecosystem resilience and international cooperation, the more successful we will be in combating adverse effects. By working under the United Nations’ model for climate biodiversity, for example, Iceland can lead the way on conserving and restoring nature, in turn increasing food production and mitigating natural disasters.
Mr. Guðbrandsson notes that he keeps his Fulbright experience “close to my heart, because it meant a lot to me personally and professionally…You grow in knowledge, you grow in problem-solving.” Most significantly, he met like-minded people from around the world. His classmates’ points of view were shaped by their own backgrounds, which in turn broadened Mr. Guðbrandsson’s worldview. To create global change, particularly involving the climate, he stresses that we must practice vision, courage, and patience.
After years in climate-based work, Mr. Guðbrandsson emphasizes that “each individual can make a difference, no matter how small. Baby steps become larger steps, and we all must believe that our participation matters.”