In Greenland, elections dominated by arctic mining

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Greenlanders elect their parliament on Tuesday, a referendum-like ballot on a controversial mining project and the economic diversification of the world’s largest island, faced with accelerated global warming in the Arctic.

Danish autonomous territory, its geographical location makes it a stake for the great powers, as proved in the summer of 2019 by President Trump’s offer to purchase. But if Greenland is not for sale, its local government is trying to attract foreign investment, the key to possible independence.

In February, the question of the exploitation, by an Australian company with Chinese capital, of the rare earths and uranium deposit of Kuannersuit, in the extreme south of the island, triggered a political crisis. It led to these early elections, for which seven parties are vying for the 31 seats of the local parliament, the Inatsisartut.

On the one hand, the largest party, Siumut, a social democratic formation in power almost uninterrupted since autonomy in 1979 but lagging behind in the polls, is in favor of exploiting the vein.

On the other hand, the Inuit party (IA), a winning left-green party, is opposed to it, mainly for environmental reasons, in particular because of radioactive waste.

“No to mine”

“We have to say no to the mine and allow us to develop our country in a way that is unique to us. In Greenland, we have clean air, unspoiled nature, we live in harmony with nature and we are not going to pollute it, ”said IA MP Mariane Paviasen, leader of anti-mines, to AFP.

Inhabitant of Narsaq (1,500 inhabitants) where the mine would be operated for 37 years if approved by the authorities, she has been fighting for years to ban all permits.

Greenland has been self-sufficient in its mineral resources since 2009. The following year, Greenland Minerals obtained an exploration license for the deposit, considered one of the most important in the world for these minerals essential to advanced technologies.

But the company has yet to get a green light to operate from local and national authorities.

For Erik Jensen, president of Siumut, the mine would “have great significance for the development of the Greenlandic economy” by diversifying income.

In a territory marked by the disruptive effects of climate change on traditional lifestyles, the project, located in Greenland’s only agricultural territory, crystallizes passions.

“The population of Narsaq (…) has the impression that they would be obliged to leave and the question then becomes + how to legitimize the closure of a city? + Which is reminiscent of the colonial era”, explains political scientist Nauja Bianco.

As for the new financial resources, “it is not a miracle solution”, underlines Birger Poppel, professor at the University of Greenland.

If the project could bring in nearly 200 million euros in budgetary resources according to Greenland Minerals, it would also reduce the Danish annual subsidy by half of this amount due to revenue sharing with the Danish state, underlines the specialist.

If Copenhagen ensures that it is not opposed in principle to independence, totally emancipating itself would deprive Greenland of generous Danish subsidies, more than 520 million euros per year, or a third of its budget.


Exporting sand or natural fertilizers, developing tourism and even agriculture at the southern tip are part of other economic development options for Greenland, underlines Mikaa Mered, pole specialist at SciencesPo Paris.

Fishing, which currently represents the bulk of local GDP, and 90% of its exports, continues to attract. Prosperous, the sector seems for the moment to benefit from climate change thanks to a diversification of catches.

“I love being an independent fisherman,” Lars Heilmann, 27, who mostly fishes halibut for export, told AFP.

From the election, he hopes little, “only an increase in quotas in the Nuuk fjord,” he said during a trip to the sea.

If in his daily life, climate change has not yet appeared “very much”, it is significant in the lives of hunters and small coastal communities where it affects the movement of wild animals.

Since the 1990s, global warming has been twice as rapid in the North Pole as elsewhere. Yet the territory has not signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which the Inuit party has promised to do if it comes to power.

According to opinion polls, the Inuit party would win the ballot, with nearly 36% of the voting intentions against 23.2% for Siumut, but the outcome of the vote remains very uncertain, especially with the simultaneous holding of elections. municipal, Siumut being very well anchored in the provinces.