Why the World's Eyes Were Focused on Greenland's Vote

It 'could have major consequences for international interests in the Arctic'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2021 9:06 AM CDT
Why the World's Eyes Were Focused on Greenland's Vote
People queue to vote, in the Inussivik arena in Nuuk, Greenland, Tuesday April 6, 2021.   (Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

"A row over rare-earth deposits could bring down Greenland's government," read an NPR headline on Tuesday. On Wednesday, "could" shifted to "did." The AP reports the country's main opposition party managed to get the most votes in a parliamentary election, ending the decades-long ruling tenure of the center-left Forward (Siumut) party. The left-leaning Community of the People party (Inuit Ataqatigiit) took 37% of the vote. It will have 12 seats in the 31-seat Greenlandic national assembly, to Forward's 10 seats and will now endeavor to form a coalition government with a minimum of 16 seats. NPR details what was at stake. Thanks in part to the melting of Greenland's ice cap, it's becoming easier to access what are believed to be huge deposits of rare-earth minerals that other nations have been licking their lips over. It has led to an economy vs. environment division. More:

  • Most imminent was a proposed international mining project by the Australia-based and Chinese-owned Greenland Minerals, which wants a license that would give them entry to the open-pit Kvanefjeld mine in the country's south. The company already secured preliminary approval, and has spent upwards of $100 million readying the mine.
  • The mine is thought to potentially hold the largest deposit of rare-earth metals outside China, which lays claim to more than 90% of global production, per the AP. In addition to uranium, it is known to have neodymium, a key component in wind turbines and electric vehicles.
  • NPR reports that fans of the proposal have zeroed in on the economic gains it would provide, which they see as accelerating the country's path to independence from Denmark. Denmark is in charge of Greenland's foreign, monetary, and defense policies, and polls show a majority of Greenland's population of 56,000 do want out.
  • The Community of the People party is pro-independence, but it is also pro-environment, though Reuters reports it is not "opposed outright" to mining. The chair of the party confirmed Wednesday that stance was unchanged. "We must listen to the voters who are worried. We say no to uranium mining," said Múte B. Egede.
  • NPR speaks to one local who describes what has happened to the formerly green slope of Kuannersuit mountain, where test drilling for the mine project has been underway: "Now that area is like all sand and just black. There's no green at all."
  • As for how big a win this was for the Community of the People party, the BBC notes that since 1979, Forward has been in power for all except four years. The election's outcome "could have major consequences for international interests in the Arctic," the BBC observes.
(More Greenland stories.)

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