Increase in tourism in Greenland worries territory already threatened by climate change – 20/08/2022

They are attracted by the impressive landscapes covered with ice and surrounded by icebergs, on an island that already lives under the threat of global warming. These postcard images attracted 50,000 tourists in 2021, ten times the number of inhabitants of the port city of Ilulissat, the third largest in this autonomous territory of Denmark. ;

When leaving the airport, visitors are faced with a scenario of rare beauty, with huge rocks and icebergs in the background. More than half of tourists cross the Arctic and make only a brief stop on the island.

However, the number of tourists is expected to increase even more with the opening of an international airport in the coming years, which will consequently stimulate the island’s income, but also pose an environmental challenge. Currently, Greenland is dealing with the day-to-day effects of global warming on a delicate ecosystem.

According to the most recent study on the subject, the Arctic has warmed approximately four times faster than the rest of the world in the last 40 years. “We can see more and more the consequences of climate change: the icebergs are smaller, the glacier is retreating”, explains the mayor of Ilulissat, Palle Jeremiassen. He also fears thawing permafrost, which threatens the stability of homes and other infrastructure.

The challenge now is to protect the local ecosystem, but without closing the door on visitors. “We want to control the arrival of highly polluting tourist boats”, explains Jeremiassen. To respect the community and the environment, “limit one boat per day and each one with 1,000 tourists”, he adds.

Recently, three boats with a total of 6,000 visitors arrived on the same day. For the mayor this is a very high number, as the city cannot accommodate them or guarantee that they respect protected areas. “We don’t want to be like Iceland. We don’t want mass tourism. We want to control tourism, that’s the key”, points out the city manager.


Since 2009 Greenland has enjoyed its autonomy, but hopes to achieve full independence from Denmark one day. To do that, it would have to waive the Copenhagen subsidy, which currently represents a third of its budget. However, it still hasn’t found a way to remain financially independent and, for now, its main natural resource is in the sea.

One in three inhabitants of Ilulissat makes a living from fishing, which accounts for most of the island’s income. However, climate change has a major impact on local practices.

“When I was young, there was hard ice that we could walk on,” explains Lars Noasen as he navigates between icebergs in Disko Bay.

In recent decades, Greenland’s immense ice cap has lost 4.7 billion tonnes, which has contributed to a 1.2-centimeter rise in the oceans, according to Danish Arctic researchers. “Ice conditions change,” says Greenland Institute of Natural Resources researcher Sascha Schiøtt.

Now the boats can go out all year round, which has caused an increase in fishing activity. However, fish size is decreasing mainly due to overfishing.

Fisherman Ejner blames global warming. “It’s too hot,” he laments, as he prepares his fishing nets in the town’s harbor.

(With information from AFP)

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