Case #2201.0

Greenland and the Paris Agreement

Publication Date: January 27, 2021
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This case explores the tradeoffs between climate change action and economic development from the perspective of Greenland, a self-governing territory of Denmark. Greenland lacks autonomous decision-making authority in several key international fora, including the United Nations international climate negotiations. The Paris Agreement was a milestone in international climate negotiations, and an important step towards limiting global greenhouse gas emissions. Greenland, as part of wealthy Denmark, would be considered under the Paris Agreement obligations of the European Union and Denmark. The central conflict explored in this case is whether Greenland should participate in the Paris Agreement or request a territorial exclusion from Denmark. 

The Paris Agreement was widely accepted by the international community, with signatories ranging from the wealthiest nations to the least-developed nations. However, countries are not equally responsible for historical emissions. With a population of approximately 56,000 (90% indigenous Inuit), Greenland has contributed a negligible amount of historic emissions, but is experiencing disproportionate impacts from climate change, including rapid melting of its ice sheet. 

During the case, Greenland is in the process of nation building. Greenland's economy historically has been dependent on fisheries, but with climate change transforming the landscape, Greenland has an opportunity to pursue economic development by tapping into its abundant natural resources, including minerals, oil, and gas, or developing other sectors like tourism. This development is seen as the key to Greenland's economic growth and ultimate independence from Denmark. Many in Greenland's government are concerned that joining the Paris Agreement would limit Greenland's ability to achieve economic growth and independence. Others were in favor of participating in the Paris Agreement to demonstrate Greenland's active participation in global efforts against climate change.

Learning Objective:

First, the relationship between Denmark and Greenland as a dependent territory with a predominantly Indigenous population. Second, the relationship between the Global South (historically low-emitting) and the Global North (historically high-emitting), also described as developing vs. developed countries. Third, the relationship between local/domestic government priorities and international climate policy. Fourth, and finally, the tension between environmental protection and economic development.  

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author(s):
Katie Segal, Elsenguaq Silassen, Halla Hrund Logadóttir
Faculty Lead:
Halla Hrund Logadóttir
Pages (incl. exhibits):
Funding Source:
Arctic Initiative at the Belfer Center for Science