Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Regions and territories: Greenland

Map of Greenland

Greenland is the world's largest island. Formerly a province of Denmark, it gained the status of an autonomous Danish dependent territory with limited self-government as well as its own parliament in 1979.

Denmark is in charge of foreign affairs and defence policy and contributes two thirds of its budget revenue, the rest coming mainly from fishing. Denmark is also Greenland's main trading partner.


The climate in Greenland is extremely harsh. More than 80% of the island is covered by an ice cap which is 4km thick in places.

Inuit girl cycles past houses on Uummannaq island, northern Greenland
Uummannaq locals enjoy perpetual daylight for two months each year

Many of the Eskimo (Inuit) people survive by hunting and fishing and are struggling as fish stocks become depleted. The island's population is only 57,000. Inhabitants face severe social problems, notably unemployment, alcoholism and HIV/Aids.

Recent environmental studies have raised fears that global warming is causing Greenland's ice cover to melt increasingly fast and that this could have serious implications for future sea levels and ocean currents unless the process is rapidly halted and then reversed.

US plans for a national missile defence system have highlighted the strategic importance of Greenland. The Americans have expressed interest in using their Cold War radar base at Thule in the north of the island as part of this defence system.

Dozens of Inuit families were forced off their lands in 1953 to allow expansion at the base. Many Greenlanders would like to see it closed down. Others see economic reasons for keeping it.

A substantial proportion of Greenland's population favours independence. However, the former colonial power, Denmark, has the final say on the matter.

In 2008 Greenlanders voted in a referendum for more autonomy. The deal gave them greater control over their energy resources, treated Greenlanders as a separate people under international law, and granted the native Inuit language Kalaallisut (Western Greenlandic) official status in place of Danish. The Danish subsidy is to continue.

Early elections were held just before that deal came into force in June 2009 in order to decide how to implement it. The pro-independence Inuit Ataqatigiit party beat the Social Democratic Siumut party, which had governed for 30 years.


  • Territory: Greenland
  • Status: Self-governing part of Denmark
  • Population: 56,500 (UN, 2010)
  • Capital and largest town: Nuuk (Godthab)
  • Area: 2.17m sq km (840,000 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Greenlandic, Danish
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 67 years (men), 72 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Danish krone = 100 ore
  • Main exports: Fish, fish products, hides and skins
  • GNI per capita: n/a
  • Internet domain: .gl
  • International dialling code: +299


Queen: Margrethe II of Denmark

Prime minister: Kuupik Kleist

Mr Kleist led the left-wing pro-independence Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of the People - IA) party to victory in the June 2009 parliamentary elections, which Prime Minister Hans Enoksen had called early in order to decide who would implement a new autonomy arrangement.

Kuupik Kleist
Kuupik Kleist was elected in June 2009

Mr Kleist announced that he planned to concentrate on tackling big social problems, such as alcoholism, domestic violence and a high suicide rate.

Born in 1958, Mr Kleist has served in various civil-service posts and taught journalism. He was appointed director of Greenland's foreign office in 1996 and sat as an IA member of the Danish parliament from 2001 to 2007, when he became party leader.


Kalaallit Nunaata Radio (KNR) - the Greenland Broadcasting Company - provides public radio and TV services across the island. Broadcasting in Greenlandic and Danish, it is the main source of news and entertainment.

Private local TV and radio stations operate under an umbrella body, STTK. Digital pay TV is available in Nuuk. Danish public radio is rebroadcast.

There are no daily newspapers. The major titles - a weekly and a bi-weekly - publish in Greenlandic and Danish. Weather conditions can delay distribution.

The Greenlandic government controls media legislation. Officially, press freedom is guaranteed. But the independence of local journalists has been questioned, with cases of media workers coming under apparent political pressure.

There were 52,000 internet users by March 2008 (Internetworldstats). State-owned Tele Greenland is the sole ISP.

The press

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Compiled by BBC Monitoring

Patrolling Greenland by dog sledge
01 Dec 11 |  Magazine
Arctic states meet in Greenland
12 May 11 |  Europe
Greenland ice loss 'accelerating'
12 Nov 09 |  Science & Environment
Getting a grip on Greenland's future
28 Jul 09 |  Science & Environment
Denmark plans forces for Arctic
16 Jul 09 |  Europe
Self-rule introduced in Greenland
21 Jun 09 |  Europe
Danish doubts over Greenland vote
27 Nov 08 |  Europe
Arctic nations discuss territory
27 May 08 |  Europe
Greenland sees bright side of warming
14 Sep 07 |  Americas
Changing Arctic: A diary from Greenland
17 Sep 07 |  Science & Environment
DNA reveals Greenland's lush past
06 Jul 07 |  Science & Environment
Icy Greenland turns green
14 Aug 05 |  From Our Own Correspondent
The West's most isolated community
09 Nov 01 |  From Our Own Correspondent


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