Megaprojects on Ice: Lessons From the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project for a Just Transition

Rachael Lorna Johnstone*, Karin Buhmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The Kárahnjúkar dam, power station and aluminium smelter opened in East Iceland in 2007 after many years of debate and discord. It is the largest ever industrial project in Iceland and had national as well as local implications, both responding to and in turn changing public expectations regarding participation, environmental impact assessment and community engagement. As Iceland seeks to harness an increasing supply of renewable energy, questions are raised about what constitutes a just transition in the Icelandic context. The article begins by discussing energy supply and demand, current and projected in Iceland. It then delves into theoretical accounts of just transition. It explores the decision-making process for the Kárahnjúkar project and the longer term impacts on the region before assessing these within the framework of just transition theory. A discussion follows that delivers insights into key aspects of the just transition that can be applied to new projects both in Iceland and further afield. These pertain in particular to employment and community benefits, environmental impact assessment and public participation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Polar Journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)240-263
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 03 November 2023.


  • Just transition
  • Arctic
  • Iceland
  • Megaprojects
  • Public participation
  • Environmental impact assessment (EIA)

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