Naleraq party pleads for Ilulissat to give up UNESCO status | Polarjournal
The 40-kilometer-long Icefjord is mostly completely covered with brash ice and icebergs from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, which is one of the few places where ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet directly enters the sea. Photo: Julia Hager

Since 2004, the Icefjord near Ilulissat in West Greenland has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is under special protection. The two-kilometer buffer zone bordering the fjord, in which Ilulissat is located, is also part of the protected area, in which only a few activities are permitted. These do not include construction activities. According to a representative of Greenland’s Naleraq Party, however, these would be urgently needed for the town’s development, which is why he proposed giving up the World Heritage status.

The Ilulissat Icefjord, or Kangia in Greenlandic, bears its name with good reason: The tidal fjord 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle is filled with floating chunks of ice and huge icebergs that calve from the highly active glacier Sermeq Kujalleq. The glacier is one of the most active in the world, with a flow rate of 40 meters per day, and it loses about 46 cubic kilometers of ice each year – one-tenth of all the ice calving from glaciers in Greenland. The ice fjord, which flows into the equally famous Disko Bay, has earned UNESCO World Heritage status for this astonishing glacier activity.

However, according to Anthon Frederiksen, a member of the Avannaata Kommunia Municipal Council in the northwesternmost part of Greenland, World Heritage status stands in the way of Ilulissat’s urban development. He says the town’s development is restricted so much that he would like to propose that the Icefjord be removed from the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Since 2004, the Icefjord has been on the list of World Natural Heritage Sites. The two-kilometer buffer zone was added only in 2019. In the local buffer zone (dark green, along the city limits of Ilulissat), construction is completely prohibited. In the lighter green zone around the fjord, limited cabins and survival huts may be built. Motorized traffic is also restricted. Map: UNESCO

“In the last 20 years, the city has developed a lot, and we have reached a point where the possibilities for urban development are diminishing, because the water protection area also imposes restrictions. And the expansion of the airport also means that better roads are needed,” Frederiksen tells news platform Sermitsiaq AG.

Environment Minister Kalistat Lund apparently could not assure that the construction of a new road to the airport would be approved. “We have another option for urban development, and that is towards the UNESCO protected area. When we are no longer part of UNESCO, we will have very attractive areas for urban development. Businesses demand this beautiful area and I believe that many more opportunities will open up. The business community and the tourism area will benefit greatly if we are allowed to build towards Kangia,” Frederiksen says.

It is especially the magnificent view of the ice fjord and the bizarre formations of ice that attract a large number of tourists every year. Photo: Julia Hager

According to Frederiksen, the UNESCO status has no influence on tourism: “Even before 2004, there were many tourists, and that will not change whether Ilulissat is part of UNESCO or not. We have nothing to fear in this area. The Icefjord is not only world famous because it is a World Heritage Site.”

The local politician plans to present the proposal at the next local council meeting and has little doubt that it will not be supported. “We are working politically with all parties except Siumut. I am confident that the proposal will be supported by the coalition parties in the city council,” Frederiksen says.

The other parties have already expressed their views to Sermitsiaq AG before the meeting: Representatives of Siumut and Demokraatit parties have not yet discussed the issue and accordingly have not yet taken a position. However, the Demokraatit representative would support a reduction in the size of the protected area. Another party, Inuit Ataqatigiit, is positive about Frederiksen’s proposal, but would also be open to a reduction. Back in 2017, the Atassut party made the proposal to reduce the size of the UNESCO area, as they believe no one comes for the World Heritage status, and are pleased that the other parties are now looking at the issue.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

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