Greenland is the world’s largest island. Formerly a province of Denmark, it gained the status of an autonomous Danish dependent territory with limited self-government as well as its own parliament in 1979.
Denmark is in charge of foreign affairs and defence policy and contributes two thirds of its budget revenue, the rest coming mainly from fishing. Denmark is also Greenland’s main trading partner.
The climate in Greenland is extremely harsh. More than 80% of the island is covered by an ice cap 4km thick in places.
Uummannaq locals enjoy perpetual daylight for two months each year.
Many of the Eskimo (Inuit) people survive by hunting and fishing and are struggling as fish stocks become depleted. The island’s population is only 57,000. Inhabitants face severe social problems, notably unemployment, alcoholism and HIV/Aids.
Recent environmental studies have raised fears that global warming is causing Greenland’s ice cover to melt increasingly fast, and that this could have serious implications for future sea levels and ocean currents. The melting ice has also increased access to Greenland’s mineral resources, which could provide the territory with a promising source of income.
Greenland has long been seen as strategically important by the US defence establishment, which at the beginning of the Cold War set up a radar base at Thule in the north of the island. The US administration later made the Thule base a key part of its national missile defence system, and today it houses radar facilities designed to give early warning of missiles launched against North America.
Dozens of Inuit families were forced off their lands in 1953 to allow expansion at the base. Many Greenlanders would like to see it closed down, though others see economic reasons for keeping it.
A substantial proportion of Greenland’s population favours independence. However, the former colonial power, Denmark, has the final say on the matter.
In 2008 Greenlanders voted in a referendum for more autonomy. The deal gave them greater control over their energy resources, treated Greenlanders as a separate people under international law, and granted the native Inuit language Kalaallisut (Western Greenlandic) official status in place of Danish.
Danish grants still make up the bulk of Greenland’s revenues, but some analysts say that the development of the territory’s substantial mineral reserves – made possible after a 25-year ban on the mining of radioactive materials was lifted in October 2013 – could have a significant impact on its economy and make full independence from Denmark a more realistic prospect.
However, opponents of the lifting of the mining ban have expressed concern that the creation of a mining industry in Greenland could have an adverse effect on the environment and be detrimental to biodiversity and Inuit culture and traditions.