GP Insights

GP Insights # 498, 11 April 2021

Greenland: Opposition's electoral victory will affect the rare earth mining
Harini Madhusudan

What happened?
On 6 April, Greenland's main opposition party, a left-leaning Community of the People party, or Inuit Ataqatigiit, secured more than a third of votes in the snap parliamentary elections. In the 31 seats Greenlandic National Assembly, this indigenous, pro-environment, and pro-independence party has secured 12 seats, with a 37 per cent share of the votes. The ruling centre-left Forward or the Siumut Party won 10 seats, with 29 per cent of the votes. 

Inuit Ataqatigiit's leader Múte Bourup Egede who campaigned with an anti-uranium stance, stated that "the people have spoken" and revealed that the project would be halted. The head of the Siumut Party, Erik Jensen, admitted that the controversy surrounding the Kvanefjeld mine to be "one of the main reasons" for its defeat.  

What is the background?
First, the controversy over the mining project and the collapse of the government. Two issues dominated the current elections: the people's living conditions and the health and environmental concerns. At the core of the snap elections stood the proposed international mining project by Greenland Minerals - an Australia-based company with Chinese ownership. Greenland Minerals has been seeking a license to operate the Kvanefjeld mine in southern Greenland. Despite the intentions to break away from its economic dependence on Denmark, many concerns have been raised about the potential for radioactive pollution and toxic waste in the farmland surrounding the proposed mine. A strong disagreement over the project within the Parliament led to the collapse of Greenland's government earlier in 2021. 

Second, the eco-geopolitics of rare earths and the mining industry. So far, China accounts for more than 90 per cent of the global rare earth production. The Kvanjefeld is near the Ilimaussaq Alkaline Complex in southern Greenland. The project has promised a large-scale, low-cost, long-term supplier of products. The location has year-round direct shipping access and is comfortably situated less than 10 km from tidewater. Uranium estimates show the Kvanefjeld mine could hold the largest deposit of rare-earth metals outside China. The calculation has led to international interest in Greenland's natural resources. While the winning party has announced to halt the project, on 9 April, Greenland Minerals, which has been operating in the region since 2007, revealed that their environmental and social impact assessments would run till 1 June. The company has met the requirements for public consultation and had been accepted by the Greenland government. 

Third, the role of rare earths projects in the local economy. Greenland's economy relies on fishing and subsidies from the Danish government for almost half of its budget. Due to the climate impact on the region and the melting ice, mining opportunities increase throughout the lower Arctic region. This is coupled with an increasing sentiment within a part of the Greenland society to move away from their dependence on Denmark. While Kvanefjeld's development strategy is focused on the production of rare earths, almost 80 per cent of the project revenue is expected to be generated with Uranium, Zinc, and Fluorspar byproducts. Greenland minerals have often asserted that it is focused on the rare earths and not just Uranium. These production strategies of the company have raised strong concerns over the impact on the pristine environment of Greenland. However, it also remains one of the very few sustainable options for the independence of the Greenland economy.  

What does it mean?
This election result, marks an end to the Forward Party's almost-continuous reign of the Greenlandic National Parliament since 1979. The increase in popularity of the Inuit Ataqatigiit, and the increase in awareness of the impact of climate change, can be seen in line with the growth of green/ pro-climate/ pro-environment political parties within Europe. 

Though the left-leaning party has emerged victorious, an estimated 34 per cent of the voters have not voted for either party, which could mean that the other concerns of the Greenland peoples took a back seat over the mining issue

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