The land area classified as forest and as grasslands increased by 1,043 square kilometers between 1990 – 2020. The same period has seen areas of settlements, which include housing, roads, industrial areas, airports and port facilities, grow by 134 square kilometers. This land change comes at the cost of areas classified as arid (other land), which has been reduced by 1,032 square kilometers, wetlands, which have been reduced by 119 square kilometers, and cropland, which has shrunk by 26 square kilometers.

These land change figures are the foundation information that is used to estimate emissions of greenhouse gasses for Iceland‘s National Inventory Report (NIR), which the Icelandic environmental agency submits to the UN as emissions from land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF). Emissions in this category are by far the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions from Iceland. The discussions of how Iceland is to respond to climate change is therefore understandably often focused on grassland, forest and wetland recovery.

Land classified as grassland can include land that was previously fields and acres which have fallen out of use for more than 20 years. Reclaims of arid areas by seeding can also transfer land area from being other land to grassland, but this can happen without intervention of growers. However, it can be assumed that the 489 square kilometers that have been added to the forest class is most likely a result of direct intervention of growers as well as less sheep grazing in wooded areas.

The land change that weighs most in terms of greenhouse gas emission is the wetland class. Iceland had 9,092 square kilometers classified as wetlands in 1990, but this number has seen relatively constant decline between years. The wetland area was recorded as 8,973 square kilometers in 2020.

These figures are available in the NIR submissions files, which the Icelandic environmental agency submits to the UN-FCCC. They are also available on the Statistics Iceland website.