Results from a National Survey
Compared to other arctic societies, relatively little is known about how ongoing environmental changes on land, sea and ice are viewed by the population in Greenland. The national Greenlandic Perspectives Survey (n=646 participants, July 2018 – January 2019) finds that majorities of residents believe climate change is happening, say they have personally experienced the effects and think the issue is personally important to them. People are more likely to think that climate change will harm than benefit them. The report below provides the first national estimates of residents’ climate change beliefs, experiences, risk-opportunity perceptions and emotional responses, as well as views on recent sea ice changes, glacial changes, climate change impacts, societal adaptation, and climate and environment policy preferences.
Nalunaarusiap kalaallisoortaa atuaruk (Greenlandic)
As countries struggle to limit future climate change to below 1.5C of warming compared to pre-industrial levels, many arctic residents are already living in regional climates that have changed by more than this, in less than a lifetime. Indeed, warming two to three times higher than the global average is being experienced in the Arctic, with larger increases in the winter [1,2]. Outside of important local case studies and select anecdotes that are difficult to compare across time and space, relatively little is known about how ongoing environmental changes on land, sea and ice are viewed by the Greenlandic population on a national level . Notably, a recent global survey of public climate change beliefs and risk perceptions did not include Greenland . One possible reason is that representative national surveys are logistically complex to conduct there. Greenland is the world’s largest island and is covered almost entirely by an ice sheet, with coastal towns and settlements connected by sea, air, and – for certain regions – seasonal sea ice.
What do residents living around Greenland think about climate change? We set out to find out.
From July 2018 to January 2019, an international team of Greenlandic, American, Swedish and Danish researchers from the University of Greenland, University of Copenhagen, Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Research and Greenland Perspective conducted the first Greenlandic Perspectives Survey (GPS), a nationally representative survey of Greenlandic residents’ views about environmental changes and Greenland’s future. In partnership with Statistics Greenland, surveys were randomly allocated to residents living in randomly selected towns and settlements across Greenland’s municipalities and geographic regions, as well as the self-representing locations of Nuuk and Upernavik.
646 residents in Greenland (~1.5% of the adult population) took the survey from July 2018 – January 2019. The margin of error is +/- 3% at the 95% confidence level. Additionally, filmed interviews were conducted in each location.
Public awareness of climate change is an important aspect of both climate adaptation and mitigation. Over 9 in 10 (92%) residents in Greenland think that climate change is happening and about 3 in 4 (76%) say they have personally experienced the effects of climate change.
A large majority (82%) of residents in Greenland say that the issue of climate change is either extremely (20%), very (38%) or somewhat (24%) important to them personally.
By contrast, only slightly more than half (52%) understand that climate change is mostly caused by human activities, while about a third (34%) think that it is mostly caused by natural changes in the environment.
Environmental changes around Greenland pose possible risks and opportunities for social ecological systems. A majority (67%) of residents in Greenland think that climate change will harm Greenlandic sled dogs. Half think that climate change will harm people in Greenland (50%), followed by future generations of people in Greenland (48%), plant and animal species in Greenland (48%), people in developing countries (48%), people in their town or settlement (45%), them and their family (44%) and people in Denmark (43%). Far fewer residents think that climate change will benefit plant and animal species in Greenland (20%), people in Greenland (15%), future generations of people in Greenland (14%), people in their town or settlement (13%), them and their family (10%), people in Denmark (6%), people in developing countries (6%) and Greenlandic sled dogs (5%). People are about twice as likely to think that climate change is already harming people in Greenland than benefitting people (see report).
Nearly a quarter (23%) of residents went out on the sea ice at least one day in the previous year and some residents from all regions of Greenland did so, although use varied considerably across regions, ranging from half of residents (50%) in the northwest region of Qeqertalik to 1 in 10 (10%) in West Sermersooq.
About 8 in 10 (79%) residents think that the local sea ice has become either much more dangerous (22%), more dangerous (39%), or a little more dangerous (18%) to travel on in recent years. This indicates that perceptions of growing risk are widespread for this important social, ecological and economic platform used by residents from all regions.
Residents are worried about several different climate change impacts. Overall, residents are most concerned about more unpredictable weather (18%), the loss and thinning of sea ice (17%) and melting permafrost (16%).
Perceived climate change impacts differ across Greenland, with more people concerned about the loss and thinning of sea ice in the north (Avannaata, 30%), northwest (Qeqertalik, 24%) and east (East Sermersooq, 27%) regions, and melting permafrost (Qeqqata, 22%) in the west region. More people are concerned about more unpredictable weather in southwest Greenland (West Sermersooq, 18%), and both intense storms (Kujalleq, 18%) and melting glaciers (Kujalleq, 18%) in the south region. See the report for regional maps of locally perceived climate change impacts.
Fishing and hunting have long been a way of life in Greenland. Today, about 1/3 of Greenland’s current economic revenue from industry is created by fisheries and the fisheries-related trade . Hunting and fishing play a fundamental role in Greenland’s mixed cash/subsistence economy and are a core part of the country’s social-ecological heritage .
Over 3 in 4 families (76%) in Greenland have some of their diet come from wild foods they hunt, fish or gather. About 1 in 3 (32%) get half or more of their food from wild foods they collect. Fewer (18%) residents get none of their food this way. A similar majority also get some of their food from wild foods shared by other people living in their town or settlement (see report).
Climate change is introducing new challenges and opportunities for social, ecological and economic systems to adapt to across the arctic and around Greenland [7, 3]. Most residents in Greenland are deeply linked to their surrounding ecological systems, such that how the local ecology adapts to changes in climate has implications for how they might. We found that a majority (57%) of residents think that climate change will harm hunting in Greenland and about half (49%) of residents think that climate change will harm fishing. Over a third of residents think that climate change will benefit shipping (37%), farming (36%), tourism (35%) and mining (34%), while slightly fewer think that it will harm those same industries.
To help reduce future climate change, majorities support the Government of Greenland investing in alternative energy sources (75%), re-entering the Paris Agreement (63%) and/or regulating greenhouse gas emissions from industry (61%). Residents are more likely to oppose increasing taxes on gasoline and fuel (40% oppose vs. 31% favor) and they are divided on whether the Government should ban oil drilling in Greenland (33% favor vs. 33% oppose).
More residents in Greenland would prefer to protect the environment even if it costs jobs (40%), than would prefer economic growth even if it leads to environmental problems (26%).
Explore the full set of visual findings including regional maps of perceived impacts, sections on climate change experiences, sentiment, emotional responses, views on recent glacial changes and more in the graphic report:
Minor, K., Agneman, G., Davidsen, N., Kleemann, N., Markussen, U., Olsen, A., Lassen, D., Rosing, MT. (2019). Greenlandic Perspectives on Climate Change 2018-2019 Results from a National Survey. University of Greenland and University of Copenhagen. Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Research.
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 Statistics Greenland. (2019). Greenland in Figures 2019. Nuuk, Greenland, 23.
 Poppel, B., & Kruse, J. (2009). The importance of a mixed cash-and harvest herding based economy to living in the Arctic–an analysis on the Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic (SLiCA). In Quality of life and the millennium challenge (pp. 27-42). Springer, Dordrecht.
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