Greenland scraps plans for oil and gas exploration over climate fears

·2-min read
An iceberg grounds  in north-western Greenland. Retreating ice could allow access to billions of gallons of oil (Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Ima)
An iceberg grounds in north-western Greenland. Retreating ice could allow access to billions of gallons of oil (Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Ima)

Greenland has dropped all its plans for oil and gas exploration because of the climate emergency, saying the price of extraction was too high.

Environmental group Greenpeace hailed the decision as “fantastic”, saying there was “no time to lose”.

But it comes just as the governments of France, Germany and Italy are poised to decide whether to back a massive gas project in the Russian Arctic.

The project is forecast to produce 19.8 million tonnes a year of liquid natural gas, prompting environmentalists’ concerns not just over the fossil fuel extraction but also over the effect of extra shipping on the region’s marine life, including Beluga whales, walruses and narwhals.

The European countries have pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Burning fossil fuels releases damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a key driver of the climate crisis.

The Independent’s Stop Fuelling The Climate Crisis campaign is highlighting how change can be achieved in the run-up to the global Cop26 climate talks this year.

In Greenland, rising temperatures mean that retreating ice could uncover potential oil and mineral resources which, if successfully tapped, could dramatically change the fortunes of the semi-autonomous territory of 57,000 people.

But the socialist-led government, in office since April, called the suspension of exploration “a natural step” because it “takes the climate crisis seriously”.

It added: “The future does not lie in oil. The future belongs to renewable energy and in that respect we have much more to gain.

“This step has been taken for the sake of our nature, for the sake of our fisheries, for the sake of our tourism industry and to focus our business on sustainable potentials.”

Ministers have made climate concerns central to their legislative programme.

An official statement read: “The Greenlandic government believes that the price of oil extraction is too high. This is based upon economic calculations but considerations of the impact on climate and the environment also play a central role in the decision.”

The US Geological Survey estimates there could be 17.5 billion barrels of oil and 148 trillion cubic ft of natural gas off Greenland but the island’s remote location and harsh weather have limited exploration.

The decision cuts off potential investments that could have aided efforts to gain economic independence from Denmark.

Ten years ago, Greenland was a hot spot for miners of diamonds, iron, rare earths and other metals but extraction became uneconomic.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest single source of sea-level rise and it will play “an important role in a warming climate”, according to a study published in Nature last year.

A number of other European countries have also scrapped plans for oil exploration in recent years, including Denmark itself, France, Spain and Ireland.

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