Arctic Institute

Greenland’s proposed mining and resource extraction bill labelled as undemocratic

The Greenlandic ice sheet’s rapid ice melt is opening up new economic opportunities. Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
By Anders Lorenzen

Greenland, who undoubtedly are experiencing the most rapid change across the globe that tells us that not only is man made climate change happening, but it’s happening at a faster rate than even the most pessimistic scientist would have ever predicted, could be about to pass a law that could speed this up even faster. The law would also decrease the democratic rights of the people living on the world’s largest island.

In recent news not only has the rapid melting of the Greenlandic ice sheet continued but oil companies, mining companies, shipping companies and cruise operators are starting to turn their attention to the country, due to new economic opportunities opening up as the melting of the Greenland ice sheets speeds up.

Greenland, despite still part of the Kingdom of Denmark, are now in control of their own internal affairs.

Without much success so far, oil companies who believe large quantities of oil can be extracted off the coast of Greenland have launched ambitious Arctic resource extraction plans. In 2010 the Edinburgh company Cairn Energy unsuccessfully and challenged by Greenpeace carried out explorational test drilling of the coast of Greenland, though without discovering significant amount of oil and pressured by Greenpeace the company pulled out. But seven other oil companies including the majors Shell and Gazprom have obtained drilling permits off the Greenlandic coast.

Greenland are also believed to have large sums of rare earths materials and mining licenses have already been handing out for mining of these minerals. But this would likely be carried out by foreign workers and is unlikely bring more jobs for the Greenlandic people who are suffering from high unemployment rates.

According to the Danish daily Jyllands Posten the Greenlandic government are putting a bill through parliament (landstyret) that would remove the rights of journalists, environmental groups and the public to gain insight into projects. This would include decisions taken that could have large local and environmental impacts. The public, for instance, would not be allowed to object to projects, journalists would not be able to write about it and environmental groups will have their right to protest the projects removed. In other words the projects will be a secret deal between the companies and the government.

The Greenlandic leader of the opposition Sara Olsvig (IA) is very worried about the proposal and say that if civil society are shot down it would be a big weakening of the Greenlandic system.

In short the document which is still only a proposal reads: “For the sake of a smooth and faster processing of documents received, it is proposed that the timing of when to apply for access is postponed until a decision is made or the case is set. Thus, the time can be used for i.a. preparing documents for consultations, rather than having to take a position on requests about access to documents in cases in which the documents will be subsequently published anyway’’.

In a blog post on the Arctic Institute it’s argued by Marc Jacobsen that if it were to be adopted, it would threaten good governance in Greenland, he states: “It would reduce the transparency of the decision-making process and limit the citizens’ involvement in the development of the hydrocarbon and mineral sectors.’’

There is evidence to suggest that a country with poor governance, a removal of democratic rights and free speech who develops mining and resource extraction industries, will lead to corruption and very few benefits for the public.

The people of Greenland are being sold the story that extraction of rare earth minerals and oil would strengthen the economy of Greenland and would lead to a higher quality of life. While the public would welcome economic investments, they will be hoping it would be done in such a democratic way that first and foremost their local environments will be protected and they would be given a slice of the cake.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

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