Greenland: next for a UN seat?

Prospectors arrive and a farming bonanza is foreseen as the pro-independence government prepares to sever links with Denmark.

As global temperatures rise, the Danish constituent country of Greenland is experiencing dramatic change. Ice covering much of this vast land is melting and reducing in thickness, with the chances this could disappear within the foreseeable future. The ice is 3,350 meters thick in places, and it had been predicted that it would take hundreds of years to melt. But this is happening rapidly now. We are told that the consequential rise in sea levels will have devastating effects everywhere across the globe. Yet in Greenland itself temperature increases will have certain beneficial effects.

The country is home to a population of only around 57,000 people.  Some are Danish, some of mixed ancestry, but most are Inuit living simply by fishing in trying circumstances.  Now cod, a fish which enjoys warmer climes, are appearing in huge shoals in Greenland’s waters, a virtual harvest for the local communities. 

Forests which were rare are now expanding.  Vegetable farming, nigh impossible until recently, is now taking off in earnest. Sheep farmers are expanding flocks and cattle are being introduced. This diversification will accelerate as temperatures rise.

Alcoa, an aluminium company, hopes to open three smelters in Greenland to take advantage of an emerging hydro-electric power industry. Greenland’s planning approval of Alcoa’s strategy has met opposition from local environmental groups like Avataq which objects to Alcoa’s dealings with West African and South East Asian regimes, reports Siku News, a circumpolar newspaper. 

While rising temperatures are bad news for Arctic hunters, they are a bonus for gold prospectors, as the land is reported to have rich veins of the precious metal. There is talk of Greenland entering a new industrial age. According to The Times oil, gas and a veritable treasure chest of minerals, ranging from gold and diamonds to copper and uranium, can be exploited.

As other countries consider how they will deal with the adverse effects of climate change, how might adventurous and insightful companies from far off lands respond to these developments? There might there be chances for mining and agricultural giants like Billiton, RTZ and Fonterra, for example. As the rises in temperature gather pace, so the window of opportunity narrows, yet time is short.

A sparsely populated country, Greenland has a land area of around 2.17 sq. kms (c. 836,000 sq miles), the world's 13th biggest with 1.5% of total land area. Until now, this has been one of the most inhospitable places on earth to live from a climate perspective being so very cold and ice-ridden. It wasn’t always so, as Icelandic Vikings discovered when they reached Greenland in the 10th century.  There were birch trees, willows and green pastures, hence the name they gave this land.  600 or so farms are estimated to have thrived at the time.  But temperatures dropped during the Little Ice Age of the 14th and 15th centuries. Today, another reversal of fortunes appears to be firmly underway.

Strikingly, there’s talk of Greenland in future having to accommodate massive migration from over-heated countries where life has become unbearable.  The Russians, too, are speculating that Siberia will be a desired destination for these reasons.  Greenland’s little capital, Nuuk (population 15,500), doesn’t yet have an international airport, so getting there will be arduous for most, to say the least.  Kalaallit Nunaata Radio (KNR) started television broadcasts in 1982, since when private TV stations have begun operating under STTK, an umbrella body, and Nuuk citizens have access to digital pay TV.

In 2008, Greenlanders voted in a referendum for greater autonomy, and in 2009 the pro-independence Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) won a general election.  IA's leader, Kuupik Kleist, became the country's fifth Prime Minister and the first from his party to lead Greenland, the previous party having governed for thirty years.  As a left-wing party, IA has pledged to deal with social ills like alcoholism, domestic violence and a high suicide rateA rapidly developing economy should assist this, resulting in higher employment rates, more facilities, better education, housing, transportation and healthcare. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported in January 2011, “Greenland’s goal of gaining full independence from Denmark is getting closer as rising oil prices and melting ice spark renewed interest in its fossil fuels from companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Statoil ASA.”  Bloomberg noted “Greenland’s northeast holds 31.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent while a further 17 billion barrels may lie under the sea floor between Greenland and Canada, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.”

The UN might think it wise to adjust its seating arrangements by preparing an additional chair.

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