Greenland, the world's largest island, is about 81% ice-capped. Greenland is in the Danish Kingdom, which benefits Greenland to the tune of about $500 million per year. However the Greenlanders want independence and are moving deliberately in that direction. Greenland has a population of about 57,000, larger than #213 Liechtenstein at 36,713, #214 San Marino at 32,140, #217 Monaco at 30,510, or #225 Tuvalu and #226 Nauru, tied for last place among sovereign "states" with about 10,000 citizens apiece. Vikings reached the island in the 10th century from Iceland; Danish colonization began in the 18th century, and Greenland was made an integral part of Denmark in 1953. It joined the European Community (now the EU) with Denmark in 1973, but withdrew in 1985 over a dispute centered on stringent fishing quotas. Greenland was granted self-government in 1979 by the Danish parliament; the law went into effect the following year.
Politically, the Greenland Home Rule Government has sought increasing autonomy since the acquisition of home rule in 1979. In May 2003, the Danish and Greenland Home Rule governments reached agreement on a set of power-sharing principles on Greenland's involvement in Danish foreign and security policy. The so-called Itilleq Declaration provides that Greenland will have foreign policy involvement with a view toward having equal status on questions of concern to both Denmark and Greenland.
A Danish-Greenlandic Commission, established in 2005 with the aim of preparing measures that would grant Greenland additional autonomy, issued its recommendations in early 2008 and set the conditions for a new legal framework, "Self Rule," between Greenland and Denmark. The Self Rule agreement was overwhelmingly approved by Greenlandic voters in a referendum in November 2008 and was passed by the Danish parliament; it entered into effect on the 30th anniversary of Greenlandic Home Rule in June 2009. The new Self Rule agreement allows for the transfer of additional authorities, such as justice and police affairs, to Greenland's government as it is able to assume financial responsibility for these new portfolios. The Self Rule agreement also provides formal international legal recognition to the Greenlanders as a people under international law, and provides a formula for division of potential oil and gas revenues between Denmark and Greenland.
Greenland has various formal connections with other parts of the world. Greenland is an independent member of the Nordic Council. Special cooperation with Iceland and the Faroe Islands is organised through the Nordic Atlantic Cooperation and the West Nordic Foundation. Greenland withdrew from the European Union in 1985, thereafter basing its relations with the EU on a special agreement. In 2006 Greenland and the EU agreed on a comprehensive partnership for the sustainable development of Greenland. The Partnership Agreement is a political declaration stating the parties' intentions to continue and expand their cooperation within various areas. As a result of regional cooperation regarding environmental issues (The Finnish Initiative), the eight countries in the Arctic, ie Russia, Canada, USA, Iceland, Denmark/Greenland, Sweden, Norway and Finland, founded the Arctic Council in 1996.
The public sector, including publicly owned enterprises and the municipalities, plays the dominant role in Greenland's economy. A large part of government revenues comes from Danish Government grants, 57% in 2009, an important supplement of GDP. The global economic slowdown is affecting Greenland as well, and a contraction of 2% of GDP is expected for 2009. The surpluses in the public budget between 2002 and 2005 were turned to a deficit of $40 million in 2007 and 2008, and unemployment is on the rise after an extended period from 2003 onward with lower unemployment.
The Greenlandic economy increased by an average of 3% to 4% annually between 1993 and 2001, the result of increasing catches and exports of shrimp, Greenland halibut, and, more recently, crabs. However, it was not until 1999 that the economy had fully recovered from an economic downturn in the early 1990s. During the last decade the Greenland Home Rule Government (GHRG) has pursued a fiscal policy with mostly small budget surpluses and low inflation, but increased public pressure for improved public services in the form of better schools, health care, and retirement schemes have strained the public budget. The GHRG has taken initiatives to increase the labor force and thus employment by, among other things, raising the retirement age from 60 to 63 years. The average unemployment rate for 2008 was 4.5%. Structural reforms are still needed in order to create a broader business base and economic growth through more efficient use of existing resources in both the public and the private sector.
Due to its continued dependence on exports of fish, 85% of goods exports, Greenland's economy remains very sensitive to foreign developments. Greenland has registered a foreign trade deficit since the closure of the last remaining lead and zinc mine in 1989, though international interest in Greenland's mineral wealth is increasing. The trade deficit reached 12% of GDP in 2007. International consortia are also increasingly active in exploring for hydrocarbon resources off Greenland's western coast, and there are international studies indicating the potential of oil and gas fields in northern and northeastern Greenland. The U.S. aluminum producer Alcoa in May 2007 concluded a memorandum of understanding with the Greenland Home Rule Government to build an aluminum smelter and associated power generation facility in Greenland to take advantage of abundant hydropower potential. Tourism also offers another avenue of economic growth for Greenland, with increasing numbers of cruise lines now operating in Greenland's western and southern waters during the peak summer tourism season.
The autonomous region has undeveloped mineral and petroleum resources; exploration activities for both were picking up in 2004. Some Canadian mining companies were active in exploring for diamond and gold, and as a result, a gold deposit was being developed and mined in South Greenland. Skaergaard Minerals Corp., which is 100% owned by Galahad Gold plc of the United Kingdom, planned to develop the gold-palladium-platinum deposit at Skaergaard in eastern Greenland. The inferred mineral resource contained 1.09 million kilograms of palladium, 339,000 kilograms (kg) of gold, and 93,300 kg of platinum with substantial accessory metals, such as titanium and vanadium.
Greenland, the world's largest island, is almost entirely covered by a massive ice sheet that is roughly the size of Mexico (700,000 square miles), is up to two miles thick, and contains nearly a tenth of the world's fresh water supply. If this ice sheet were to melt completely, sea levels would rise by over 20 feet. Even a 3-foot increase in sea levels would threaten some 70 million people living in coastal zones around the world.
The rapid changes seen in Greenland over the last decade suggest we are dangerously close to a climatic tipping point. During a visit to Dr. Konrad Steffen's research station on the Greenland ice sheet, Select Committee members learned about the mounting scientific evidence which makes clear that global warming is causing an alarming acceleration in the rate of melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Average temperatures in southern Greenland have increased by over 4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past two decades, and the area of Greenland's ice sheet that melts each summer has increased by 16 percent from 1979 to 2002. During the record-setting melting in 2005, satellites recorded melting in areas that have never melted in the past 27 years.
This surface melting further threatens the ice sheet by causing lakes to form on the ice sheet's surface. The meltwater then percolates downwards through massive cracks in the ice sheet called "moulins," lubricating the base of the ice sheet and hastening the slide of glaciers towards the sea. As a result, several of Greenland's largest glaciers are now flowing towards the sea at nearly 8 miles per year, twice as fast as they did just 5 years ago.
The Greenland ice sheet now dumps nearly three times as much ice into the sea as it did 10 years ago-enough every 2 to 3 days during the melting season to supply New York City with fresh water for an entire year. The amount of ice flowing into the sea from Greenland's ice cap now appears to be outpacing the buildup of snow further inland. Scientists have also observed an alarming increase in "ice quakes" due to glacial movement-measuring up to 5.0 on the Richter scale-raising questions about the ice sheet's stability. These trends indicate that the accelerating melting of Greenland's ice sheet increases the risk of dangerous sea-level rise sooner than previously predicted.
On a local scale, global warming is already having negative impacts on the livelihoods of Greenland's indigenous Inuit population of roughly 45,000. The loss of stable, year-round sea ice is disrupting traditional seal-hunting and fishing practices on which Inuit livelihoods depend. And, as elsewhere in the Arctic, melting of permafrost is causing extensive damage to homes and other infrastructure in Inuit villages. During the Select Committee's trip to Greenland, the Greenland Premier Hans Enoksen, national and local leaders, and residents all emphasized that changes to their environment are rapid and far reaching economic and cultural impacts.
A few place-names have undergone a change in geographic location during recent decades. For example, the original location of the place-name Thule was at Dundas; it was later moved north to the locality of Qânâq in the 1950's, whereas the original Thule place-name continued in use at its original location by being incorporated into the name of a U.S. military base at Dundas, Thule Air Base. The place-name for Thule Air Base now applied by Greenlandic authorities is Pitugfik (the new Greenlandic spelling is Pituffik).
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