Heated Politics in a Frozen Land

Soon a natural part of the landscape? Oil barrels in Greenland, photo: ezioman/flickr

The oil fever has struck the Arctic sooner than expected. Several of the world’s biggest oil companies are vying for access to Greenland after a gas discovery last month raised expectations for offshore exploration around the inhospitable nation.

Greenland, the planet’s largest island with a population of just over 56,000, had been searching for the black gold for decades. In the past, however, Greenlanders have been destined to make a living from fishing and $600 million in annual subsidies from the Danish motherland (making up 55 precent of the island’s budget – or 0.75 percent of Denmark’s.) So, quite understandably, a majority of Greenlanders are now looking favorably upon the latest developments and are supporting oil exploration as a way to create jobs and wealth in a country troubled by high unemployment and social problems such as alcoholism and the world’s highest suicide rate.

Besides, the islanders are hopeful the oil might yield sufficient revenue to finally throw off the yoke of external rule and maybe even turn their icy island into an Arctic Kuwait.

These developments come soon after Greenland’s latest step towards independence. Already in 1979, Denmark granted home rule to Greenland, and in November 2008, voters in Greenland overwhelmingly approved a plan for expanding the island’s autonomy. The plan (which Denmark supported) allowed the small, mostly Inuit population to take control over the local police force, courts and coast guard and to make Greenlandic, an Inuit tongue, the official language.

It also set new rules on how to split future oil revenues between Greenland and Denmark, giving Greenland the first $13 million of annual revenues, while anything beyond that would be split equally between Greenland and Denmark. The new status quo then took effect on 21 June 2009, leaving the Danish royal government in charge only of foreign affairs, security and financial policy, while still providing the $600 million annual subsidy (or approx. $11,300 per Greenlander.)

Last Night a DJ Stole My Life…

Only one of Madagascar's many plagues, courtesy of William Warby/ flickr

Almost a year and a half after protests led to a coup removing elected president Marc Ravalomanana from power, the island state of Madagascar remains in political deadlock. The current rule of Andry Rajoelina, a young man born into a well-off family who rose to prominence as a disc jockey, remains paralyzed and isolated. Formal development is reeling, with hundreds of millions of much-needed aid dollars frozen by donors.

As a consequence of the illegitimate removal of an acting head of state, governments around the world declared Madagascar a pariah state. The Obama administration suspended Madagascar from the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act in December 2009, which resulted in the suspension of the country’s trade benefits. The African Union, the EU and the South African Development Committee all followed suit, quickly forcing punitive sanctions upon the country, thereby devastating the country’s already feeble industrial sector. With hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, a humanitarian crisis now seems an imminent threat.

ISN Weekly Theme: Urbanization

Tokyo skyline at night, photo: Peter Morgan / flickr
Tokyo skyline at night, photo: Peter Morgan / flickr

Mushrooming megacities, migrational pressures, cultural and political collisions and ecosystems and environments under stress- as humans continue to move into cities, we are faced with a new set of challenges that directly impact both domestic policies and international relations. Cities are becoming the microcosms of life in the 21st century where overcrowding, resource scarceness, poverty and migration define the challenges that no country can afford to ignore.

This week the ISN focuses on urbanization and brings you a wide set of resources to delve deep into this highly consequential and topical issue.

  • The ISN Special Report The Future is Urban examines urbanization from the perspective of migration, societal conflict, and environmental politics. In Migration: Politics of Cultural Conflict , Robert A Beauregard places urbanization in a triumvirate of forces, together with globalization and nationalism, that direct contemporary migration flows and feed into political conflicts. In Urbanization: Environmental Problem or Solution? Leiwen Jiang and Karen Hardee examine the environmental impact of urbanization, with a particular focus on population growth and energy consumption in the urban context.
  • In our Policy Briefs section the ODI’s Opportunity and Exploitation in Urban Labour Markets discusses the relation between economic growth and urban poverty reduction.
  • The UN’s paper titled World Urbanization Prospects, found in our Primary Resources, includes interesting projections for urban and rural populations worldwide.
  • In Events, a Chatham House conference on the Future of Cities will examine how rapid urban growth can be planned, managed and financed.