A mining project has been at the center of the Greenland elections held on Tuesday, the outcome of which could have major consequences for international interests in the Arctic.
But it is not just any mine, but Kvanefjeld, a major rare mineral deposits of the world.
The main opposition party, the leftist Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA), won the parliamentary elections with 37% of the votes. The indigenous party, with a strong environmental focus, will now seek to form a government.
The Siumut Social Democratic Party came in second. Since 1979, there have only been four years in which Siumut was not in power.
IA is opposed to the Kvanefjeld mining project in southern Greenland, whose future remains up in the air following the election result, which has been closely followed internationally.
Greenland is a vast autonomous Arctic territory, with only 56,000 inhabitants, that belongs to Denmark.
Its economy depends on fishing and subsidies from the Danish government, but as a result of the melting ice, the mining opportunities they are increasing and with them the interest of world powers in this territory.
Greenland is at the center of intense competition between the US, Russia and China for Arctic resources.
A controversial project
The Kvanefjeld mine is owned by an Australian company, Greenland Minerals, which in turn is backed by a Chinese company.
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The company says the mine has “the potential to become the western world’s largest producer of rare earths,” a group of 17 elements used to manufacture from smartphones to electric vehicles and weapons.
However, disagreement over the mining project led to the collapse of the Greenlandic government earlier this year, leading to early elections.
Many residents expressed concern about potential radioactive and toxic waste contamination on farmland surrounding the mine, and Inuit Ataqatigiit had pledged to block the project.
Rather, Siumut supported the development, arguing that it would provide hundreds of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for several decades, which could lead to greater independence from Denmark.
Since 2009, this practically ice-covered territory has managed its own resources, but still relies on annual subsidies from Copenhagen for around US $ 638 million, which represents about a third of its budget.
Denmark also controls the island’s foreign relations and defense.
Although independence has had a residual role in the campaign compared to other elections, the main parties and the majority of the population are in favor of separating from Denmark, differing only in terms of time and how to secure the necessary income.
Siumut leader Erik Jensen told Denmark’s TV2 network that he believed the controversy surrounding the mining project was “one of the main reasons” for his party’s defeat.
Why does Greenland matter?
Greenland has made headlines multiple times in recent years, with former President Donald Trump suggesting in 2019 that the United States could buy the territory.
Denmark quickly called the idea “absurd”, but international interest in the island’s future has continued.
China already has mining agreements with Greenland, while EE.UU., which has a key Cold War-era airbase at Thule – crucial for missile early warning and airspace surveillance – has offered millions in aid to the island.
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Denmark itself has recognized the importance of the territory and in 2019 placed Greenland at the top of its national security agenda for the first time.
And in March of this year, a group of experts concluded that the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, known as the alliance of the Five Eyes, they should focus on Greenland to reduce their dependence on China for the supply of key minerals.
However, mining is not Greenland’s only problem.
The territory is on the front lines of climate change, with scientists reporting record ice loss last year.
This, in turn, has important implications for low-lying coastal areas around the world.
But at the same time, it is the melting of ice This has increased mining opportunities and the possibility of opening new shipping routes through the Arctic, which could reduce global transport times.
This changing reality has also increased the focus on long-running territorial disputes, with Denmark, Russia and Canada seeking sovereignty over a vast undersea mountain range near the North Pole known as Lomonosov Ridge.
Russia, meanwhile, has increased its economic and military activities in the Arctic, where it has a long coastline, prompting concern from Western governments.
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