Marks Start of First-Ever Greenlandic Youth Movement, As Melting Ice Raises Concerns and Demand For Action
Narsaq, Southern Greenland, April 22, 2008
Greenland, one of the Earth’s definite “hotspots” in terms of climate change, where massive icebergs at alarming rates are launched into deep fjords by melting glaciers, and huge lakes of melt-water on the island’s kilometer-thick ice cap suddenly disappear into gaping holes formed in the ice. What does the future hold for the Greenland’s youth? This is one of the themes being discussed this week at an international conference on climate change and sustainability here in the fishing and sheep-farming village of Narsaq. Green Cross and WWF supports the conference.
Greenland is in transition due to climate change, but also due to a growing independence from its old colonial power, Denmark. With independence comes opportunities for stronger local involvement in decision-making and the practicing of democratic rights. However, the youth attending the conference express concerns over the lack of transparency and access to information provided by the current Home Rule government.
“We hear that decisions have been made that directly affect our future, yet we do not know how these decisions came about, nor do we know where to turn to get information about them”, says Tukummeq, a 17 year old high school student attending the conference from a neighboring village.
“We understand from this conference that Greenland now is the world’s spotlight. People from Australia, Japan, America, and Africa are concerned about what is happening to the glaciers and to the polar bears. But we here in the villages do not know what is being done to protect our environment or the animals our culture has depended on for a thousand years”, she says.
“Our own government does not seem to realize that the world is watching, and that Greenland is a part of a bigger picture. This conference has made us understand more about how we are connected, and about our responsibilities for taking care of this one planet that we all share”, Tanya – a classmate – chimes in.
They have therefore decided to make the voices of Greenlandic youth heard, both in the capitol and outside the island’s borders. They have chosen to launch this initiative from an ice-floe in the bay outside the Narsaq harbor – as a symbolic platform. A launching ceremony of a “Messenger Kayak” was held on the ice-floe today – the International Earth Day, with songs from around the world being sung, and toasts being made with drinks of melted glacier ice. The “Messenger Kayak” was directed towards the politicians in the capitol of Nuuk, and bore the message – in the Greenlandic language of Kalaallisut :
“We the youth of Greenland are willing to take responsibility for our impact on Earth. We now look towards our leaders in Nuuk to show such responsibility in an open and transparent way at a national level, and to our world leaders for leadership in addressing climate change and pollution, which so dramatically are affecting our homeland from far away.”
One example of lacking government transparency mentioned by the youth, is the recent decision to allow Alcoa, one of the world’s largest aluminum companies, to build a huge smelter in northwestern Greenland. The attraction for Alcoa is cheap hydroelectric power and few environmental and social regulations and demands. The attraction for Greenland is the potential for local jobs and tax revenues. The concern of the youth, and a growing number of other Greenlanders, however, is the lack of information about the project, specifically the environmental, social, and economic impacts. Cases from, for example, Iceland, have shown severe negative effects on local communities and environment of such projects, yet in Greenland there is no way to intervene.
Other concerns expressed relate to the lack of waste management programs, and the disappearance of local wildlife and game due to a poorly managed hunting system.
“The issue of climate change is bringing awareness to our country. We want to translate that into action on the ground, and want to start with the issues that are close to home. If Greenland is to be an independent democracy, then there must be ways for the voices of the country’s youth to be heard up in the capitol”, another student, Karen-Marie, says from her melting ice-floe.
“This is a strong message”, says Stefan Norris from WWF’s International Arctic Programme, “and it is music in the ears of the committed people arranging this important seminar.” There has not been a tradition for grass-roots involvement in decision-making since Greenland became a part of the kingdom of Denmark in 1953. “This conference has shown that Greenlanders, here represented by a motivated group of youth, are strong, resilient, and engaged. With the world looking on, they are willing to take on both climate change and giants like Alcoa, just as their ancestors took on Bowhead whales from small kayaks”, Stefan continues. “Their politicians up in Nuuk better be listening!”, Mr Norris finishes.
For more information on the conference or event, please contact:
Finn Lynge, Earth Charter, Greenland, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stefan Norris, WWF International Arctic Programme, Mobile: +47-90226458.
Tonia Moya, President, Green Cross Sweden : Mobile: +46-73 99 99 234.