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Climate change brings new risks to Greenland, says PM Aleqa Hammond

 
Construction in Greenland

Huge cranes tower over new apartment buildings built near the mountains in Nuuk, Greenland. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Climate change brings new risks to Greenland, says PM Aleqa Hammond” was written by John Vidal in Tromso, for theguardian.com on Thursday 23rd January 2014 14.07 UTC

When the world’s miners, oil-workers, construction teams and industrialists descend on Greenland over the next few years to dig below the rapidly retreating icecap for its ores, hydrocrabons and minerals, no one will watch with more concern – or confidence – than prime minister Aleqa Hammond.

The Inuit leader of a country with just 56,000 people who have lived in remote, scattered communities largely by fishing and hunting knows that the arrival of tens of thousands of foreign workers will be as economically important and as culturally disruptive as anything in Greenland’s history.

“The shock will be profound. But we have faced colonisation, epidemics and modernisation before,” she says. “The decisions we are making [to open up the country to mining and oil exploitation] will have enormous impact on lifestyles, and our indigenous culture.

“But we have always come out on top. We are vulnerable but we know how to adapt,” she said on a visit to Norway this week.

Climate change, she says, is placing Greenland at the heart of 21st century geopolitics. As the ice retreats, it is moving from being a non-player in global affairs to the centre of a new international resource rush. “Climate change and this resultant new industrialization brings new risks. We must understand that the effects will be both positive and negative,” she says.

Arctic Sea Ice Melting

Each summer, streams channel much of the melted ice along Greenland’s low lying ice sheet. Such melts are on the rise, studies report. Photograph: Courtesy Ian Joughin/AAAS

Not only has the retreat of the icecap made mining feasible in previously inaccessible areas, but the dramatic melt of the Arctic sea ice may within one or two generations locate Greenland on a vastly profitable trans-polar trading route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Hammond, whose father died in the ice when she was seven and who grew up without running water or central heating, is now being courted by world leaders who see the Arctic as an emerging strategic zone.

Chinese, American, Russian, British, Japanese, Korean and other companies have all staked claims for its resources, and her government has awarded more than 120 licenses to explore for oil and gas, iron ore, uranium, emeralds and nickel as well as what are thought to be the largest deposits of rare earths – vital for digital technologies – outside China.

Greenland, which is seeking independence from Denmark, is politically and socially split, with many saying Hammond and her new government are going too fast.

“If you want to become rich, it comes with a price,” says Aqqaluk Lynge, a Greenlander who is chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council which represents Inuits from Alaska, Greenland and Canada at the UN and other forums.

Aleqa Hammond, Greenland

Aleqa Hammond says climate change has put Greenland at the ‘heart of 21st century geopolitics.’ Photograph: Johannes Jansson/Norden.org

 

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