Greenland’s left-wing environmentalist party Inuit Ataqatigiit won a general election victory on Tuesday after campaigning against the development of a controversial rare earth mine partly backed by China.
The party, which was part of the opposition, won 37% of the vote against the longtime incumbents, the 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 territory in Denmark that sits on a rich vein of untapped uranium and rare earth minerals, reported voters’ concerns about the impact of mining. .
“People have spoken,” Múte B. Egede, head of Inuit Ataqatigiit, told Danish broadcaster DR, adding that voters had made their position clear and that the Kvanefjeld mining project in the south of the country, would be interrupted.
Greenland Minerals, an Australian company behind the project, said the mine had the “potential to become the largest Western 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 vote.
The supply of rare earths, a crucial part of the global high-tech supply chain and used in the manufacture of everything from cellphones to rechargeable batteries, is currently dominated by China. Shenghe Resources, a Chinese rare earth company, owns 11% of Greenland Minerals.
The opposition to the Greenland mine, supported by the outgoing Siumut party, played a central role in its defeat, conceded its leader, Erik Jensen, in an interview with Danish channel TV2.
The mining project has been in development for years, with the government approving drilling for research, but not issuing final approval for the mine.
Among the Greenlanders, opposition to the mine had grown because of the potential exposure of a unique and fragile area to “radioactive pollution and toxic waste,” said Dwayne Menezes, director of Polar Research and Policy Initiative, a London-based think tank. “What they oppose is dirty mining.
The election result sent a clear message, Menezes added: Mining companies wishing to access Greenland’s deposits will have to comply with strict environmental standards and should seek to offer Greenlanders a “viable alternative”.
In Greenland, whose economy is heavily dependent on payments from Denmark, tensions around the mine centered on the economic potential, including hundreds of jobs on an island of around 57,000 people, versus the environmental cost of mining. business.
But the vote also highlighted the growing geopolitical importance of the Arctic region on a warming planet, as its polar seas become more navigable and melting ice reveals newly accessible resources, including rare earths that play a role. an essential role in the production of many alternative energy sources. .
“Globally, we are going to have to deal with this tension between indigenous communities and the materials we will need most for a planet under climate stress,” said Aimee Boulanger, executive director of the Mining Insurance Initiative. responsible. , a non-profit organization.
Given China’s dominance over global rare earth production and supply, Menezes said 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 growing strategic importance made President Donald J. Trump question the purchase of the island. The government of Greenland, however, has made it clear that it is not for sale.
“We are open for business, not for sale,” according to the island’s foreign ministry posted on twitter at the time.