The outcome of the Greenland elections this Wednesday (7/3) has called into question the progress of a major mining project on the island that involves major international interests in the Arctic – and has therefore been closely monitored by major powers.
Greenland is a territory belonging to Denmark, but it is autonomous, so you can choose your own rulers. Located between North America and Europe, Greenland covers an area of more than 2 million square kilometers and is considered the largest island in the world. It is also the least densely populated territory in the world: it has a population of only 56,000 people.
The island’s economy depends on fishing and Danish subsidies, but melting ice has paved the way for the exploitation of mineral resources – specifically for a rare element mining project in the south of the island that has become a central theme in this week’s election .
The parliamentary election was easily won by the left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit, which won 37% of the vote and promised to oppose the mining project. The party will now have to compose a new government.
The victory takes away most of the ruling Siumut party, which has retained power for most of the time since Greenland gained autonomy from Denmark in 1979. The party defends the mining project.
Understand what is at stake and what is the international interest in the region.
What is at stake
The company that owns the mine in Kvanefjeld, southern Greenland, says the site has “the potential to become the most significant producer in the western world” of rare earth minerals, a group of 17 elements (such as neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium ) used in the manufacture of electronics and weapons.
The Siumut Party supports the development of the mine, arguing that the project would provide hundreds of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually over several decades, which could lead to greater independence from Denmark.
But oppositionist (and now winner) Inuit Ataqatigiit, linked to the peoples of the region, the Inuit, criticizes the proposal, amid concerns about the production of radioactive pollution and toxic waste.
The future of the Kvanefjeld mine is significant for several countries – the site is owned by an Australian company, Greenland Minerals, which is supported by a Chinese company.
Why is Greenland important?
Greenland has made headlines several times in recent years, with then-President Donald Trump suggesting in 2019 that the U.S. could buy the territory.
Denmark quickly dismissed the idea as “absurd”, but international interest in the territory’s future continued.
The island has become the center of a strategic dispute between the United States and China, both for its economic importance for mining and for its geographical position between America and Europe.
China already has mining deals with Greenland, while the United States – which has a major Cold War era air base in the city of Thule – has offered millions in aid.
Denmark itself recognized the importance of the island: in 2019, it made Greenland a priority on its national security agenda for the first time.
And several other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are also interested in the region to reduce their dependence on China for mineral supplies.
However, mining is not the only issue at the center of the debate in Greenland.
The territory is among those most affected by global warming, with scientists reporting a record loss of ice last year.
But the retreating ice also increased mining opportunities and new shipping routes through the Arctic, which could cut global transport times.
This changing reality has also increased the focus on longstanding territorial disputes, with Denmark, Russia and Canada pursuing sovereignty over a vast underwater mountain range near the North Pole known as the Lomonosov Ridge.
Russia has been increasing its economic and military activities in the Arctic, where it has a long coastal coast, generating concern on the part of Western governments.
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