Energy Insecurity in GreenlandHome to roughly 600 residents, Qaanaaq is the northernmost town in Greenland. With Arctic landscapes and high fuel costs, native residents have expressed concerns over their inability to continue spending on fossil fuels. As the community looks for new solutions to address the threat of energy insecurity in Greenland, renewable energy is offering promising prospects.

Fossil Fuels in the Arctic

Resources for fuel have been an ongoing issue for those in Greenland, but for communities like Qaanaaq, being so far north presents unique challenges. Traditionally, people in Greenland use fossil fuels more commonly because they are easier to transport across long distances. However, since Qaanaaq is not accessible by road, the ice-breaking ship brings all fuel, which is not always a reliable nor successful mode of transportation. According to Nature, in 2019, ice conditions were such that the ship carrying fuel was unable to deliver essential fuel sources to the community and the shipment was eventually flown in.

The cost of these delivery systems is significant and accounts for the high prices of local fuels. As sub-zero temperatures are frequent, heating costs for residents are reaching all-time highs–even as the government of Greenland offers heavy subsidization for these fuels, Nature reports.

With 80 remote communities in Greenland relying on diesel fuel for electric power, energy insecurity in Greenland is becoming more of an issue each year.

Sled Dogs and Energy Insecurity

The cost of fuel has led to a series of issues–each causing a domino effect for the community. Recent climatic and environmental changes have threatened Indigenous practices, as locals in Qaanaaq have seen their traditions not only fade, but their livelihoods threatened. As energy insecurity in Greenland increases, hunters and fishermen have struggled to feed their sled dogs, resulting in a decline of traditional hunting and fishing practices.

Additionally, as fossil fuel prices climb, many have recently resorted to leaving their hometown as a direct result of the subsequent financial and mental strains. With life-long residents leaving the area–taking with them Indigenous knowledge–this threatens both culture and tradition.

Power from Natural Resources

Concerns have not gone unnoticed by locals and scholars alike. Mary Albert, a snow physicist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, has championed the beginning of energy change for the Qaanaaq community, according to Nature. By partnering with native residents and hunters like Toku Oshima, goals of limiting dependency on fossil fuels and using locally generated resources in the area are becoming a reality.

With the fishing and hunting community’s needs at the forefront, Albert and her team started building sustainable technology solutions in April 2020 to help the Qaanaaq community transition to a renewable energy source that can be easily maintained by the community.

Unlike other renewables, which can require heavy maintenance which Qaanaaq struggles to provide, the team is working on their project directly with residents of the town to provide a system that is both affordable and easily serviceable within the harsh arctic environment. The project aims to use waste heat from diesel generators to generate power, which would otherwise have been wasted, according to WWF Report.

Funding from the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society has provided the team with the funding necessary to travel to Qaanaaq and understand their specific needs.

Success in the North

Notably, renewable energy solutions are not new to Greenland. The community of Uummannaq has the highest northernmost solar panels in the country. Nukissiorfiit, a government-owned energy company, completed the solar cells’ installation in 2020.

Since then, 71% of the energy it produced is with the help of renewables through solar cells, wind power and hydropower.

Similarly, the town of Ilulissat, Greenland, boasts 95% green energy, as hydropower dominates productivity and has replaced a major heritage diesel power plant, according to Visit Greenland. These hydropower projects are able to use meltwater coming from permafrost layers and glaciers, accessing turbines as deep as 200 meters below the surface.

These communities stand as exemplars of the possibilities that await Qaanaaq if they can continue forward with securing renewable energy as their primary energy source.

A Green Future

As many address the concerns of energy insecurity in Greenland, it is clear that the future of Greenland’s energy is shifting towards renewables. By harnessing the resources and power of the Arctic, the goal of the government-owned energy company, Nukissiorfiit, is to produce 100% green energy products throughout Greenland by the year 2030, according to Visit Greenland.

– Michelle Collingridge
Photo: Flickr

Greenland's Foreign Aid
Many countries around the world benefit from foreign aid, but few rely on it for their livelihood. Greenland is one of the few countries that would struggle to exist at all without it, as Greenland’s foreign aid is essential to its economy. Each year, Denmark, Greenland’s former colonial ruler, gives the island nation about $591 million in subsidies. That represents about 60% of the Greenlandic government’s budget and comes to more than $10,000 for every person living in Greenland. The subsidy, however, is not the cure-all Denmark might hope it to be.

Greenland’s Foreign Aid and Social World

Greenland is a land of contradictions. It is the largest island in the world, yet has a population of fewer than 60,000 people. Its average income is about $33,000, placing it far above the international average, yet Greenland also suffers from a suicide rate seven times higher than in the United States, and a poverty rate of 16.2% as of 2015. Traditional practices remain the norm in many parts of the country. Fishing accounts for 90% of Greenland’s exports, and dog sleds are still a common sight in the island’s undeveloped interior.

How can Greenland receive so much aid and still suffer from such social ills? Part of the answer lies in international politics. Although Greenland is nominally independent, many of its politics are still under the control of Denmark. Worried about losing influence in Greenland, Denmark has often blocked other countries’ efforts to invest in Greenland.

For example, Denmark raised objections to a $12.1 million aid package to Greenland from the U.S. in 2020. While politicians raised some valid concerns about the package (particularly in light of President Trump’s tactless 2019 offer to buy Greenland from Denmark), the fact remains that foreign investment would almost certainly enrich Greenlanders. This would be especially relevant if Greenlanders, rather than Danes, were the ones to make decisions about foreign aid.

Potential Wealth in Greenland

On the other hand, Greenland itself enjoys huge sources of potential wealth. The island is strategically located in the arctic region. Greenland also possesses valuable mineral deposits in its interior, which global warming will eventually uncover. Unfortunately, Denmark’s reluctance to permit foreign aid, and a lack of local capital, have prevented Greenland from taking advantage of these resources.

Greenland’s dependence on Danish money is a major source of instability for the country. Were the Danish government to change its policy, Greenland’s fragile economy would collapse. Greenland’s reliance on fish also creates uncertainty, since fish prices tend to fluctuate quickly. Economic development, as well as investment from a variety of countries, would remove much of the country’s economic uncertainty.

The goal of foreign investment should be to make countries prosperous and, eventually, self-sufficient. Greenland, however, shows few signs of becoming more economically independent from Denmark. Greenland’s GDP has grown very slowly and actually shrank between 2013 and 2014, despite Denmark’s funding. Danish aid to Greenland seems to have become an absent-minded gift, rather than an aid program with a clear purpose and goals.

Consequences of Denmark’s Aid

If Denmark sticks to the status quo of offering aid but preventing others from doing the same, Greenland will continue to suffer from its high poverty rate. Denmark will still have to pay huge sums of cash to keep the Greenlandic economy afloat.

However, if Denmark were to permit more investment in Greenland and put more emphasis on helping Greenland achieve self-sufficiency, Greenland would become wealthier and its economy would be more stable. This would in turn benefit Denmark because Greenland would eventually no longer need so much financial support. Whatever Greenland’s foreign aid future holds, it seems clear that it can do better than the status quo.

– Thomas Brodey
Photo: Flickr

Suicide in GreenlandBetween 1970 and 1980, the suicide rate in Greenland was seven times higher than that of the United States. The high incidences of suicide in Greenland stemmed from the devaluing of local Inuit culture which occurred when Denmark pushed to modernize the island. Due to a lack of adequate resources, improvements have been slow. However, as mental health has become destigmatized, various NGOs and government programs have appeared over the last decade with promising solutions to address suicide in Greenland.

Suicide in Greenland Today

In 2016, the global average annual suicide rate was 16 persons per 100,000. In Greenland, the annual suicide rate was 82 persons per 100,000.

Suicide is not evenly distributed across Greenland’s population. Teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk of suicide. According to the Nordic Centre of Welfare and Social Issues, the prevalence of suicide in Greenland is three times higher among 20 to 24-year-olds than 25 to 65-year-olds.  Additionally, 23% of teenagers and young adults reported that they have self-harmed.

Recognizing Risk Factors

Due to the rapid modernization of the 1970s and 1980s, many people emigrated to the cities and larger settlements for economic and educational mobility. However, once there, they needed to assimilate to appear more Danish. The loss of identity that followed saw communities turn to alcohol, which in turn led to child abuse and neglect — two major risk factors for suicide. This erosion of family structure made it hard for individuals to cope with emotional and psychological hardships.

Combating Suicide in Greenland

Over the last couple of decades, the government and several NGOs created programs to combat this endemic.

  • SAAFIK – Established in 2011, this nation-wide counseling center extends medical, psychological, social and legal support to child victims of sexual abuse.
  • Break the Silence, End the Violence – In 2014, The Ministry of Family, Gender Equality and Social Affairs launched a three-year campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence. To this end, the Ministry established a web page about violence and information campaigns.
  • SAPIIK – This peer mentoring program is focused on reducing the number of children who drop out of school. Through social activities and outings, SAPIIK focuses on improving a child’s intrapersonal and interpersonal skills.
  • School Fairy System – This program places a social worker, known as a School Fairy, in schools to help students who need social support. The School Fairy engages students through conversation and activities. The School Fairy also reports concerns and observations to the school when he or she deems that special interventions are required.
  • TIMI ASIMI –  Founded in 2011, this is an outdoor-based intervention program geared toward at-risk teens and young adults, ages 13 to 21. Throughout the course of three months, participants engage in educational courses, community service, academic counseling and physical activities.
  • Project CREATes – Over the course of two years, this project utilized storytelling as an effective way of eliciting personal experiences related to both suicide and resilience. These workshops were safe spaces for the arctic’s youth to come together and share their experiences with suicide and mental health. Facilitators worked with youth to help them to write, audio record, photograph or film their own stories as a way of healing. Though Project CREATeS ended in 2019, it was just one part of a series of programs created by the Arctic Council to combat suicide in the arctic. It was succeeded by Local2Global, another suicide prevention program focused on fostering community and creating digital projects for storytelling.

Greenland has come a long way since the 1980s. People are now able to talk about suicide and get help for mental issues. With more initiatives and resources, suicide in Greenland can decrease to match the global average or even undercut it.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

Hunger is a broad topic that touches on various aspects encompassing more than the physical lack of energy. According to Bread for the World, a Christian non-profit organization that aims to end hunger abroad and nationally, chronic hunger exists due to the lack of access and availability of resources to obtain it. In acknowledging this, there is no question that this leads to food insecurity and it is unspeakable that more than 800 million people in the world are suffering from chronic hunger. Two studies done focused specifically on the prevalence of child hunger in Greenland, which has brought to light the problem of hunger in the world’s largest island.

A national report on the food policy of Greenland was published by the Greenland Home Rule Government in 2004. This brought awareness to the prevalence of food insecurity that existed among Greenlandic children. From this report, it was found that 11 percent of children in the ages 11 to 16 reported “often hungry” or “always hungry” when they were going to school or going to bed. This hunger in Greenland, which exists among children especially, sheds light on the performance deficiencies regards to health, developmental, and academic performance. These performance deficiencies may then be associated with behavioural and psychosocial problems that continue to manifest into adulthood.

In 2010, a study was organized based on the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children where 2,254 Greenlandic students were surveyed, of which 40 percent were students in grades five to ten. In the study, the survey analyzed the occurrences of high percentages of child hunger existing in their homes. The results showed that food insecurity was related with neglect as the parents dealt with economic discrepancies and were often correlated with single-families, those living on welfare, immigrants, low educational levels and so on.

It is a beneficial first step for Greenland’s government to bring this grand concern to light. Solutions must then be made to assist these young children to receive the adequate nutrition required at such a blooming age. Children who live in poverty with low-income families, however they may be structured, need more intensive guidance from government policies and programs. Perhaps a solution to the hunger in Greenland would be to propose food drives, free school lunches, and adequate shelters as secondary arrangements to supplement the issues at home.

– Nicole Suárez

Photo: Flickr