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Inuuteq Holm Olsen on Denmark

Greenland, a semi-autonomous part of Denmark, is becoming increasingly active in expanding its global partnerships and developing its domestic economy. Erica Dingman, director of World Policy Institute’s Arctic in Context initiative, discussed the island’s long-term goals for its export and tourism industries and addressed the effects of climate change with Inuuteq Holm Olsen, Greenland’s first representative at the Embassy of Denmark to the United States.

ERICA DINGMAN: As a semi-autonomous country of Denmark, Greenland now has greater control over its economic and political future. How does your work in Canada and the U.S. complement Greenland’s larger goals?

INUUTEQ HOLM OLSEN: In order to continue the long-term goal of taking over more areas of responsibility, economic development must continue to grow as a prerequisite to attaining an even greater degree of self-government. As part of this strategy, it is also important to be able to attract businesses and foreign investors from Canada and U.S., and in general to continue to develop Greenland’s relationships with these two countries, especially in the economic and commercial sectors.

ED: What are the most important drivers for improving the economic and living conditions of Greenlanders?

IHO: The most important driver is focusing on human capital, such as by raising the level of education, which is a critical element in improving the economic and living conditions of Greenlanders. Better jobs require higher levels of education, and there is a strong need for highly educated Greenlanders for jobs in different sectors, such as in the health, administration, business, or technological sectors, as well as for innovation and creation of new businesses. Overcoming social ills—be it alcohol addiction, child neglect, or suicide, which occurs in Greenland at one of the highest rates in the world—is also an important topic that is being widely debated, as reducing these problems also leads to improvement in economic and living conditions.

ED: An important aspect of Greenland’s future is to gain greater economic autonomy from Denmark. What are Greenland’s primary industries?

IHO: Fisheries continue to be the most important sector, representing close to 90 percent of Greenland’s exports, and it will continue to be so for many years to come. The economic potential in the short run lies in developing the tourism sector and the mineral sector, and in the longer run, in the search for oil and gas.

ED: Greenland has a rich supply of natural resources, including minerals and hydrocarbons. What role do those resources play in Greenland’s economic and political future? 

IHO: They are immensely important, as relying only on one sector (fisheries) is quite risky, especially in terms of climate change because ocean temperatures change and therefore ecosystems can change. We need to diversify our economy, which is why we are focusing on developing these sectors (as well as others, such as tourism). We are seeing several mineral projects in an advanced stage, and we expect to receive applications for exploitation licenses for several mining projects.

ED: The luxury cruise ship, the Crystal Serenity, left Seward, Alaska on Aug. 16 carrying approximately 1,000 passengers for a 32-day voyage through the Northwest Passage which disembarked in New York on Sept. 16. The liner made three port calls in Greenland: Ilulissat, Nuuk, and Sisimiut, with populations of 4,500, 5,600, and 17,000 respectively. What are the pros and cons of this type of mass tourism to these Greenlandic communities?

IHO: I’ve been following the news as the largest cruise ship went along the Northwest Passage, and there were quite a lot of articles about the visits to some of the towns and villages in Alaska and Canada from the respective news organizations there. Interestingly enough, it didn’t inspire any articles from Greenlandic news organizations, even though it stopped in three places, except for one, which was about the ship taking on a million liters of fuel in Nuuk.

I think Greenland has become more or less accustomed to cruise ships of various sizes for over a decade now. Greenland will not become a mass tourism destination due to the limited infrastructure, but we are seeing growth and there is room for more growth—as well as extending the season so that tourism doesn’t only peak in summertime. Winter tourism with dog sledding, skiing, and viewing the Northern Lights are some of the areas that are being developed.

ED: As a consequence of global warming, the Arctic is undergoing drastic environmental change, which has a direct socio-economic impact on Greenlanders and all other Arctic residents. In short, this is causing numerous problems. What’s the solution? Where does the responsibility lie?

IHO: I think Greenland, as well as the rest of the Arctic, is responding to the increases in carbon dioxide levels that we have been seeing over the last several years. Whatever is emitted in Greenland or the Arctic is a drop in the bucket. Furthermore, Greenland already gets 70 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources. What we have been arguing is for the rest of the polluting countries and regions to take responsibility and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The solution is for these countries to continue to turn to renewable energy sources and to reduce pollution levels (not only greenhouse gases, but also other kinds of pollutants that are being transported up to the Arctic), as well as to increase sustained observation of the Greenland ice cap, which the international science community has already started to do.  The continued melting of the ice cap potentially creates problems for coastal areas, and there are still unknowns and knowledge gaps regarding the dynamics of the ice cap and other precise measurements all along the island.

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[Photo Courtesy of Algkalv]

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