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An approach to renewable energy adopted by the Inuit in Greenland

Climate change's negative effects on Greenland - but generally speaking on the Arctic polar region - are devastating because they are even twice as intense as in other areas of the world, due to the scientific phenomenon of Arctic amplification. In a territory particularly vulnerable to climate change and rich in clean energy resources, it would make sense to expect a massive presence of renewable energy installations. Quite the contrary, it turns out - not without surprise -, that the assumptions are light years away from reality. One of the major stumbling blocks to the spread of sustainable energy in Greenland is the ancient and complex bond linking the native Inuit population with the nature of their lands.

Nowadays trying to evade this particular ancestral connection is a tough challenge for two reasons. First of all, the Inuit are experimenting with the most advanced form of indigenous autonomy in the Arctic based on the Self-Government Act of 2009 which attributes to the parliament - the Kalaallit Nunaanni Inatsisartut - the power to draft legislation on the control of natural and energy resources, including underground mining. Furthermore, even though almost all adopted measures are just soft laws without any binding force, indigenous people's land and resource-related rights are recognized in various texts of international relevance such as the 1989 ILO Convention n.169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. Having said that, the Inuit are not against renewable energy, they call for stricter regulations to ensure green energy installations fit harmoniously into the natural and cultural context, without altering the ecosystem.

The environmental legal framework of the Kingdom of Denmark is, however, highly detailed from all points of view. Sure enough, all the most important general principles of environmental law, such as the precautionary principle and the “polluter pays” principle developed at the international level, have been transposed into national law. The government has established the adoption of legal standards, described as emblems of environmental quality, concerning the noise level from energy installations and other types of pollution - not only in the form of greenhouse gases - below which authorization cannot be granted, regardless of the possible positive results of local public administration’s evaluation. Moreover, the Strategic Environmental Assessment and the Environmental Impact Assessment are always required for all installations and initiatives likely to have a significant impact on the environment. All possible direct and indirect effects must be specified in detail.

Fully aware of the fact that not only traditional energy but also renewable energy is not environmentally friendly and can interfere with the traditional rights of indigenous people, there are too many advantages if we will use it responsibly, to continue on the road of fossil fuels. In Greenland, where the territory consists mainly of vast and remote areas, renewable projects, if elaborated in compliance with sustainable development principles through a bottom-up process with the full involvement of local administration alongside the population, not only would allow to mitigate the effects of global warming and to meet the energy security target but also would guarantee an important economic return. This is the only way to make the country financially independent from Denmark because, as things stand today, the parliamentary monarchy of Copenhagen still transfers 470 million euros to Greenland every year.


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