Greenland wants complete independence from Denmark, but the recently signed United Nations global warming treaty may impose obligations on the Arctic island it can’t meet if it were to break from Danish sovereignty.
Greenland, whose melting ice sheet is the poster child of global warming, is hoping to use its vast mineral reserves to fund its bid for independence, but independence means losing funding from Denmark and possibly regulations under the U.N.’s Paris treaty.
“The economic situation gives us no choice but to develop mining and oil,” Greenland’s foreign minister, Vittus Qujaukitsoq, told The Guardian. “We would most likely [seek] a territorial reservation. It would be very costly if we were to submit to a binding agreement.”
If Greenland were to extract minerals, it would raise its carbon dioxide emissions and face pressure from other countries to curb the very activities local government argues it needs to improve the standard of living for its people — mining and drilling.
“If we sign, it will cost us hundreds of millions of dollars, and we would never be independent,” he said,” Kai Holst Andersen, Greenland’s deputy finance minister, told The Guardian. Andersen said he would try to get the island exempt from the Paris deal.
Nearly 200 countries hashed out a deal in December to cut carbon dioxide emissions during a U.N. summit in Paris. The deal relies on countries submitting their own plans to cut emissions, and these targets aren’t legally-binding.
There may be no legal enforcement mechanism, but countries could use political pressure to get Greenland to curb its mining and drilling activities.
“If we want to make a living we cannot afford to make an agreement that will bind us [to cutting emissions],” Andersen said. “We are not an independent state. Independence is cancelled if we sign [Paris].”
Greenland has long been held up by politicians and environmentalists as one of the “frontlines” of global warming because of its melting ice sheet. Scientists say the island has lost ice mass in the past few decades, but recent data shows Greenland has been more resilient to warming than previously thought.
Ironically, ice melt has made Greenland’s oil, gas and mineral reserves more accessible to companies and government officials are looking to use these potential revenues to gain independence from Denmark.
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