Mining project behind Greenland political upheaval

In snap elections April 6, Greenland's indigenous-led left-environmentalist party Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of the People) won 37% of the vote, overtaking the longtime incumbents, the social-democratic Siumut (Forward) party. At the center of the race was a contentious mining project that Inuit Ataqatigiit aggressively campaigned against. The Kvanefjeld rare-earth mineral project, near Narsaq in Greenland's south, has divided the territory's political system for more than a decade. Greenland Minerals, the Australian company behind the project, says the mine has the "potential to become the most significant Western world producer of rare earths," adding that it would also produce uranium. But the Chinese giant Shenghe Resources owns 11% of Greenland Minerals—raising concerns about Beijing's perceived design to establish control over the planet's rare earth minerals.

Rare earth minerals constitute a crucial part of the high-tech global supply chain, used in the manufacture of cellphones, other digital devices, and the rechargeable batteries in electric cars. Some 90% of global production is currently under Chinese control.

Inuit Ataqatigiit will have to negotiate a coalition to form a government, needing at least 16 of the 31 seats in the territory's parliament, the Inatsisartut, for a majority. The party itself only won enough votes for 12 seats. The snap election was called after the previous Siumut-led coalition government collapsed amid an internal power struggle. Siumut had governed Greenland since 1979, apart from a period from 2009 to 2013 when Inuit Ataqatigiit was in power. Upon returning to power in 2013, Siumut oversaw the repeal of a law that had banned the extraction of radioactive minerals such as uranium.

Greenland is an autonomous territory that is under the sovereignty of Denmark but effectively self-governing. Although it has a population of just 56,000, the election has been closely followed internationally—both due to the question of control of strategic minerals and because Inuit Ataqatigiit supports formal independence from Denmark. (NYT, Al Jazeera, Reuters, APNPR, NPRBBC NewsEuroNewsEye on the Arctic, Polar Connection)