Group of people discussing SDG's in Greenland
During a kick-off workshop, engaged employees discuss UN's Sustainable Development Goals and how to apply them in a Greenlandic context.
Sustainable Development Goals in Greenland

Sustainable Development Goals contribute to the development of Greenlandic municipality

NIRAS assists Avannaata Kommunia with incorporating the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in their policy plan for 2020. An exciting challenge in a country, where you can feel and observe climate change everywhere.

13. Nov 2019

“It’s exciting to contribute to a new and sustainable strategic policy plan for Avannaata Kommunia,” says Mette Lercher, consultant at NIRAS. Avannaata Kommunia is, with its 500.000 km2, one of the largest municipalities in the world, even though it only houses about 10.000 inhabitants.

Mette Lerche is part of the team that assists the Greenlandic municipality in interpreting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in such a way that they become meaningful and useful for the municipality.

“It makes a lot of sense to work with the Goals in Avannaata Kommunia, because the Goals nicely frame all the challenges that face the municipality, ranging from healthcare and education, to infrastructure, climate, fishery and tourism,” Mette Lerche says and continues:

“Our challenge is to translate these global goals to the local context.”

To kick off the project, NIRAS organised a workshop for 25 engaged employees from the municipality. The workshop offered several exercises designed to familiarize the employees with the different main- and subgoals and to discuss, where and how the SDG’s can be relevant for their policy plan.

Challenging the Sustainability Goals

As was anticipated, NIRAS’ consultants were quick to realise that the common way of interpreting the Goals was not always relevant for Greenland:

“One of the SDG’s promotes equal opportunities. Traditionally, it aims to elevate women's rights to be equal to men’s, but the opposite is also true in Greenland. Here they ask: ‘What about our men?’ In Avannaata Kommunia it’s the women who get an education and move away. That leaves a lot of young men in the settlements,” says Mette Lerche.

Another example is the SDG that stipulates that more people should live within 2 kilometres of a whole- year road.

“The Greenlanders giggle a little, when they hear this. The icy surroundings make it impossible to construct a whole-year road. Also, a lot of transportation is done by snow scooter, sled or plane, and not by car, to which SDG is referring,” Mette Lerche explains.

Sustainable growth

Ilulissat, the biggest city of the municipality, is growing and attracting tourists who are interested in experiencing the Ice fjord, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. A new international airport is being constructed, and this will have a large impact on the municipality.

“The new airport will open Ilulissat up to large parts of the world. This forces the municipality to take a stance on how they wish to shape tourism, to make it sustainable for both nature and the local community,” Mette Lerche explains.

Urban planning on melting ice

However, the biggest challenge comes from climate change. The rising temperatures are not only melting the ice. The underlying permafrost is also beginning to melt. This results in sinking roads and buildings, which become largely damaged as an effect. Consequently, this development makes it very difficult to determine how and where to build in the future.

Sustainable Development Goals within arm’s reach

All these insights from the workshop make for an interesting assignment for NIRAS’ consultants. By using the tool SDG Capture, they will take part in deciding upon relevant topics and adhesive SDG’s that the municipality should take into account while formulating their new strategic policy.

“We have experienced Avannaata Kommunia as a very ambitious municipality, where all employees have shown a deep interest in getting a detailed understanding of the SDG’s, and they want to contribute to translating them to their local context.”

Also major Palle Jerimiassen is excited about the work to be done:

“The material will be used in the dialogue with our citizens, institutions, associations, companies and so on, so we can create a sustainable strategy for the next five to ten years.”