Climate change master’s degree being planned for Ilulissat, Greenland

A fisherman near Ilulissat in 2011. “(Ilulisaat is) at the epicentre of climate change in a region where there’s this very delicate triple interaction between the ice sheet, ocean and society,” said Carl Egede Boggild, a special advisor to Greenland’s Ministry of Education, Culture and Church, of a new proposed master’s degree in the community. “If you really want to see climate change in nature, this is the place to do it.”(Brennan Linsley/AP/The Canadian Press)
With global temperature change transforming life in western Greenland, the home-rule government is looking at establishing a climate change master’s degree for local and international students in the community of Ilulissat to better understand the changing environment, especially in the area of Disko Bay.

“We know that climate change will bring great change for our society and for the whole world,” said Greenland’s Education Minister Ane Lone Bagger in a news release about the plan. “The changes are expected to be the largest in the Arctic, so climate change must be included in planning for our future society.”

Epicentre of climate change

Currently, a pedagogical school in Ilulissat offers bachelors degrees and professional, non-academic degrees in some areas. But the master’s degree would be the first of its kind offered in one of Greenland’s smaller communities.

(Greenland’s only university, the University of Greenland is located in the capital city of Nuuk.)

Ilulissat, a coastal community in the Municipality of Avannaata, has a population of approximately 4,600 people and is the third most populous community after Nuuk ( approximately 18,000 people) and Sisimiut (approximately 5,500 people).

The Ilulissat ice fjord, below the Jakobshavn Glacier, is pictured here in 2011. Greenland’s Education Minister Ane Lone Bagger says offering advanced climate change degrees in Greenland will be an important part of preparing for the country’s climate adaptation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Ilulissat was chosen as the location of the proposed master’s degree because of its unique location near the Jakobshavn Glacier, one of the fastest in the world; its proximity to a part of the ocean with rich stocks of Arctic halibut, and the window it would give students into the impacts of climate change on all facets of life.

Carl Egede Boggild, a special advisor to Greenland’s Ministry of Education, Culture and Church. (Courtesy Carl Egede Boggild)

“It’s at the epicentre of climate change in a region where there’s this very delicate triple interaction between the ice sheet, ocean and society,” said Carl Egede Boggild, a special advisor to Greenland’s Ministry of Education, Culture and Church.

“If you really want to see climate change in nature, this is the place to do it,” he told Eye on the Arctic in a phone interview. “Running a program in the midst of that, and a changing cryosphere, can inform future Arctic researchers broth from Greenland and abroad.”

Partnership with University of Copenhagen

Because the University of Greenland doesn’t have a climate change course of study, the proposed master’s degree would initially be offered through the University of Copenhagen, which already has a program.

The program would be built slowly, starting off as a summer session, then would see students go back and forth between Copenhagen and Ilulisaat until Greenland eventually takes over the program completely.

The University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Students interested in the new master’s degree program would apply to this university and split their time between it and Ilulisaat. (Christoffer Regild/University of Copenhagen)

The master’s degree would be offered in English and would target both Greenlandic and international students, with Indigenous knowledge playing a key role, Boggild said.

The long-term vision of the master’s degree includes the building of facilities especially for the program, with knock on effects for job creation and the local economy.

“I expect such an education to offer our students a scientific supplement to a bachelor’s degree in humanities or social sciences, which provides a strong starting point when working with planning and management,” Education Minister Bagger said. “In addition, I see opportunities for the tourism sector, teacher education and other education to benefit from taking courses in climate change.”

Budget among next steps

Education authorities say they don’t yet have a date for when the program will start accepting students, but are currently preparing a budget for it, to submit to the Greenlandic government for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Write to Eilis Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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