Greenland’s left-wing environmental party, the Inuit Ataqatigiit, won a victory in the parliamentary elections on Tuesday after fighting against the development of a controversial rare earth mine, partly supported by China.
The party, which had been in opposition, won 37 percent of the vote over the long-time sitting, center-left Siumut party. Environmentalists will have to negotiate a coalition to form a government, but observers said their election victory in Greenland, a semi-autonomous region of Denmark sitting in a rich vein of unused uranium and rare earths, signaled voter concern about the impact of Mining.
Greenland Minerals, an Australian company behind the project, has said the mine has “the potential to become the most significant Western world producer of rare earths”, adding that it would create uranium as a by-product. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the poll.
The supply of rare earths, which is an important part of the high-tech global supply chain and is used to manufacture everything from mobile phones to rechargeable batteries, is currently dominated by China. Shenghe Resources, a Chinese company with rare earths, owns 11 percent of Greenland Minerals.
Opposition to the Greenlandic mine, which the current Siumut party had supported, played a primary role in its defeat, the leader, Erik Jensen, admitted in an interview with the Danish station TV2.
The mine project has been under development for years, with the government approving drilling for research but not issuing final approval for the mine.
Among Greenlanders, opposition to the mine had grown over potential exposure to a unique, fragile area for “radioactive contamination and toxic waste,” said Dwayne Menezes, director of the Polar Research and Policy Initiative, a London-based think tank. “What they are against is dirty mining.”
The election result sent a clear message, Mr. Menezes: Mining companies that want access to Greenland’s deposits must comply with strict environmental standards and should look at giving Greenlanders a “viable alternative.”
In Greenland, whose economy is heavily dependent on payments from Denmark, tensions in the mine were concentrated on the potential economic blessing, including hundreds of jobs on an island of about 57,000 people, in relation to the environmental costs of doing business.
But the vote also highlighted the growing geopolitical importance of the Arctic region on a warming planet as its polar oceans become more navigable and as the melting ice reveals recently available resources, including the rare earths that play a significant role in the production of many alternative energy sources.
“Globally, we need to address this tension between indigenous communities and the materials we need most for a climate-stressed planet,” said Aimee Boulanger, CEO of the Non-Profit Mining Insurance Initiative, a nonprofit.
Given China’s dominance over global production and supply of rare earths, Mr. Menezes that Western countries should look for ways to improve their partnerships with resource-rich Greenland to keep it in “their sphere of influence.”
Two years ago, Greenland’s lucrative resources and its growing strategic importance led President Donald J. Trump to museum about the purchase of the island. However, the Greenland Government made it clear that it was not for sale.
“We are open for business, not for sale,” the island’s foreign ministry said on Twitter at the time.