Greenland to become the Dubai of the North?

So while the world was watching Iran’s chaos this weekend, there was a new state in the process of being born: Greenland.

Yes, that massive ice sheet that takes up an unfathomable part of your world map is well on its way to becoming an independent country, shaking off the 300-year-old colonial yoke of Denmark.

On Sunday, Denmark handed over responsibility of the island’s internal affairs including potentially vast oil reserves to Greenland.

In addition, the judicial system will also now be run locally. Further, the official language will switch from Danish and Greenlandinc to solely Greenlandic (a variant of Canadian Inuit). The island has 100 percent literacy.

In an report by Joshua Kucera in the The Washington Times:

Self-government is “a symbol of the dreams of the Greenlandic people,” Mr. Motzfeldt said at the ceremony. “We have achieved the right of control of our subsoil, and we expect in the years to come that this will be a supplement to lay the foundation for an economically independent Greenland.”

Serious oil exploration has only recently begun off Greenland’s coast, aided in part by the melting of the sea ice due to global warming. Oil has not been found, but estimates, including those of the U.S. Geological Survey, suggest that Greenland could have about 50 billion barrels of oil.

Greenland’s population is 56,000, so if the oil estimates prove correct, the island would control nearly 1 million barrels of oil per person. It would be a staggering leap for a people who, until World War II, were subsisting almost entirely as seal hunters and fishermen.

Today, Greenland has limited economic options, and commercial shrimping accounts for the bulk of its exports.

Denmark currently provides a large subsidy to Greenland’s government — about $700 million this year or more than $10,000 for every person in Greenland. The subsidy makes up about 60 percent of the government budget.

But when and if oil revenues start to come in, Denmark will reduce the subsidy accordingly. When the subsidy is fully paid off, Greenland officials say, they will begin to seriously discuss the possibility of becoming an independent country.

Denmark, which had to approve the self-government act and would also have to approve independence for Greenland, has not objected.

“For several hundred years, we’ve had a strong relationship between Greenland and Denmark, and we’re looking forward to continuing that relationship,” said Lars Lokke Rasmussen, Denmark’s prime minister, in a press conference after the ceremony. “The question of independence is not the issue today, but it is totally up to the Greenlandic people.”

Or, as Kucera put it on his blog:

That means each Greenlander will own about 900,000 barrels of oil.

Compare that to some other oil powers. These are the top three countries in terms of oil reserves per capita:

Kuwait: 39,900 barrels per person
UAE: 37,576 barrels per person
Qatar: 18,071 barrels per person

Yes, Greenland could have 50 times more oil per capita than Kuwait.

[via FP Passport]

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