Wed, Apr 25, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Greenland electorate faces independence dilemma

NATURAL RESOURCES:The left-green IA party looks set to win on a platform of investment diversification, as rising temperatures are exposing lucrative minerals


Electoral posters for Greenland’s county council elections are posted on a building in Nuuk on Thursday last week.

Photo: AFP

Greenland yesterday voted in a local parliament election, with full independence a key issue for the self-ruled Danish territory threatened by global warming and struggling with youth suicides and sex abuse among its indigenous people.

Rich in unexploited natural resources, Greenland gained autonomy from Denmark in 1979 and was granted self-rule in 2009, although Copenhagen retains control of foreign and defense affairs.

The vast island also receives about 3.6 billion kroner (US$589.8 million) in subsidies each year from its former colonial master.

While the Danish constitution recognizes the island’s right to decide on its own independence, if it became a sovereign nation, it would lose the much-needed subsidies, which make up 60 percent of Greenland’s annual budget.

The main issue for campaigners who support independence is when to secede and how to do so without impoverishing the island.

With a GDP of US$2.2 billion in 2015, an independent Greenland would be the poorest nation in Europe along with San Marino.

Of the seven political parties, six are in favor of independence. Some are keen to declare independence by 2021 to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the Danish occupation, although most have not set a timeline.

Opinion polls suggest that the left-green Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) party is to win the election, in which 31 seats are up for grabs.

A poll published on Friday last week credited IA with 31 percent of voter support, ahead of the social democratic Siumut party, which has dominated Greenland politics since 1979 and is currently in power.

The two parties are at odds over the use of the island’s lucrative natural resources and the thorny issue of uranium mining, which IA, with strong support among young urban people, opposes.

IA Legislator Aaja Chemnitz Larsen said that before setting a timeline for independence, the island should first lay the financial groundwork.

“Foreign investments are going to be crucial when you talk about the development of Greenlandic society,” she said.

Her party wants to see a diversification of investments, as rising temperatures in the Arctic melt Greenland’s ice sheet, exposing mineral riches and drawing eager glances from the West, Russia and China.

While not sustainable, “economic development the last years has been rather good; the fishing industry has been doing quite well... Employment has been increasing and unemployment is low,” said Torben Andersen, Aarhus University economics professor and chairman of the Greenland Economic Council.

The fishing industry, which accounts for 90 percent of Greenland’s exports, is temporarily benefiting from climate change, as rising temperatures bring new species of fish, although that is likely to change.

While Greenland might have a wealth of untapped natural resources, primarily minerals, that could help finance its independence, “it suffers from a lack of infrastructure and a qualified labor shortage,” said Mikaa Mered, an Arctic expert at France’s School of International Relations.

That is also a major hurdle for the territory’s desire to emulate the thriving tourism industry of its neighbor, Iceland.

Voter turnout is typically high in Greenland, about 70 percent.

The Inuit, like other indigenous populations, are torn between tradition and modernization. The tension has led to Greenland having one of the world’s highest suicide rates and a third of children are victims of sexual abuse. In addition, global warming has escalated the exodus from isolated villages to the few towns and cities, Mered said.

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