MAC: Mines and Communities

Greenland votes in election centred on mining debate

Published by MAC on 2021-04-06
Source: The Globe and Mail, TRTworld, Reuters

Inuit Ataqatigiit party, on track to win the most seats, opposes rare earths and uranium mine.

The ruling Siumut Party has long backed the Kvanefjeld project, which has China’s Shenghe Resources as partner. Inuit Ataqatigiit staunchly opposes the mine, and a recent poll put the party on track to win the most seats.

“There are more political parties now that are opposing the rare earths and uranium development, and you also see a disagreement within the Siumut Party; both experts and groups, fishing and hunting groups, that were silent just a few years ago are today stating their opposition to the mine” said Sara Olsvig, a former IA leader who is a fellow at the Institute of Social Science, Economics and Journalism at the University of Greenland.

See also:

2021-01-20 Greenland: Public hearings under coronavirus constraints
2019-09-21 Greenland: locals demand banishing foreign miner
2016-06-19 Greenland's mining companies set to benefit from Arctic meltdown

Greenland votes in election centred on mining debate

Greenland's two main parties are divided on whether to authorise a giant rare earth and uranium mining project, on fishing – the main driver of Greenland's economy and on the Paris Climate Change agreement.

April 6, 2021

The autonomous Danish territory of Greenland is voting in legislative elections, after a campaign focused on a disputed mining project, as the Arctic island confronts first-hand the effects of global warming.

Greenland's two main parties contesting in Tuesday's election are divided on whether to authorise a giant rare earth and uranium mining project.

Supporters, including the ruling social-democratic Siumut party, say the mine would yield an economic windfall. Opponents, such as the opposition left-green IA party, argue it could harm the vast island's unspoiled environment.

Greenland's geostrategic location and massive mineral reserves have raised international interest, as evidenced by former US President Donald Trump's swiftly rebuffed offer to buy it in 2019.

The election campaign for parliament's 31 seats has also centred on fishing – the main driver of Greenland's economy.

And at a time when young Greenlanders are reconnecting with their Inuit roots and questioning their Danish colonial heritage, social issues and cultural identity have also been part of the debate.

Polling stations open for the island's 35,000 voters at 1100 GMT and close at 2200 GMT, with the final results expected early Wednesday.

Opposition IA seeks uranium moratorium

IA is leading in the latest opinion polls with around 36 percent of voter support, while Siumut, which has been in power almost uninterrupted since Greenland gained autonomy in 1979, is trailing with 23 percent.

Experts however have warned that the outcome is nevertheless uncertain.

Opinion polls "often put IA way too high in the polls," University of Greenland political scientist Leander Nielsen told AFP.

"A third of voters don't make up their minds until the last minute."

Nor was it likely that either of the two biggest parties would get a majority of the 16 seats: the most likely scenario, he said, was "that IA forms a coalition with one or two smaller parties".

IA has called for a moratorium on uranium mining, which would effectively put a halt to the mining project.

The Kuannersuit deposit, in the south of the island, is considered one of the world's richest in uranium and rare earth minerals -- a group of 17 metals used as components in high-tech devices such as smartphones, flat-screen displays, electric cars and weapons.

Local authorities have to give their stamp of approval before the Australian group Greenland Mining can get an operating license.

Dreams of independence

Siumut party leader Erik Jensen has said the mine would be "hugely important for Greenland's economy", helping diversify revenues.

That is crucial if the island wants to gain full independence from Copenhagen someday.

Denmark, which is not opposed to Nuuk's independence, gives the island annual subsidies of around $638 million (526 million euros), accounting for about a third of its budget.

Greenland plans to grow its economy by developing its fishing, mining and tourism sectors, as well as agriculture in the southern part of the island which is ice-free year-round.

"To harvest sustainably the living natural resources, like fish stocks, is going to be the most long-term (solution) for Greenland," Minik Rosing, a geobiology professor at the University of Copenhagen, told AFP.

The island's mineral potential "has only been investigated to some extent, but not in-depth", he added.

For Cambridge University Arctic specialist Marc Jacobsen, keeping the option of large-scale mining open is the reason why Greenland has not signed the Paris climate accord. The treaty lets states decide their own measures to meet the common goal of keeping global warming under two degrees Celsius.

"Signing the Paris Agreement would not allow them to develop any big mining project," Jacobsen noted.

And yet the Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet since the 1990s, dramatically affecting the traditional way of life for Inuits, who make up more than 90 percent of Greenland's population.

IA has vowed to sign the Paris Agreement if it comes to power.

Greenland has an election on Tuesday. Why are the U.S. and China so interested in its outcome?

On an Arctic island with some of the world’s largest supplies of rare-earth elements, a heated debate about mining and its environmental costs will have big consequences for global superpowers.

Paul Waldie

April 4, 2021

Elections in Greenland rarely get much notice beyond the shores of the ice-covered island. But when Greenland’s 41,000 voters head to the polls on April 6 in a snap election, the results will be followed closely in Beijing, Washington, Brussels and beyond.

Greenland has been caught in a global power struggle over access to rare earth metals, a collection of 17 elements with names such as yttrium, scandium and lanthanum that are used in more than 200 products, including cellphones, wind turbines, electric cars and fighter jets.

The island is home to some of the world’s largest deposits of rare earths, and a massive mining project in south Greenland has become a focal point in the race to secure the strategic resource.

The United States used to be the main producer of rare earths, but in the past 20 years, China has leaped ahead and now accounts for more than 90 per cent of global production.

The Chinese government has taken a keen interest in Greenland, and China’s Shenghe Resources is playing a key role in developing the proposed mine known as the Kvanefjeld project.

China’s increasing stranglehold over the elements has spooked the U.S., and the Americans have hit back by offering to help Greenland develop its resources and by opening a consulate in Nuuk.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump made a bizarre offer to buy Greenland in 2019, but President Joe Biden has also put a high priority on boosting the United States’ supplies of rare earths.

The European Union has grown wary of China, too, and recently launched a Raw Materials Alliance to increase Europe’s access to rare earths from places like Greenland.

“We are caught in the middle,” said Mariane Paviasen, a member of parliament from Narsaq who belongs to the main opposition party, Inuit Ataqatigiit.

“I think we have to be careful about which country we are going to work with.”

The future of the mine has become a major issue in the campaign, and the outcome could determine whether it goes ahead after more than a decade of planning.

The ruling Siumut Party has long backed Kvanefjeld, but the party’s support has waned lately amid mounting public concern about the environmental impact of the vast open-pit mine. Siumut’s governing coalition collapsed in February largely because of a dispute about the project.

Inuit Ataqatigiit staunchly opposes the mine, and a recent poll put the party on track to win the most seats. If IA manages to form a coalition government with some of the smaller parties, it would mark only the second time since 1979 that Siumut has been out of power.

Greenland’s mineral riches have only recently come to light as climate change warms the Arctic and reveals big deposits of not only rare earths but also copper, zinc, lead, iron ore and nickel. The island, the world’s largest, has been under Danish authority for 300 years, but in 1979, it gained autonomy over a host of areas, including natural resources.

Many Greenlanders see mining as a critical way of diversifying the island’s economy, which relies largely on fish for exports. But for Ms. Paviasen and most of the 1,200 people who live in Narsaq, the mine threatens the area’s delicate ecosystem because one of the byproducts will be uranium. “The mine is only six kilometres from our town,” she said during a break from campaigning in Narsaq, which is nestled between the coast and a deep fjord. “I am concerned about the contamination and possibly large amounts of radioactive dust.”

The area is also home to several sheep farms, cattle ranches and a reindeer herd that will be harmed by pollution from the mine, she added. “We are risking to lose all those things – our culture, our way of living here in Narsaq will be changed enormously if the mine goes ahead.”

Tension over Kvanefjeld has been running high. The government had to cancel a public information session earlier this year in Narsaq after it received a bomb threat. Some government ministers have also been the target of death threats, and another public meeting ended abruptly when a crowd of people started banging on windows and playing loud music.

“There are more political parties now that are opposing the uranium mine, and you also see a disagreement within the Siumut Party,” said Sara Olsvig, a former IA leader who is a fellow at the Institute of Social Science, Economics and Journalism at the University of Greenland. “Both experts and groups, fishing and hunting groups, that were silent just a few years ago are today stating their opposition to the mine.”

Proponents of the mine say it will provide badly needed jobs and give the island the financial heft to become an independent country. Greenland receives nearly half of its roughly US$1.2-billion annual budget in a grant from Denmark.

Under a 2009 law passed by the Danish parliament, Greenland can become fully independent if a majority of the population backs sovereignty in a referendum. Support for independence has been strong, but many people are leery about whether Greenland has the financial wherewithal to go it alone.

The company behind the project, Australia-based Greenland Minerals, says it will create up to 780 jobs and contribute US$100-million annually to the government’s coffers.

Kvanefjeld can “contribute in closing the gap in Greenland’s economy, which economists, using a slightly dramatic expression, have named the jaws of death,” the company says on its website. It added that the excavation can be done safely and that uranium makes up a small portion of the overall production.

The company’s partnership with Shenghe has raised alarm bells in many Western capitals. The Chinese company is the largest shareholder in Greenland Minerals, and it has signed a deal to process and market all of the mine’s production. Greenland Minerals says Shenghe’s experience as one of the world’s top producers of rare earths makes it an ideal strategic partner. But the U.S. and its allies worry that China will use the extra supply as leverage in trade talks and other disputes.

The Chinese government has reportedly already been exploring ways of limiting rare earth exports to the U.S. in order to hold up development of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet.

Greenlanders appear to be generally hesitant about Chinese investment. A recent survey of 704 people by researchers at the University of Greenland found that 53 per cent saw China’s increasing influence in the world as a positive thing. However, only 32 per cent welcomed Chinese investment in Greenland.

Dr. Olsvig said the IA will have to tread carefully if it wins power and blocks the mine. China is a major buyer of Greenland’s prawns, halibut and cod, and the Chinese government has been eager to invest in infrastructure projects throughout the island.

Ms. Paviasen won’t make any predictions about the election, but she is hoping that the results will finally end the debate over the mine. “I think this is it,” she said. “This is the election where the decision will come.”

Greenland to hold election watched closely by global mining industry

Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, Nikolaj Skydsgaard

March 31, 2021

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Greenland holds an election next week that could decide the fate of vast deposits of rare earth metals which international companies want to exploit and are vital to the Arctic island’s hopes of economic recovery and independence.

The government called the April 6 snap parliamentary poll after a junior coalition partner quit in a dispute caused by growing public concern over the potential impact of a big mining project on Greenland’s pristine environment.

Though Greenland is home to just over 56,000 people, the fallout from the election will be felt far beyond its borders because it has what the U.S. Geological Survey says are the world’s biggest undeveloped deposits of rare earth metals.

As climate change and melting ice make access to the Arctic cheaper, international mining companies are racing for the right to exploit these deposits, which include neodymium, used in wind turbines, electric vehicles and combat aircraft.

But opinion polls show the biggest party in the next parliament could be Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA), which opposes the major rare earth mining project at Kvanefjeld in southern Greenland because the site also contains radioactive materials.

If IA can form a coalition, it is possible that the project will be halted or delayed, with potential repercussions for global mining investors.

Acting Minister of Resources Vittus Qujaukitsoq has warned that if Greenland backtracks now, it could scare mining investors away, and “the credibility of the whole country is at stake.”

Such an outcome could also dent hopes of reviving Greenland’s fragile economy, built mainly on expected mining revenues.

“If we don’t attract capital and create new jobs, I’m not sure what the future looks like for our country,” Jess Berthelsen, head of Greenland’s biggest labour union SIK, told Reuters.


An economic revival is also widely seen as vital for the prospects of greater independence in Greenland, which former U.S. President Donald Trump offered to buy in 2019 and hosts a U.S. air base.

A self-governing territory of the Kingdom of Denmark with a gross domestic product of only around $3 billion, Greenland has a population that mostly relies on fishing and grants from Copenhagen.

Though it has broad autonomy, the island’s government leaves foreign, monetary and defence policy to Copenhagen.

Economic experts say Greenland needs to diversify its economy, improve acute healthcare and housing problems and tackle social problems including widespread alcoholism, sexual abuse and the world’s highest suicide rate.

The Kvanefjeld project has been debated for years. Support from Prime Minister Kim Kielsen and his governing Siumut party helped license-holder Greenland Minerals gain preliminary approval for the project last year, paving the way for a public hearing.

But when Kielsen was ousted as party chief in December, new leader Erik Jensen - a candidate to become prime minister - cast doubt on support for the project.

Protests erupted when public hearings started in February. At one meeting in Narsaq near the deposit, people inside and outside the hall banged windows and played loud music to disrupt presentations.

“The mine will destroy everything,” said Jens Davidsen, a fisherman in Narsaq who can see the Kvanefjeld mountain top from his kitchen window. “We are afraid dust from the mine will hurt our fishing grounds and drinking water.”

The small Demokraatit party quit the coalition in early February as opposition to the project mounted.

If IA wins power and delays the project, “they will face the challenge of having to explain to the global mining industry that Greenland actually wants mining, and that it is only this particular project that is problematic,” said Rasmus Leander Nielsen, assistant professor at the University of Greenland.


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