Denmark’s ambitious Arctic research strategy is light on funding

By The Arctic Journal - November 2, 2016

Denmark is to become “one of the world’s leading Arctic-research nations,” according a new strategy unveiled by that country’s science minister.

Among the proposals put forth in the strategy is the potential establishment of a research hub in Greenland that can attract scientists from around the world.

“A research hub of that type, I hope, can contribute to an improved academic environment in Greenland, and have a generally positive effect on Danish research and Greenlandic society,” Ulla Tørnæs, the science minister, said.

[RELATED: Why is Greenland a part of the Danish kingdom?]

Despite the strategy’s lofty goals, no additional money has been set aside by the government, which, Tørnæs admitted, poses something of a challenge.

“Of course, a research hub can’t be established without setting aside funding. So the question becomes where we’re going to find the money. That’s something we’ll have to consider when we determine whether the potential is there,” she said.

Plans for research hub were first put forward on May 1 as part of an overview of Danish foreign policy carried out by Peter Taksøe-Jensen, a senior foreign ministry official now serving as ambassador to India.

He reckons that the cost to develop an international research hub in Greenland would be reasonable.

“We’re not talking about a lot of money. It’s more a matter of bringing some of the existing funding channels closer together,” he said.

Another option, he suggested, would be to tap into the resources in foreign scientists’ home countries.

“Right now, there are scientists out there that are interested in coming to the Arctic, and who have funding from their home country, but no place to go with it,” he said, suggesting that China and India were potential sources of scientists, and that Denmark should not be afraid to see them arriving in the Arctic.

“If they are conducting new research and are making a contribution, then we should open our doors to them, too,” he said.

Other Asian countries, in particular Japan and Singapore, are also potential sources of investment for research in Greenland, according to Flemming Getreuer Christiansen, the deputy director of Geus, the Danish and Greenlandic geological survey.

Christiansen, however, remained unconvinced that a research hub would be the draw those proposing expect. He cited the example of Norway, where research stations in the northern part of the country and on Svalbard have proven costly.

“It’s a good idea, but in Norway they’ve got billions saved up from their oil reserves. We don’t,” he said.

Niels Andersen, the head of Polar DTU, a Danish polar research outfit, suggested that backers of the research hub look closer to home.

“Having a declared national strategy gives us credibility, and that will make it easier for us to attract funding from the EU, which has a keen interest in the Arctic.”