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GREENLAND

Greenland takes cautious approach to tourism as icebergs melt

As tourists flock to Greenland to take in its breathtaking icebergs and natural beauty, authorities are mulling ways to control crowds to protect the fragile environment, already threatened by global warming.

Greenland takes cautious approach to tourism as icebergs melt
A boat carrying tourists manoeuvres among icebergs floating in Disko Bay, Ilulissat, western Greenland. File photo: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

“It’s a dream destination,” said Yves Gleyze, a veteran off-the-beaten-track French tourist in his 60s as he arrived at the airport in Ilulissat.

Visitors to the third-biggest town in the Danish autonomous territory are met by a rugged, austere landscape of grey rock and sparse vegetation.

But mesmerising views of massive icebergs come into view after just a short drive.

Breaking off from the Ilulissat glacier in the neighbouring fjord, the majestic blocks of ice drift slowly by in Disko Bay, the occasional whale making an appearance.

The postcard views attracted 50,000 tourists in 2021, more than 10 times the town’s population.

More than half make only a short pit stop during an Arctic cruise.

Numbers are expected to swell with the opening of an international airport in the next two years, a welcome boost to the island’s revenues but also a challenge, given the delicate — and melting — ecosystem.

In the past 40 years, the Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the rest of the planet, according to a recent scientific study.

“We can see changes every day caused by climate change: the icebergs are getting smaller, the glacier is retreating,” said mayor Palle Jeremiassen.

Thawing permafrost is also threatening the stability of some buildings and infrastructure.

With the immaculate landscape so coveted by tourists changing,  officials are determined to protect it without turning away tourists.

“We want to control the arrival of tourist ships here,” said Jeremiassen, noting the risks posed by the highly-polluting vessels.

In order to protect the environment and community, Ilulissat should only welcome “one ship max per day, max one thousand tourists per ship,” he said.

Recently, three cruise ships arrived on the same day, spewing out 6,000 visitors.

Jeremiassen said the town’s infrastructure is not designed to accommodate such numbers, nor is it able to ensure that tourists respect protected areas, notably in the fjord.

Nearby Iceland, where the tourism industry has been flourishing for two decades, is an example of how not to do things, he insisted.

“We don’t want to be like Iceland. We don’t want mass tourism. We want to control tourism here. That’s the key we have to find.”

Greenland has enjoyed self-rule since 2009 but hopes to gain full independence from Denmark one day.

To do so means it would have to get by without subsidies from Copenhagen, which currently make up a third of its budget. It has yet to find a way to stand alone financially, and for now, its main natural resource is the sea.

In Ilulissat, one in three locals live off fishing, which accounts for most of Greenland’s revenues.

But climate change is having a big impact.

“Back when I was young we had pack ice we could walk on,” said Lars Noasen, the captain of a tourist boat as he navigated deftly between iceberg debris in Disko Bay.

“Now the pack ice is not so solid anymore. You can’t use it for anything, you can’t dogsled on the ice and fish like in the old days.”

In the past two decades, Greenland’s massive ice cap has lost 4.7 trillion tonnes of ice, contributing to a sea level rise of 1.2 centimetres on its own, according to Danish Arctic researchers.

The disappearing ice has affected fishermen.

“The ice conditions are changing. The main fjord used to be closed off by huge icebergs and sea ice and they (the fishermen) were not able to sail in before,” said Sascha Schiott, a researcher at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

Now they can.

Boats are also able to head out fishing year-round now, which has increased fishermen’s hauls.

But the size of the fish they’re catching has decreased, largely due to overfishing, says Schiott.

Ejner Inusgtuk, a craggy-faced fisherman preparing his lines in the port, disagreed and said climate change is to blame.

“The climate is too warm.”

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CLIMATE CRISIS

‘By a substantial margin’: How summer 2022 was Europe’s hottest on record

The summer of 2022 was the hottest in Europe's recorded history, with the continent suffering blistering heatwaves and the worst drought in centuries, the European Commission's satellite monitor said on Thursday.

'By a substantial margin': How summer 2022 was Europe's hottest on record

The five hottest years on record have all come since 2016 as climate change drives ever longer and stronger hot spells and drier soil conditions.

And that created tinderbox forests, increasing the risk of devastating and sometimes deadly wildfires.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said temperatures in Europe had been the “highest on record for both the month of August and the summer (June-August) as a whole”.

Data showed August was the hottest on the continent since records began in 1979 by a “substantial margin”, beating the previous record set in August 2021 by 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 Fahrenheit). Temperatures from June through to August 2022 were 1.34C hotter than the historical 1991-2020 average, while August itself was 1.72C higher than average.

READ ALSO: ‘A code red’: Will Europeans change their habits after climate crisis reality check?

An aerial view taken on August 4, 2022 in Les Brenets shows the dry bed of Brenets Lake (Lac des Brenets), part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland, as much of Europe bakes in a third heatwave since June. – The river has dried up due to a combination of factors, including geological faults that drain the river, decreased rainfall and heatwaves. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

That puts summer in Europe well within the temperature range at which the Paris Agreement on climate change seeks to limit global heating.

The 2015 accord commits nations to cap average global temperatures at “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to strive for a safer guardrail of 1.5C.

Although satellite data only stretches back a few decades, a Copernicus spokeswoman told AFP the service was confident that 2022 was the hottest summer in Europe going as far back as 1880 — at the early stage of the industrial age.

Europe has been battered by a string of heatwaves this year, with temperature records tumbling in many countries and the mercury topping 40C for the first time in Britain.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) said last month that 2022 was already a record year for wildfires, with nearly 660,000 hectares torched in Europe since January.

‘Summer of extremes’

CAMS said fires in France had seen the highest levels of carbon pollution from wildfires since records began in 2003.

The EU said last month that the current drought parching the continent was the worst in at least 500 years.

The European Commission’s Global Drought Observatory latest bulletin said 47 percent of the continent is currently covered by drought warnings — meaning the soil is drying out.

An additional 17 percent is under drought alert, meaning that vegetation is showing signs of stress, fuelling concerns about the continent’s autumn harvest.

“An intense series of heatwaves across Europe, paired with unusually dry conditions, have led to a summer of extremes with records in terms of temperature, drought and fire activity in many parts of Europe, affecting society and nature in various ways,” said senior C3S scientist Freja Vamborg.

“Data shows that we’ve not only had record August temperatures for Europe but also for summer, with the previous summer record only being one year old.”

On a global level, August 2022 was the joint warmest August on record. The average temperature was 0.3C higher than the 1991-2020 average for the month, the monitor said.

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