“The people have spoken,” Inuit Ataqatigiit’s leader, Mute Egede, told the Danish television station DR on Wednesday, promising that the development of the Kvanefjeld mine would stop.
The election results are a blow to China, which extracts more than 70 percent of the world̵
Rare earths are used to make high-tech devices, including cell phones, flat-screen monitors, electric cars, wind turbines, and weapons. Therefore, they have emerged as an important bargaining chip in trade wars between the United States and China, with Beijing threatening in 2019 to cut exports and bring US production to an abrupt halt.
The Kvanefjeld mine, if the plans continue, will increase Greenland’s carbon dioxide emissions by an expected 45 percent according to the Wall Street Journal – a major concern in a part of the world that has already seen unprecedented melting ice due to climate change. In addition, uranium is extracted as part of the mining process, leading to concerns about radioactive runoff and waste.
“We risk being left with a country that can not be used for anything,” Mariane Paviasen, who won a seat in Greenland’s parliament on Tuesday as a member of the Inuit Ataqatigiit, told DR, “where you can not hunt or fish because it all is contaminated. ”
Supporters, including Greenland’s far-dominant, center-left Siumut party, claim that the mine could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and create hundreds of jobs and put the territory in a better position to break away from Denmark. At present, Greenland is considered an autonomous territory for the small Scandinavian nation, on which it depends for defense and an annual subsidy of approx. $ 624 million dollars financing basic services. Voting shows that the majority of Greenland’s 57,000 inhabitants hope to move towards independence.
But some Greenlanders see it as letting other nations extract their valuable mineral resources as a new form of colonialism. “It is the industrialized countries’ control of less developed countries through indirect means,” Aili Liimakka Laue, who lives near the proposed mine, told NPR.
The Kvanefjeld mine was close to clearing its last legislative obstacles earlier this year, as disputes over whether it should proceed triggered the dissolution of the Greenland government and led to a quick election. Miles Guy, Greenland Minerals’ chief financial officer, told the Wall Street Journal that the company had already invested close to $ 100 million in the project and that “in our opinion, it would be an extreme expulsion of bad faith to suddenly turn it all around.”
Shutting down mining could send a “counterproductive” message to the world and suggest that Greenland is hostile to external investors, warned Dwayne Menezes, founder and CEO of the Polar Research and Policy Initiative. The Inuit Ataqatigiit has not called for a complete ban on mining, he noted, and the next challenge will be to make it clear that Greenland “is still open to business and still an equally attractive and stable jurisdiction for investment.”
The prospect of allowing foreign mining companies – which would reduce the need to rely on subsidies from Denmark – has been a divisive issue in Greenland for years. In 2013, when the Greenlandic parliament lifted its ban on extracting radioactive materials such as uranium, the legislation passed only one vote.
Erik Jensen, leader of the Siumut party, told Denmark’s TV 2 that he believes the party’s support for the mine was “one of the main reasons” for its defeat in Tuesday’s parliamentary elections, according to the BBC.
Egede is now set to become Greenland’s youngest prime minister ever. His rapid rise through the political ranks – he started in 2015 when another MP had to take sick leave – is partly credited with his success in reaching voters through social media. His Instagram account is interspersed with photos of him being dragged through the snow by a pack of sled dogs and introducing his toddler to Thomas Piketty’s “21st Century Capital.”
While Egede told Danish television that his party’s victory meant that the Kvanefjeld mine project was officially dead, it is more likely that it will remain in limbo in the near future. The Inuit Ataqatigiit secured 37 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election and will have to form a governing coalition with other parties, some of which may insist on holding a referendum on the issue.
In addition to the fact that Greenland potentially has the largest reservoir of rare earths outside China, its strategic position between the United States and Russia in the Arctic Circle means that it is increasingly in the sights of the major world powers. In 2019, President Donald Trump pushed top aides to see if it would be possible for the United States to buy the territory from Denmark. (It was not for sale.) And while the United States has built up its military arsenal at Thule Air Base, its outpost in northern Greenland, China has pushed to establish its own presence.
“This is a very clear message from the people of Greenland to China and to the world: economic development, although it allows Greenland to become independent, does not justify the destruction of the environment,” said Mikaa Mered, an associate professor of Arctic affairs at HEC. Business School in Paris, the French news outlet Liberation reported.
She noted that voters between 18 and 60 mainly supported the Inuit Ataqatigiit and its call to stop the mining project, while those over 60 were more likely to join Siumut and its push to make Greenland financially independent.
By voting against my interests, Greenlanders also sent a message to the United States and European nations, who see the island as a “treasure of resources,” Mered said.
This report has been updated.