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Greenland: Balancing the need for development and environmental protection

Speech by Minister for Finance, Mineral Resources and Foreign Affairs Mr. Vittus Qujaukitsoq

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Arctic Frontiers 2016 – Industry and Environment

Tromsø January 25th 2016

Ministers’, Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen

While climate change poses a serious challenge to our way of life, it is also resulting in increased accessibility to our natural resources bringing about new opportunities for development in the Arctic.

My Government is fully aware of the necessity to balance resource utilization and environmental protection. The principle of sustainability – in particular environmental sustainability – has always been an integral part of Greenlandic culture and identity.

In modern day Greenland this means that the management of marine resources from fish to seals and whales is conducted in full accordance with scientific advice and based on traditional knowledge. 90 % of our export comes from the sea. We therefore depend entirely on maintaining a balanced and sustainable use of our marine resources.

The hunting of marine mammals and seals is a vital component of everyday life and culture in Greenland as it has been for thousands of years. It is a traditional and legitimate way of life that is based on the principles of sustainable use of marine resources. This is the traditional sustainable way of life of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. In negotiations with our neighbors on sustainable use of our living resources, we play an active part in ensuring that stocks are managed soundly. This applies to all living marine resources in Greenland waters.

With climate change, new species of fish are entering our waters. In July 2015, Greenland, together with the other Arctic Five Coastal States, signed a declaration on the prevention of unregulated high seas fishing in the central Arctic Ocean. This will ensure that if and when Arctic ecosystems evolve to reflect climate changes and commercial fisheries become viable, none will take place until a suitable regional fisheries management organization is in place.

Impacts of Climate Change

By now we all know without a doubt that climate change in the Arctic is happening at a much faster rate than anywhere else on the planet. Already we’re seeing record losses of ice in the Arctic. The multi-year sea ice, mountain glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet have all been declining faster since 2000 than they did in the previous decades. This decline will accelerate.

These are all factors that affect our society and our living conditions and that require adaptation and resilience.

I hope that the agreement reached in December in Paris will be enough to halt these momentous changes, which endanger the survival of many peoples and entire cultures across our planet. Culture is of course a living thing. But culture exists and is ultimately a product of the way in which we sustain ourselves.

And in the Arctic, our traditional lifestyle, hunting and fishing are being fundamentally affected and the changes pose a serious challenge to our way of life as well as our unique Arctic biodiversity. Our way of sustaining ourselves has to change. And as a consequence of this our culture is changing and evolving rapidly.

In discussions on climate change, I see that far too often, when we talk about climate change in the Arctic, no mention is made of the peoples of the Arctic. The Human Dimension is all too often neglected, as if the Arctic were a wildlife sanctuary without human inhabitants.

Transformation in Greenland

The Government of Greenland is working towards a more self-sustaining economy in order to gain more self-determination. We have to focus on new markets and better exploit existing markets.

My Government is working to promote industry in Greenland and to create a more efficient labour market. Greenland’s industrial development will be structured around four pillars; Fisheries and industry – currently more than 90% of Greenland’s exports are fisheries products, Minerals, Tourism and Landbased enterprises and education.

Greenland is facing many new and radical changes to our traditional way of life and our unique Arctic biodiversity. Our environment, economy and society are undergoing a huge transformation.

New deposits of minerals, rare earths and gems are becoming accessible as the ice sheet recedes. This is forming the basis of a new mining industry in Greenland.

In order to achieve these goals, Greenland is successfully working with outside investors to develop our potentials. A very important priority in this regard, is the development of physical infrastructure in Greenland. During the fall session of Parliament, we have approved plans for upgrading the overall airport infrastructure, and more is to follow.

Climate change is improving conditions for agriculture in the South West of Greenland, which is experiencing longer summers and winters are becoming less severe. Today sheep herding and domestic potato production, are growing in importance in this Region.

It is my Government’s priority to advance these new opportunities without compromising the traditional way of life and culture.

Tourism

Another important area for Greenland to develop is our tourism sector. To develop a successful tourism sector, it is vital that we improve access to Greenland. This is why my Government is strengthening the country’s infrastructure by constructing new runways and extending existing ones.

Investments and international partnerships

With the new opportunities and potentials in the Arctic, we are experiencing an increased global interest in the Arctic region. As with practically every part of the world, the Arctic has become truly globalized. The Arctic is moving from a situation of comparative isolation and relative inaccessibility to becoming increasingly part of global geopolitical, trading and regulatory networks, and subject to multiplying claims on its resources.

In this respect, the Government of Greenland is seizing the opportunity to intensify international cooperation within areas of mining, infrastructure investments, scientific research, trade and shipping.

Dialogue and collaboration

My Government attaches great importance to working closely with our Arctic neighbors and being an active partner in the Arctic region, because we share many challenges and opportunities and we have many cultural and social relations that are important to maintain.

We also prioritize seeking dialogue on Arctic issues in general with outside partners. We are an active participant in the work of the Arctic Council and have been since its creation. For us it is a necessity that we are present and are helping to shape the decisions about our region.

During the past year, Greenland has participated in Ministerial meetings of the Arctic Council, and the US Ministerial meeting held in Anchorage. I think it is important for Greenland to play an important part in the international dialogue concerning Arctic issues.

Closing

The Arctic is so much more than icebergs, icesheets and animals used as symbols for Western conservation movements. The Arctic is inhabited by people, who have lived here for thousands of years. People who have traditions, knowledge ands skills that are vital for survival in our region of the world.

Until recently, our region has been relatively unnoticed. But this is changing fast. For me, it is important to underline the importance of ensuring that the peoples of the Arctic should be the drivers, making the important decisions that are necessary. It is not for other actors, whether they be in Europe, North America, or Asia, or elsewhere, to determine the future of the Arctic. It should be for the peoples of the Arctic to determine their own fate and future, in cooperation with international partners.

In closing I would like to thank all participants here today for their contributions to the debate. I am glad to see the high interest in discussing some of the real issues that affect people living in the Arctic.

Thank you.

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