Dear neighbours, dear friends in Greenland
Our two countries share a long history, tracing all the way back to the Icelandic Sagas. Every Icelandic child learns the story about Eric the Red and his family who took on a trip from their farm in Iceland and ended up discovering a new the land in the north, Greenland. We have all also heard the story about Eric’s son, Leif the Lucky, who ventured further west, ultimately discovering the new continent of America. We are proud of our brave ancestors, who took on dangerous trips across the ocean to explore the unknown and discover new ways of living.
Eric and Leif turned out to be successful marketing people as well. They decided to give fancy names to the new areas they had just discovered. The big island covered with ice was given the name Greenland - to make it more attractive to visitors according to the Sagas - and the new continent in the west got the beautiful name „Wineland the good one“. These ancestors of ours were forward-thinking entrepreneurs of their time!
The collaboration of our countries has continued ever since the heroic endeavours of Eric and Leif took place, with our common history of more than 1,000 years containing numerous other stories of friendship, cooperation and entrepreneurship, including everything from agricultural research to chess and swimming training. Some of these stories are well known and documented, others were never written down, only living on in the memories of those involved.
In addition to our historical connection, Greenland and Iceland have a lot in common from a geological and geographical perspective. Both countries’ landscapes are characterised by ice. The glaciers in Greenland are of course far more extensive than those in Iceland. However, both nations have learned to live in close proximity to these natural wonders and have experienced both the charm and danger associated with them. We also observe, with sadness, how our glaciers are shrinking every year as a result of climate change. While we urgently need to address that issue, we also need to adapt to the reality of sea ice reductions creating new shipping routes. The location of our islands in the very northern part of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe has for a long time been important from a geopolitical standpoint. Our proximity to the North Pole has become even more important due to increased goods transportation and a greater need for the construction of digital infrastructure.
Greenland and Iceland also have a lot in common concerning cultural aspects. We pride ourselves on our cultural heritage and our old, unique, languages, that are an important part of our identities. Efforts to preserve our languages have become more urgent in times of rapid digitalisation, the challenge being to keep up with global technological trends without losing our heritage.
Ultimately, Greenland and Iceland share the challenge of being large, sparsely populated islands in the north, striving to maintain prosperity by improving the competitiveness of our businesses and aiming for increased innovation.
How can we build and maintain strong, innovative societies in our respective countries?
How can we foster connections with other countries, follow global trends and grow our economies, without losing our cultural heritage or depleting our environment?
In these times of rapid change in technology and climate, the opportunities and threats we are faced with call for an even tighter collaboration between our countries.
I believe there are some lessons to be learned from the way things have evolved in Iceland. Over the last 100 years or so, Iceland has managed to break from isolation and become one of the world’s most prosperous nations. An important milestone in that process was the foundation of the first Icelandic shipping company, Eimskip, in 1914. Maritime transport has ever since been one of our key business areas and of great importance for Iceland’s competitiveness in a global context. Collaboration with Greenland has been very important in this regard, as is evident by the recent collaboration agreement between Royal Arctic Line in Greenland and the Icelandic Eimskip. The agreement involves, amongst other things, the commission of three new container ships, thereby setting the scene for increased capacity sharing and global market trade.
Considering our dependency on the ocean and the importance of preserving our natural treasures, our countries should aim for being in the lead of green, sustainable technology for transport and cruise business in the North Atlantic Ocean. We should work with our neighbouring countries in the north on developing new technology and infrastructure for alternative fuel for our ships. Some interesting projects in this area are already being planned, including projects led by the Nordic Atlantic Cooperation (NORA).
Another important milestone in opening Iceland’s doors to the outside world, was the construction of international airports and the formation of our national aviation industry. The vastly improved connectivity through Keflavik Airport and other regional airports has been of utmost importance for our export industries and economic growth.
The announced plans for new and expanded airports in Greenland will without doubt be an important milestone in improving Greenland’s connection to the rest of the world. These investments will also support partnerships between Greenlandic and Icelandic airlines, opening new business opportunities in both countries.
In addition to the shipping and aviation business, the technological changes inherent in the 4th industrial revolution call for increased access, storage of and transfer of data around the world. From a geographical standpoint, both Greenland and Iceland are well suited for hosting data centres due to access to green electricity combined with cold climates. Here, we and other Nordic countries can work together on strategies concerning marine cable infrastructure and data centre investments. Strong digital infrastructure can also contribute to more efficient healthcare and social services in our rural areas.
Improved transport connections were a deciding factor in the case of Iceland’s tourism boom of the last decade or so. With international travel on the rise and increasing interest in unique and authentic travel experiences in the Arctic, Greenland’s tourism industry can be expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Moreover, Greenlandic authorities have the chance to plan for developments to happen on Greenland’s own terms, benefitting the local economy and community.
Here, the Icelandic case can be of some guidance. Tourist numbers grew from less than half a million in 2010 to a record 2.3 million in 2018, a five-fold increase in only eight years. The tourism boom brought immense economic benefits after a deep recession following the financial crash in 2008, providing revenue and jobs, boosting regional development and improving Icelanders’ quality of life in many ways. But this came not without its challenges. Tourism has put pressure on Iceland’s infrastructure, nature, communities and other economic sectors. It is likely to do that in Greenland, too, where extra care needs to be taken around the protection of indigenous traditions.
In response to the tourism growth, the Icelandic government has carried out many important actions, such as boosting tourism research and developing infrastructure at tourist sites. The focus has been on building a strong foundation for a very fragmented industry. I would say that the single most important action has been improving coordination between all relevant stakeholders. A temporary Tourism Task Force was set up across several ministries, local authorities and the travel Industry, to carry out a 5-year action plan, which is now almost completed.
Today, tourism is Iceland’s largest export revenue provider. So many jobs have been created that we have had to import foreign labor, now representing around a third of employees in the tourism sector. Without foreign labor, tourism simply would not have been able to grow the way it has.
The tourism growth is now slowing down and following the collapse of Wow air we will likely see a decline in tourist numbers this year. But the Icelandic economy and Iceland’s image still stand strong and long-term prospects in international travel are good. The situation can be viewed as an opportunity to continue improving the management of the sector. There is also an opportunity for the industry to improve profitability through increased innovation and digitalization. In fact, both Iceland and Greenland are participating in a tourism digitalization project supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, so we are already collaborating in this area.
Looking ahead, we need to make sure future developments will be as sustainable as possible. An ambitious project in this respect, a Tourism Impact Assessment, is currently being finalized. More than 60 indicators have been identified for the economy, environment, infrastructure and society. They will be used to evaluate tolerance limits, determining Iceland’s overall capacity for tourism. The assessment will then act as a baseline for a new long-term official tourism strategy. We hope this will lead to the creation of a management system for tourism, similar to Iceland’s fisheries management system.
Greenland is at a transitional moment in its tourism development. Tourism represents a tremendous opportunity for economic and societal prosperity. But there follows a responsibility to ensure that the industry’s expansion is within the capacity of Greenland‘s resources. I can envision valuable cooperation in this area between the two countries.
With Iceland maturing as a destination, I can also envision further opportunities for cooperation in destination marketing and product development. Greenland has been doing some impressive work, focusing on niche markets such as adventure and cultural tourism. Here, we can continue to build on the long-standing collaboration between the West Nordic countries within the North Atlantic Tourism Association (NATA), and established partnerships within the aviation and cruise sectors.
While tourism played an important part in diversifying the Icelandic economy almost 10 years ago, we recognize the need for further diversification of our industries. We now put effort into increasing innovation and knowledge-based industries and we are focused on opportunities for better utilization of our natural resources.
Within the fishing industry, we have during the last decades managed to implement technical improvements resulting in increased output and efficiency of the process, combined with reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Our vessels as well as our processing plants are now to large extent, equipped with automatic equipment and robots, which in many cases have been developed in Iceland. Through these improvements, the Icelandic fisheries industry is expected to reduce its fuel consumption by 54% in the period of 1990 to 2030. In addition to the traditional fish products, various biotech companies have been founded, focused on the development of high value products and food supplements based on seafood material.
Dear friends in Greenland,
Our common history of more than 1,000 years includes countless stories and experiences. In both countries we are facing new opportunities and challenges related to increased globalization, climate change and rapid technical development. In the spirit of Eric the Red and Leif the Lucky we should continue to explore new areas, connect to the world and discover new ways of living and doing business - while at the same time preserving our identity, our values and our pride.
Our future is bright, and I look forward to creating new stories of successful Iceland – Greenland collaboration. Thank you.