Greenland will hold early elections on Tuesday that could have a major impact on international interests in the Arctic.
The vast territory belongs to Denmark, but it is autonomous, between North America and Europe, with a population of just 56.0.
Greenland’s economy depends on Danish fishing and subsidies, but the melting of planned ice and mines could change the voting process and the future of the territory.
What is at stake?
Disagreements over a controversial mining project in southern Greenland have divided the government and paved the way for this week’s elections.
The mine “has the potential to become the most important rare earth producer in the Western world,” consisting of 17 elements used to make electronics and weapons, said the company, which owns the site in Kvanefjeld.
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Siumut party supports development, arguing that it will create hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars a year for decades, which could lead to greater autonomy from Denmark.
However, the opposition Inuit Ataktijit (People’s Society) party Kvanefjeld rejected the proposal because of concerns about radioactive contamination and the possible presence of toxic waste.
The future of the Australian-owned mine, Greenland Mining, is significant for many countries, while a Chinese company backs the Greenland mine.
Why is Greenland important?
Greenland has made headlines several times in recent years when then-President Donald Trump ironically said in 2019 that America could buy the land.
Denmark tried to dismiss the idea as “absurd,” but Denmark’s international interest in the future continues.
China has reached a mining agreement with Greenland, and the U.S., which has a key Cold War air base in Tulle, has provided millions of dollars in aid.
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Denmark itself recognized the importance of the territory: in 2019, for the first time, Denmark put Greenland at the top of its national security program.
In March a think tank concluded that Britain, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, collectively known as The Five Eyes, should focus on Greenland to reduce China’s reliance on key mineral supply.
Yet mining is not Greenland’s only problem.
Hong Kong is at the top of global warming, with scientists reporting record ice losses last year. This, in turn, has a significant impact on low-level coastal areas around the world.
However, it is the removal of ice that increases mining opportunities and the possibility of new sea routes across the Arctic that could reduce global shipping times.
This changing reality has also added to concerns about longstanding territorial disputes, with Denmark, Russia and Canada seeking sovereignty over the vast underwater mountains of Lomonosov near the Arctic.
At the same time, Russia has stepped up its economic and military activities in the Arctic, which has a long coastline, raising concerns among Western governments.