Greenland’s November referendum has taken effect today, bringing Greenlanders closer to complete self-rule.
This will give the local government greater say and authority in most domestic activities. What is interesting, as the article linked highlights, is that as the climate changes, the mostly inaccessible mineral resources will increasingly become available for exploitation. This phenomenon is not unique to Greenland, but is impacting the entire Arctic region.
A Russian sub planted a small metal Russian flag on the Lomonosov Ridge, claiming that it is part of Russia’s continental shelf. However, other countries claim the ridge for themselves. Why would anyone care about the land lying underneath the Arctic Pole? Because claiming the land would apportion out almost the entire currently unclaimed regions, granting untold access to petroleum and natural gas reserves – to the tune of the US Geological Survey’s recently completed assessment of 90 billion barrel of oil and 1669 trillion cubic feet of gas. (USGS PDF)
Because of these vast energy reserves and increasing access, tensions are slowing heating up amongst the Arctic nations. Canada is increasing its icebreaker fleet, and words are flying over access rights to the newly opened Northwestern Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The old dream of not having to pass Southern America or through the Panama Canal might finally becoming true. But to the detriment of the environment. Reuters article
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran around in Prince Albert Sound, causing billions of dollars in environmental damage. Now imagine an oil tanker traversing the even more remote wilderness of the Canadian islands, shifting channels, and a sea still fairly ice-covered with unknown icebergs. Oil may soon pass through these areas, largely if not entirely untouched by humanity’s direct presence. It only takes one accident to destroy it all.
I wish Greenland the best of luck and congratulations in implementing increased self-rule. However, as they expand their economic access into Greenland’s territory, I hope the above points are considered so they can manage their resources wisely while also protecting the environment.