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Greenland Embraces Climate Change

It's the most tranquil and magnificent backdrop to our planet's climate catastrophe, and the ramifications for Greenland, as well as its perspective on climate change, are as unique as its landscape.

In contrast to elsewhere, Greenland officially views climate change as a positive prospect, and one bringing opportunities to the independent country within the Danish Realm. The world's least densely populated nation, and the largest island that's not a continent, Greenland has limited capacity for agriculture with a total of 14 sheep farms totalling 30k sheep. It's easy to see why many are keen on what the altered future potentially holds.

'Greenland is probably the only place in the world where meat is cheaper than lettuce or vegetables' smiles Rasmus Damsgaard Jakobsen, 34. He's the founder and manager of Greenlandic Greenhouse, a non-stop lettuce and vegetable farm in the capital Nuuk, home to a quarter of the country's 56,000 citizens.

Amongst the bright purple glow oozing out of his 'farm' Rasmus strolls the narrow aisles stacked high with pristine lettuce in his LED-lit warehouse in Nuuk. Originally from Denmark, Rasmus relocated to Greenland in 2015.

300 metres from the front door of his farm, construction work grinds on 24/7 on the capital's new airport, which will allow for direct international flights. One of three new airports being built, it offers a glimpse of the country's increased emphasis on tourism and infrastructure. Rasmus is one of many who believe that better things lie ahead. 'Tourism brings big opportunities for Greenland. I agree that climate change holds a lot of possibilities and benefits for Greenland. There's a lot of land up here, and they don't fully know what's underneath a lot of the ice, so it could definitely get interesting.'

Former Greenlandic Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond said that 'Greenlanders are very good at seeing the new opportunities. We have refused to be victimised due to climate change ... I wish that it wasn't happening but it is and that's a fact. Once it's there you have an obligation to do the best out of it.'

This is a rare and unique perspective amongst governments and not as straightforward as it sounds. As the icebergs slowly crack, rain arrives more frequently and the farming seasons are slightly longer; small and subtle changes with a big impact in Greenland.

Sarah Woodall works at Innovation South Greenland, a tourism company 'attempting to facilitate unity amongst industries in different areas' which is funded by the district of Qaqortoq. Sarah's experience offers a glimpse into the complex considerations here. 'There's a dash of tourists visiting Greenland to see the melting ice cap before it's gone forever, but I don't think that urgency is necessary, the ice cap is 3 km thick, it'll outlive all of us. Although it's obviously melting, it's not going anywhere. The downside of this is obviously that the more tourists that visit, the more emissions they produce.'

Further south, in Narsaq, melt water untainted by humanity dribbles down from the glaciers, past colourful homes dotting the landscape. Mountain peaks rise boldly from the fjords. Icebergs drift around the bay, offering an occasional crack in what seems like an ever changing postcard view. That is, until a cruise ship docks and disgorges a horde of tourists for the night. Sarah Woodall puts the annual numbers at around 50 thousand cruise ship visitors, with another 5 thousand 'land based'.

Echoing many in Narsaq and other cruise ship ports, Sarah warns of unsustainable tourism growth. Local are also increasingly fed up with tourists coming for selfies and treating their hometown like an amusement park. 'We want to minimise the number of ships to those within the AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) as these are more sustainable, and work more with local communities. We hope for more small groups, those that are culturally sensitive and aware, and those tourists that connect more with local people' she says.

Back in Nuuk on the boggy fields of the 'Arctic Farm', Angutimmarik Hansen, Greenland's most northerly sheep farmer explains his climate change conundrum. 'There's now too much rain and ice. We need more snow, because it keeps my fields warmer, protecting the grass underneath. With all this ice these past winters, my grass dies'.

Barren, sodden, or frozen fields of grass mean Angutimmarik and sheep farmers like ehim have to import most of their feed and fodder from abroad, driving up lamb costs for consumers. Lars Vestergaard of Greenland's only slaughterhouse Neqi gives some context. 'Both the farmers and Neqi now receive government subsidies, and they made an extra support-package for the farmers to help with the above normal increase in prices.'

Across the world, climate change's impact on industries and labour forces are becoming clear. There's an urgent need for adaptation, and in some cases migration. Greenland's leader called on farmers to 'adapt, adapt, adapt' if they want to survive, as the world's largest island is feeling the impacts of climate change four times faster than elsewhere.

Accounting for 90% of Greenland's export economy, fishing is one of the industries noticing the most dramatic changes. Even small, independent fishermen have noticed the impacts of slight water temperature changes. When waters around Narsaq, in southern Greenland's so called ‘food chamber', increased by around 0.5 C, the shrimp, sometimes called 'pink gold' migrated to cooler waters further north.

Tuna and mackerel are now regularly caught where they were once rarely seen, and cod numbers have skyrocketed around Ilulissat, the country's third largest city, just above the Arctic Circle. Royal Greenland, a large conglomerate with fisheries in the area, says has announced that it is looking into experimental fisheries or farming.

On the other side of Ilulissat, the fields between suburbs are home to hundreds of working sled dogs who spend the extended summers chained up and howling into the sky. Shorter, warmer winters mean the dogs have to roam longer and further out for ice fishing and hunting during the season.

With the melting of the ice cap and glaciers, hydropower is also enticing new businesses. Rasmus Jakobsen of Greenlandic Greenhouse sees the potential. 'We are sustainable. Our electricity is generated by hydropower, which is also a growing industry due to climate change and increased glacial melt water.'

It is too early to tell whether or not Greenland will be able to reap the benefits that it believes climate change may brings. If other European cities are a point of reference, mass tourism and cruise ships are increasingly being shunned, but more job opportunities would be beneficial, as long as the infrastructure exists for Greenlanders to prosper.
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