Is Greenland Independent?

potential economic boom from natural resources

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Who does Greenland belong to? The island nation self-governs and takes control of its natural resources, but it isn’t independent. Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Greenland flag with icey waters in background
Two-thirds of the island nation of Greenland lies within the Arctic Circle and its northernmost point is less than 500 miles from the North Pole. Photo by Steve Allen / Shutterstock

Greenland is the world’s largest island. In 1953, a new Danish Constitution declared that Greenland was incorporated into Denmark. This gave Greenland representation in the Danish government, but the relationship between the two countries soured. Greenland’s citizens and local government have pushed for independence from Denmark in the last 15 years, resulting in self-governance beginning in 2009.

However, a slew of recent news from the island has caused renewed curiosity about the country. The idea to harvest sand from Greenland’s melting glaciers has raised as many eyebrows as did the news that the world’s oldest DNA was recently discovered in Greenland’s permafrost, leading to questions of whether Greenland or Denmark have rights to these resources.

How independent is Greenland? In the video series National Geographic: Polar Explorations, journalist and author Fen Montaigne explores modern Greenland.

How Independent Is Greenland?

“Since 2009, Greenland has assumed control of its natural resources, judiciary, and policing from Denmark, and is moving towards full independence,” Montaigne said. “As the country’s 57,000 people prepare to step out on their own, they are facing a prospective flood of resource development, much of it relating to the warming Arctic climate.”

Greenland spans 836,000 square miles, making it four times the size of France. However, as Montaigne said, it’s home to just 57,000 people, 85% of whom are Inuit. If Greenland ever declares full independence, which it’s had the right to do since 2009, it would be the most sparsely populated country on Earth. The reason is due partly to the fact that Greenland’s ice sheet, which is the second largest in the world, covers 80% of the land. Weighing so much that it has forced the bedrock underneath it to sink more than 1,000 feet below sea level, the ice sheet is 10,000 feet thick in some places.

The majority of Greenland’s population favors independence from Denmark, but for the moment, no formal separation between the two territories has been passed. However, it remains a hot-button issue. Just last year, Greenland’s foreign minister was demoted after he made comments about excluding non-Inuit Greenlanders from any vote regarding independence from Denmark.

Does Greenland Have Oil?

According to Montaigne, in 2013 and 2014, the government granted licenses to several, major global oil companies to drill the still-intact oil and gas reserves off of Greenland’s east coast. With the continuing decline of sea ice, as has been noticed in Greenland’s hinterlands over the years, more of the island’s offshore oil resources are likely to be tapped into.

“[Former] Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond says that her country’s overwhelmingly Inuit is prepared to handle a coming economic boom and that the country’s largely untapped resources can be exploited without harming Greenland’s culture and environment,” Montaigne said. “But others are not so sure.

“As Aqqaluk Lynge, former chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said, ‘If you want to become rich, it comes with a price.”

National Geographic: Polar Explorations is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily