Ice, climate and development in Greenland – Københavns Universitet

Ice, climate and development in Greenland
Frank Sejersen / research project 2009-2014


The dramatic changes in sea ice occurrences along the Greenlandic coast, the alterations of ecosystems and amplified weather unpredictability have put great strain on hunters and fishermen, and they are increasingly navigating in an environment of risk. The Greenlandic society shares these problems with other Arctic communities, and in many cases climate change is understood as a threat to Arctic peoples’ culture, livelihood and well-being. However, the changing environment makes the Arctic in general more accessable for international shipping and resource extraction industries. For this reason the Arctic has become an environment of opportunities as well, and states even outside the Arctic are now deeply engaged in political discussions about Arctic security matters, resource rights, and sovereignty. For all involved, the melting Arctic constitutes an environment of uncertainty and vulnerability, however.

The research project focuses on how different Greenlandic groups and institutions cope with these new challenges and navigate in a world where they are not only trying to maintain livelihoods but also push for further economic development and self-determination. Climate change has become yet another and more apparent factor that has to be integrated by different agents in Greenland when re-evaluating and re-negotiating the fabric of society and the future forms of economy, governance and livelihoods. The consequences of climate change are thus apparent in agendas that cross-cut the society and the knowledge systems, perspectives and aspirations of different groups. The project investigates how local users perceive and cope with climate change and how institutions take different scales into account and addresses capacity building and potentials for agency when formulating adaptation strategies. Combined with an analysis of the limits of adaptation in Greenland the project approaches the question of community resilience in order to improve our understanding of how a changing climate will affect the Arctic peoples and how they adapt to it.
The methodological approach combines analyses of Greenlandic and Arctic institutional political strategies with anthropological fieldwork in the Greenlandic towns of Sisimiut and Nuuk and literature studies from other Arctic regions. This approach aims to take into account the coping strategies and perceptions of local people as well as the adaptations strategies formulated by institutions at different scales in order to investigate how they interact.

The project was a part of the Waterworlds research programme running from 2009 to 2014.