Greenland is vast, remote and insanely beautiful.
It is also one the most sparsely populated countries in the world, yet it is undergoing profound environmental, geopolitical and economic change.
Earlier this year, we invited a group of UK parliamentarians who were visiting Greenland to drop in on the newest office in our global network. It opened in 2015 in the capital city Nuuk, establishing WWF as the first global conservation organisation to have an office in Greenland.
James Gray MP, Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, led this expedition, and he kindly shared his reflections with us.
‘Earlier this year, I led a group of Parliamentarians from both houses, representing nearly all parties, on a visit to Greenland to learn more about how the country is rapidly changing. We met a wide variety of stakeholders from government, scientific research institutes and business associations. We hope that these meetings will lead to a new dialogue between Greenland and the United Kingdom as we build a post-Brexit relationship. We also visited WWF’s office, managed by Kaare Winther Hansen.
Kaare introduced us to the Polar Bear Patrol that WWF runs in Ittoqqortoormiit, the northernmost settlement in eastern Greenland, which sits on the migration route for polar bears. Although no one is thought to have been killed by a polar bear in Greenland since the Second World War, the number of conflicts between bears and humans is growing. Shrinking summer sea ice due to climate change is driving bears closer to the shore where they are then attracted by the smell of food and waste from human settlements. The Patrol, set up with the assistance of WWF-UK supporters, helps to keep people and bears safe. Just imagine walking your children to school and coming face to face with a polar bear !
We also discussed the direct support that WWF is giving Greenlanders. One flagship programme has been to help Greenland’s fisheries receive Marine Stewardship Council certification to bolster the value of their products on international markets. So far, good progress has been made certifying Greenland’s offshore fisheries.
Shortly before our group left for Greenland, news had broken that a part of the Arctic’s strongest sea-ice had unexpectedly broken-up for the second time that year. Kaare spoke to us about this ‘Last Ice Area’, a term coined by WWF and used by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his 2016 Arctic Commitments. It is a vast area stretching from the north of Greenland to the Canadian Arctic archipelago covering waters normally frozen throughout the summer. That makes it critical habitat for species of the ice, including polar bears, narwhal and bowhead whales. WWF are engaging stakeholders in this remote region to better support local communities, understand the changes, and identify conservation priorities.’
WWF was delighted to host this visit. We share the hope that their trip will help to reinvigorate British interest in Greenland and the changes that are happening there, which are largely driven by climate change.
The participating members of the APPG for the Polar Regions were: James Gray MP (Chairman), Stephen Hepburn MP, John Mann MP, Mark Menzies MP, Rt Hon Baroness Neville-Jones, Brendan O’Hara MP, Baroness Smith of Newnham, and Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP. Dr Duncan Depledge (Director) also travelled with the group to administer the visit. We are very grateful to WWF UK and WWF Greenland for generously supporting the trip, along with our other sponsors: the Mamont Foundation, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, and the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union.