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Comprehensive Country Overview

Explore the geography, history, and socio-economic factors shaping Greenland

Country description

Greenland is the largest island on Earth, covering about 2,166,086 square kilometers. It straddles the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the west and Iceland to the east. Around 80% of Greenland is covered by the Greenland Ice Sheet, the world's second-largest ice body after Antarctica. This ice sheet has a profound influence on the island's climate and landscape. Greenland's habitable areas are largely restricted to the coastline, characterized by fjords, mountains, and small settlements.

Historical Context

The first people to inhabit Greenland were the Saqqaq, arriving around 2500 BCE. Various other Paleo-Eskimo cultures successively migrated and disappeared from the landscape. From the 10th century CE, Norse settlers from Iceland established colonies in southwestern Greenland, lasting for approximately 500 years. The Thule people, ancestors of modern Inuits, migrated to Greenland from Canada around the 13th century. Denmark renewed its claim over Greenland in the 1700s, initiating a period of colonization. Greenland achieved home rule within the Kingdom of Denmark in 1979, expanding its autonomy. It gained further self-governance in 2009.

Socio-Economic Landscape

Greenland has a sparsely distributed population of approximately 56,000 people, with a majority being Inuit. The capital of Greenland is Nuuk, located on the southwestern coast. Greenland holds self-governing status within the Kingdom of Denmark. The Greenlandic government is responsible for most domestic affairs, while Denmark oversees defense, foreign policy, and certain constitutional matters. Greenland's primary industry is fishing, with shrimp and halibut being major exports. Greenland possesses significant mineral resources, including rare earth elements, but the mining sector is relatively underdeveloped. Tourism is a growing sector, drawn to Greenland's unique ice formations, wildlife, and northern lights. Greenland faces challenges such as geographical isolation, climate change impacts, and a reliance on Danish subsidies and economic support.

Climate Change and Greenland

Greenland is disproportionately affected by climate change, experiencing warming at a rate faster than the global average. Since 1992, the nation has lost an estimated 3.8 trillion tons of ice. The melting Greenland Ice Sheet contributes significantly to rising sea levels, threatening coastal communities worldwide. Ecological shifts on the island are impacting native wildlife.

Workforce description

Greenland's workforce is relatively small, with an employed population averaging roughly 27,800 individuals in 2021. The workforce is predominantly Inuit, making up approximately 88% of the population. Greenland, like many developed nations, is experiencing an aging population trend, which could pose challenges for future workforce sustainability. The gender distribution in the workforce is relatively even, as shown by data from Statistics Greenland.

The workforce in Greenland possesses a mixed skill set. Traditional skills related to hunting, fishing, and subsistence practices are still important, especially in smaller settlements. However, education levels are increasing as the government invests in education and promotes vocational training programs. Despite these improvements, Greenland experiences skill shortages in certain areas like healthcare, engineering, and specialized trades, which sometimes necessitates recruitment from abroad, primarily from Denmark.

Sectoral Distribution

The public sector is the largest employer in Greenland, a characteristic shared by many small economies. According to Statistics Greenland, "public administration and service" accounted for 12,910 employees on average in 2021, the most of any industry. Fishing remains a crucial industry, directly employing around 4,355 individuals in 2021. Many others work in related processing and support activities. Other important sectors include wholesale and retail trade, construction, transportation and storage, and tourism, which is a growing sector.

Workforce Challenges

The small, dispersed population across settlements creates challenges for workforce development, skills matching, and job creation outside of major towns. Greenland's remote location can hinder the attraction and retention of skilled professionals in some sectors. Certain industries in Greenland may continue to rely on recruitment from Denmark or elsewhere to fill skills gaps.

Cultural norms impacting employment

In Greenland, cultural norms significantly shape the dynamics of the workplace.

Work-Life Balance

Greenlandic culture places a strong emphasis on family and community ties. This often translates into employees expecting flexibility in their work schedules to accommodate family obligations or traditional activities such as hunting and fishing. The pace of life in Greenland is slower compared to heavily industrialized nations, which can mean avoiding excessive work demands after standard work hours. Work patterns can also be influenced by the seasons, with traditional activities like hunting taking precedence when conditions are favorable, particularly in smaller settlements.

Communication Styles

Building personal relationships is often prioritized over strictly business transactions in Greenland. Greenlanders may prefer to get to know their colleagues before delving into work matters. Communication tends to be relatively direct, yet still with an awareness of avoiding needless offense. Openness is valued, but so is social harmony. Attention to body language and tone of voice can be important, as these factors may convey additional layers of meaning alongside spoken words.

Organizational Hierarchies

Greenlandic society traditionally holds egalitarian values. While professional hierarchies exist, a pronounced top-down management style may be less common. Reaching consensus through discussion and consideration of various viewpoints is often favored within organizations. Age and experience hold importance in Greenlandic culture, which translates to respecting the input of senior workers or those with longer tenure within a workplace.

It's important to note that cultural norms evolve, and there will be variations depending on specific workplaces and individual personalities within Greenland.

Key industries and employment sectors

Greenland's economy is shaped by a mix of established and emerging sectors.

Established Sectors with Significant Employment

  • Fishing and Fish Processing:
    • This is the cornerstone of Greenland's economy with shrimp and halibut being the primary exports.
    • It employs a significant number of people directly in fishing and in associated processing industries. In 2021, an average of 4,355 workers were employed within "fishing, hunting, agriculture".
  • Public Sector:
    • This is the largest single employer in Greenland, encompassing administration, education, healthcare, and public enterprises.
    • "Public administration and service" employed an average of 12,910 employees in 2021, making it the most sizable sector.
  • Retail and Wholesale:
    • This sector is essential for the distribution and sale of goods within Greenland.
    • It employed around 3,020 individuals on average in 2021.
  • Construction:
    • This sector supports ongoing infrastructure development and housing needs within Greenland.

Emerging Sectors with Potential

  • Mining:
    • Greenland holds substantial mineral deposits including rare earth elements.
    • Development is controversial due to potential environmental impacts but could represent a major future economic driver.
    • The Kvanefjeld project is a notable, though contested, example of large-scale mining endeavors.
  • Tourism:
    • There is growing interest in Greenland's unique landscapes, glaciers, wildlife (e.g., whales, polar bears), and the Northern Lights.
    • There is potential for job creation in hospitality, transportation, and guiding.
  • Renewable Energy:
    • Hydropower already plays a major role in Greenland's energy mix.
    • There is potential for further development in wind power and possible hydrogen energy projects. This could tie into energy exports or support decarbonization efforts in mineral extraction.


  • Economic Dependence: Greenland still relies heavily on financial support from Denmark. Diversifying the economy is a long-term goal.
  • Infrastructure Challenges: Remoteness and harsh climate create logistical challenges for developing certain industries.
  • Climate Change: While presenting risks, opening Arctic shipping routes and altered access to resources due to melting ice may also bring new economic opportunities to Greenland.
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