Greenland: Ecosocialist party wins election by opposing Australian mining project

Greenland. Inset: Inuit Ataqatigiit party logo

Ecosocialist party Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) won a snap election in Greenland on April 4 with 37% of the vote.

The election was, in effect, a referendum on a proposed uranium and rare-earth elements (REE) mining project by an Australian company, Greenland Minerals Ltd (GML).

The election followed the collapse of the previous coalition government, which was about to give the mine the go-ahead.

The proposed mine in Kvanefjeld (known to locals as Kuannersuit) sought to exploit what is claimed to be the world's second-largest deposit of rare-earth oxides, and the sixth-largest deposit of uranium. 

Greenland — an autonomous territory of Denmark — controls its own natural resources.

Inuit Ataqatigiit

Friends of the Earth Denmark’s Niels Henrik Hooge told Green Left on April 13 that IA won 12 of 31 parliamentary seats and would have to form a coalition government with one or more of the smaller parties opposing the mining project.

He said IA has campaigned against GML’s project since at least 2013. “The former governing party, Siumut, repealed the so-called anti-uranium ban in Greenland, in order to accommodate GML’s insistence that it be allowed to exploit the uranium deposits as well as the REE in Kvanefjeld.

“Under the Siumut government, the granting of an exploitation licence was imminent, as municipal elections were coming up this month. The governing party stood to lose a lot of seats in southern Greenland — where most of the proposed mines are and almost 80% of the population opposes uranium mining.

“Then a smaller party, Demokraatit, left the Siumit-led coalition government, forcing it to a new parliamentary election at the same time as the municipal elections.

“This election was dubbed ‘the uranium election’ because that was the determining issue.”

Hooge said 90% of Greenland’s population of about 60,000 is Inuit. So, all parties are Inuit parties. But where IA distinguishes itself is that “it is not a populist party” and  “takes scientific facts very seriously”.

Self-sufficiency

Hooge said one of the biggest issues is tackling the assertion that Greenland could become economically self-sufficient and independent from Denmark if it develops enough large-scale mining, oil and gas exploitation.

However, scientific reports from Copenhagen and Greenland universities contradict this view, said Hooge.

“According to these reports, Greenland would need to have at least 24 concurrent large-scale mining projects [to achieve economic self-sufficiency] and this would be completely unrealistic," said Hooge.

“Even if Greenland had that, when the natural resources run out it would be in a worse position.”

“Greenland is not a poor country,” said Hooge. “It has a higher average income than the European Union, though its distribution is more unequal. But in the light of the ambition shared by all the parties in Greenland for economic self-sufficiency, the current economic structure is not enough.”

Greenland relies on an annual payment from the Danish state of €500 million (A$775 million) to cover a third of its budget — a very small fraction of the Danish budget.

The economy is currently based on the fishing industry, which accounts for 90% of Greenland’s exports. To prevent overfishing there are quotas, but many of these quotas are owned by large fishing fleets not from Greenland.

“In the future, the structure of the fishing industry could be organised differently, and a lot of the pressure on Greenland to allow more large-scale mining would probably disappear.”

urani_naamik_-_narsasuaq.jpg

Anti-uranium protest in Greenland
Anti-uranium protest in Narsarsuaq, Greenland. Photo supplied by Friends of the Earth Denmark

Australian mining interests

Two large-scale mining projects in Greenland are owned by Australian mining companies. Not far from Kvanefjeld is another REE deposit, for which Perth-based mining company Tanbreez Mining Greenland was granted an exploitation licence in February.

Tanbreez’s chief geologist Greg Barnes claims to have inspired former United States President Donald Trump’s notorious boast in 2019 that he would buy Greenland in the “real estate deal-of-the-century”. Trump’s boast was universally condemned in Greenland and Denmark.

There are about 90 large mining sites proposed in the south, all for open pit mines. They are all in the part of Greenland that is warm enough for people to live on and present a “huge threat to bio-diversity,” Hooge said.

He said there is strong cooperation between environmental activists in Greenland and Denmark and “many, if not most of the members and politicians in IA are also active in the green movements”.

“I have been involved in this cooperation for seven or eight years and I have never encountered green activists in Greenland from any political parties other than IA.

“They are very active in grassroots work.”

Climate change

Danish Red-Green Alliance (RGA) MP Søren Søndergaard told GL he welcomes IA’s election victory. “We see them as our sister party in Greenland and the Socialist People’s Party also sees them as a sister party.”

“IA was formed in the 1970s as a clearly left, pro-independence party by young Greenlanders who had studied in Denmark and become part of the Danish left movement on university campuses with very strong left-wing movements,” said Søndergaard.

“They went back to Greenland and built a left alternative. Inuit Ataqatigiit means ‘Inuit people coming together’.”

Søndergaard said IA is close to RGA on international policy, but has a more moderate policy on the economy, but this reflected the different situations the two parties confront.

“In recent years, an environment movement has developed in Greenland and we have seen the strengthening of IA. So this election campaign in Greenland was very different to previous elections. There were three main issues: social welfare, the environment and the future of the fishing industry.

“IA is not against all mining in Greenland, but they also want to develop farming in the south, because with global warming this is becoming possible again.

“There is a reason why it is called Greenland, because there was a time when it was green.

“IA is against uranium mining and it wants a sustainable approach to mining that does not destroy the environment and prevent the development of farming.”

Challenges ahead

Søndergaard said IA’s position is very popular because in the southern municipality (one of four) they received more than 50% of the vote.

“Greenland and the Arctic is becoming more the centre of global politics, because with global warming, ships could be able to sail through the Arctic cap, instead of using longer southern routes. It also raises many security concerns and opens up mining potentials, including for rare earths, which have strategic value.”

Greenland is very big and its population is very small, said Søndergaard, and IA is “trying to find a way to avoid being grabbed by any super power.”

IA recognises that if Greenland moves too fast towards independence, it could end up under the control of a super power, he added. “They are trying to balance between the US, Russia, China and Denmark — sometimes playing one power against the other.”

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