‘Nature doesn’t repair itself quick’: Greenland weighs up economic system v local weather disaster

Ujarneq Egede’s farm sits amongst a cluster of compact homes and squat barns on the snowy slopes of Equaluit Ilua in southern Greenland. The journey from Narsaq, the closest city, entails a 30 minute boat journey throughout the fjord, mooring on a sheet of ice and a snowmobile trip as much as the farm.

That is the largest island on the earth, but Greenland’s inhabitants is tiny – lower than 57,000 of whom almost 90% are Inuit, concentrated across the jagged shoreline. The nation’s remoteness is extreme: there aren’t any roads or railways between cities and settlements. Transport is barely by boat, helicopter and propeller planes – ice, winds and storms allowing.

Narsaq itself is a small city of about 1,300 individuals, the place jobs revolve round fishing, farming, a slaughterhouse and summer time tourism. Its inhabitants has fallen 25% since 1991.

Ujarneq Egede and his accomplice, Heidi Ibsen Christensen, at their farm. {Photograph}: Laura Paddison

In the meantime, on his farm, Egede grows potatoes and raises 750 sheep, huddled in barns through the winter and ranging throughout the grassy mountains all through summer time.

To be a farmer in Greenland is to have a front row seat to the climate crisis. Egede tracks the adjustments – “summer time is usually actually dry, different instances there’s an excessive amount of rain. This winter was actually late”. The place as soon as they may drive on the frozen fjord throughout winter, now that by no means occurs, he says.

It isn’t simply local weather that worries him, nonetheless. Egede’s farm is within the shadow of Kvanefjeld, a proposed open-pit uranium and uncommon earth parts mine. Fearing what it could do to the encompassing surroundings and his farm, he was immensely relieved when plans for the mine have been not too long ago halted after the brand new authorities, elected in April 2021, banned uranium mining. However the risk nonetheless simmers. Egede shouldn’t be positive it isover.

Greenland tourism chart

This southern slice of Greenland, the place the primary sources of employment embody farming, fishing and tourism, has discovered itself on the sharp finish of a quandary the nation is reckoning with: the right way to develop the economic system with out doing so on the expense of its surroundings and its individuals, who depend on the pristine Arctic panorama for his or her livelihoods. In its personal, Greenland method, it’s a microcosm of the dilemma dealing with large components of the world.

Melting ice sheets and fast-warming temperatures make Greenland a totem for the climate crisis. However because the ice melts, paradoxically sufficient, alternatives come up: not solely are uncooked supplies simpler to entry however Greenland is changing into extra accessible and vacationer seasons are extending.

The comparatively younger authorities got here to energy in April 2021 promising pro-environmental insurance policies: it has pledged to hitch the Paris climate agreement and has banned new licences for oil and fuel drilling.

Qaqortoq, the largest city in southern Greenland.
Qaqortoq, the most important metropolis in southern Greenland, expects to see an estimated 41 cruise ships this summer time. {Photograph}: Laura Paddison

However Greenland’s ample minerals have attracted the eye of nations which might be at the moment depending on China and Russia for the uncooked supplies wanted to construct the batteries and wind generators of the low-carbon economic system. Mining could imply Greenland may transfer away from its monetary dependence on Denmark, which supplies it a grant of 3.9bn Danish krone (£440m) yearly, and in the direction of eventual independence.

In Narsaq, the Australian-based Greenland Minerals pitched the Kvanefjeld mine as a supply of native alternative. The pitch did not impress many, together with farmers akin to Egede, and Naasu Lund, who lives together with her husband and two kids on a sheep farm in Inneruulalik, close to Narsaq. Lund was a part of the anti-mine group Urani? Naamik (Uranium? No).

Farmers thought they’d be compelled to maneuver from farms that had been of their households for generations, says Lund, who additionally runs horse using excursions from her hydropowered farm. The most important concern was the tailings pond holding the mining waste, she says, which might stay there for ever. Individuals feared it may spill in Greenland’s fierce climate, reaching the fjord in minutes.

Kvanefjeld location

Urani? Naamik protested – at public consultations, by means of native campaigning and at last by means of votes. And it labored. “That is the primary time I can sit in my dwelling and take into consideration a future that’s not concerned with mining,” Lund says.

Whether or not the mine is over is unsure, nonetheless. Greenland Minerals has launched arbitration proceedings to “make clear the corporate’s place and to guard our shareholders’ appreciable funding in Kvanefjeld”, in keeping with a spokesperson, who added {that a} detailed environmental impact assessment had addressed all issues in regards to the mine. “Even below probably the most excessive assumptions there wouldn’t be any exceedance of WHO ingesting water requirements ensuing from dispersal of tailings materials throughout foehn winds [strong gusty winds].”

Whereas Greenland’s authorities could also be saying no to uranium, it’s open to different mining and the warming local weather could make initiatives extra possible. “Mineral deposits are uncovered that had beforehand been below ice,” says Josephine Nymand of the Greenland Institute of Pure Assets.

Naasu Lund farmer Greenland
Naasu Lund, a farmer, campaigned towards a close-by mine. {Photograph}: Josepha Laut Thomsen

In March, Kobold Minerals, which has funding from Jeff Bezos and Invoice Gates, and the UK-based Bluejay Mining announced they’d start exploring for nickel, copper, cobalt and platinum group metals. Bo Stensgaard, the CEO of Bluejay Mining, says the mission will function to the “highest requirements” environmentally and profit Greenlanders by means of jobs and coaching. However there isn’t a timeframe for when mining may begin.

Herein lies the issue, says Lill Rastad Bjørst, affiliate professor at Aalborg College – there’s quite a lot of speak however “near nothing is occurring”. Greenland at the moment has solely two mines, one producing rubies and one other anorthosite. Regardless of claims about how Greenlanders profit from mining, “in the intervening time, there is likely to be individuals who profit from this improvement, but it surely’s not the individuals residing in Greenland”, Bjørst says.

Might tourism be the reply? “We advocate for tourism,” says Idrissia Thestrup, of Go to Greenland, “as a result of we imagine by preserving nature, we are able to truly keep away from taking the sources within the land and doubtlessly destroying landscapes.”

Tourism was one of many nation’s fastest growing industries till Covid lockdowns introduced it to a shuddering halt. However 2022 will likely be a increase 12 months, says Henrik Ebbe Nielsen, a tourism trainer at Campus Kujalleq, in Qaqortoq, south Greenland’s largest city. Qaqortoq alone expects to see an estimated 41 cruise ships this summer time, spilling as much as 47,000 vacationers on to its winding, pavement-less streets.

Passenger numbers arriving by cruise ship

Customer numbers could also be boosted additional by an airport growth mission. Qaqortoq will get a model new airport, with building beginning this spring, and new runways will permit bigger, worldwide planes to land within the capital, Nuuk, and Ilulissat, a city famed for its iceberg-calving glacier and canine sledding.

However larger airports imply extra aeroplanes, extra emissions and extra vacationers. In some areas, “the native panorama may be very a lot affected by too many vacationers already”, says Bjørst.

Thestrup says framing Greenland’s airport progress as a local weather drawback ignores its tiny contribution to the local weather disaster and its excessive remoteness. However she acknowledges the necessity to tread rigorously. “We would like tourism to be a driver for financial progress however we need to do it at a tempo that respects the character and tradition of our vacation spot.”

Greenland’s prime minister, Múte B Egede, recently set out his vision for a “resilient economic system”, one that might in the end part out fossil fuels. Alongside fishing, uncommon earth mining and tourism, he predicts a future for much much less examined industries, together with utilizing Greenland’s ample hydropower sources with captured CO2 emissions to create inexperienced fuels for export. “Because the ‘face’ of local weather change,” he wrote in an editorial, “Greenland needs to steer by instance.”

Egede’s farm
Egede’s farm, which is within the shadow of a proposed open-pit uranium and uncommon earth parts mine. {Photograph}: Laura Paddison

For now, the nation is making an attempt to plot a path in the direction of elevated financial freedom, whereas staking its declare for local weather management. It’s a path full of uncertainty, particularly because the local weather disaster begins to change individuals’s lifestyle, however uncertainty is one thing Greenlanders are used to.

“You can not sit down and cry, it doesn’t assist, you must simply adapt,” Lund says. “We will do it proper,” she provides. “Greenland is a really sustainable nation but it surely’s additionally the Arctic – nature doesn’t repair itself very quick after being destroyed, you must watch out, it’s very fragile.”

Journey assist for this piece was offered by the Craig Newmark Graduate College of Journalism at CUNY

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