ENVIRONMENT - POLITICS

Mining project in doubt after Greenland opposition wins elections

Members of Greenland's opposition Inuit Ataqatigiit party celebrate on election day in the capital Nuuk.
Members of Greenland's opposition Inuit Ataqatigiit party celebrate on election day in the capital Nuuk. AFP - EMIL HELMS

An environmentalist party has won snap elections in Greenland, throwing into doubt a controversial project to mine one of the world's biggest deposits of rare earth metals.

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Taking more than a third of the vote, the left-wing opposition Inuit Ataqatigiit party (IA) unseated the social democratic Siumut, which has governed Greenland for decades.

"Thank you to those who trusted us to work with the people in the centre for the next four years," IA leader Mute Egede said after the results were announced.

The mining project, known as Kvanefjeld, is so divisive that Greenland’s coalition government collapsed in February amid disagreements over its future.

Political debate has been centred on the economic needs of the autonomous Danish territory – which depends heavily on subsidies from Copenhagen – versus the need to protect its fragile environment.

Siumut has been a supporter of the project, arguing its revenue could help Greenland gain full independence.

Egede, IA’s 34-year-old leader, not only has to address the economic question but also try and form a coalition government with Greenland’s smaller parties, given IA did not win an absolute majority.

"The election result will without doubt hamper mining development in Greenland,” Mikaa Mered, lecturer on Arctic affairs at HEC business school in Paris, told Reuters.

Greenlanders, including villagers in Kulusuk in the southeast, hope to benefit from the windfall of mining in the territory.
Greenlanders, including villagers in Kulusuk in the southeast, hope to benefit from the windfall of mining in the territory. Jonathan NACKSTRAND AFP/File

Rich mineral deposits

Greenland is home to one of the largest deposits of rare earths – metals that are used in everyday items such as computers, smartphones, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent lighting and magnets.

It is also at the frontline of climate change, with its colossal ice sheet now melting at the fastest rate since records began. 

That melt has accelerated the global race to covet Greenland’s natural resources, most notably rare earths because the world is consuming them at a voracious rate and supply is limited.

The Kvanefjeld project has been a contentious for years, creating deep divisions among Greenland’s population of 60,000 people. 

China has been heavily involved in developing Kvanefjeld, while its partner, Australian mining company Greenland Minerals, has spent years – and millions of euros in feasibility studies – seeking approval from authorities.

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