Arctic News Roundup: 26 April – 2 May

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) As RÚV reported, the discovery of micro-plastics within Vatnajökull, the biggest glacier in Europe, in Iceland, has been confirmed, based on latest research. The Hofsjökull glacier in the country was also found to contain microscopic plastic debris. Einar Jón Ásbjörnsson, one of the scientists behind the study, noted that the source of the contamination has not been fully ascertained.

2) The German Arctic Office, in conjunction with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, published a fact sheet entitled ‘Tourism in Polar Regions’ [pdf]. The document contains answers to several commonly asked questions regarding the tourism sector in both Arctic and Antarctic regions, with explanations about differences in industry regulations between the two regions, various tourism activities, environmental and societal impacts of the industry, and predictions for the future of polar tourism.

3) According to The Local.no, the language test which accompanies citizenship applications in Norway will be more challenging, with the minimum Norwegian language competency level raised from A2 to B1, using the the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. However, the new regulations will not come into force immediately.

4) Specialists on Arctic affairs from both Estonia and the United States participated in a webinar [video], organised by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which focused on the roles of Estonia in promoting regional cooperation. The speakers shared their comments on the questions of far northern climate change and regional sustainable development. Tallinn has applied to become a formal observer government in the Arctic Council this year.

5) The question of whether the Arctic requires a pan-regional regime to regulate the emerging area of Arctic Ocean fishing was addressed in a piece by the Arctic Institute written by Dr Ekaterina Uryupova. the article explained that while there has been significant regional movement in addressing the question of sustainable Arctic fishing, including the 2018 Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Agreement, further cooperation and standardisation was necessary, given that more of the ocean is opening up to various potential fishing activities.

Arctic News Roundup: 19-25 April

Spring arriving in Reykjavík [Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) The London-based Council on Geostrategy published a paper by Professor Klaus Dodds on the release of Britain’s newest Integrated Review statement, which included issues relating to the Polar Regions, in March of this year. As Prof Dodds explained, Britain maintains considerable interests both in the Arctic Ocean, including in regards to regional cooperation with NATO as well as specific economic and environmental concerns. The UK is also active in Antarctica as a scientific actor and as a supporter of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). At both poles, Britain is also seeking to improve diplomatic relations with key regional governments. As the paper noted, the security situation in the Polar Regions continues to become more complex.

2) Both local and international media outlets have been reporting on the uncertain future of the Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) mining project in Southern Greenland, especially in light of the newly-elected Greenlandic government which has been openly opposed to the project. The Greenlandic news service KNR, as well as the online publication Mining, revealed that Australia’s Greenland Minerals (ASX: GGG), the major stakeholder behind the project, is quite concerned about the possible halting of the project, and has been actively seeking a dialogue with the Government of Greenland, along with other legislative actors, in the hopes of reaching a compromise.

3) As RÚV reported, Icelanders celebrated a one-day holiday observing the ‘First Day of Summer’ (Sumardagurinn fyrsti in Icelandic) on the 22nd of this month. Even though the average temperatures in the country are usually still below 12°C, with wind, rain and even snow sometimes seen on this day, the holiday is nonetheless widely regarded as a seasonal turning point in the country, and a time to anticipate warmer and milder days ahead.

4) Also from RÚV, it was reported that Iceland is ranked 16th globally in terms of freedom of the press, according to new World Press Freedom Index data compiled by the NGO Reporters Without Borders. This ranking, while high considering that 180 countries were listed in the Index, was nevertheless below all four of the other Nordic countries, (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden; Norway placed first on the list). The organisation pointed out that Icelandic media have occasionally had poor relations with the government, and that since the 2008 financial crisis (kreppa), news outlets in the country have been more vulnerable to pressure from some firms and lobbying organisations.

5) A webinar entitled ‘The Tip of the Iceberg – What a Changing Climate in the Arctic Means for the Nuclear Superpowers’ hosted by Norges Fredslag / the Norwegian Peace Association, will take place on 27th April. Two regional experts, Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen (University of Tromsø) and Thomas Nilsen (Independent Barents Observer) will give their insights on nuclear superpower policies relevant to Arctic affairs.

Arctic News Roundup: 12-18 April

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) As the Asahi Shimbun reported, Japan has announced plans to build another icebreaker this year to further develop the country’s Arctic research. The project will be overseen by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), and the organisation is estimating that the vessel will enter into service in 2026.

2) The Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) held a webinar entitled ‘Greenland’s Minerals and China’s Green Dominance’. The event included discussions of Greenland’s mining policies, as well as the politics of rare earth elements and Chinese and Danish interests in these resources.

3) Iceland is still struggling with reducing long-term unemployment numbers, despite a minor decline in the rate of overall unemployment rate in March of this year, as RÚV reported. Foreign workers were seen as being especially vulnerable to being unemployed, according to the head of the Confederation of Icelandic Labour.

4) A position of accountant is being advertised by the Greenland House in Aarhus, Denmark (Det Grønlandske Hus Aarhus in Danish). The requirements and other relevant information can be found in the link. 

5) Reuters revealed that the Government of Norway has signed an agreement with the United States, agreeing to establish American military facilities on Norwegian territory. However, the agreement would not come into force before the ratification of the deal by the Norwegian parliament (Storting).

6) In the wake of the parliamentary elections in Greenland this month, Mingming Shi wrote a new article in OtC which details the country’s governmental and election systems.

Explainer: The Greenland Parliamentary Elections – 2021

Greenland’s Parliament chamber (Inatsisartut) [Photo via the Greenland Parliament website]

by Mingming Shi

How Does the Greenlandic Parliamentary Election System Work?

Greenland is one of the two autonomous territories, (the other being the Faroe Islands), within the Kingdom of Denmark, and its form of government is representative democracy, based on the results of elections to the Parliament (Inatsisartut in Greenlandic).

Most of the candidates for Parliament are affiliated with their respective political parties, however there are also individuals who are qualify without a party affiliation, under certain conditions. There are five main provisions to be a legal voter in the country’s parliamentary elections, namely, one should have Danish Kingdom citizenship, permanent residence in Greenland, have lived in Greenland for at least six months, be at least eighteen years old and not be incarcerated.

Members of the Parliament of Greenland are elected by direct and equal ballots. To be more specific, voters cast their ballots directly for the party or candidate which they wish to support, and, each ballot has the same and equal influence on the outcome. This is a proportional representation system, making use of the d’Hondt variation. It is very difficult under these conditions for a single party to govern alone, and so multi-party coalitions are the norm in Greenlandic governance. 

Greenland has held parliamentary elections since 1979 when the Home-Rule Act, (which was then superseded by the Self-Rule Act in 2009), came into force. The island used to be divided into eight constituencies: Central Greenland, South Greenland, North Greenland, as well as Ittoqqortoormiit, Qaanaaq, Tasiilaq, Upernavik and Uummannaq.

In 1998, all of these were merged into one single constituency, which has been the case since then. This amalgamation was to strengthen the awareness for the members of parliament of the need to consider Greenland’s interests as a whole, rather than focusing on specific regions, as later argued by Niels Thomsen, a politician with the Demokraatit (Democrats) party.

The revised system may also carry some disadvantages, as remarked by Naaja Nathanielsen from the Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) Party, who noted that voters in smaller communities may encounter more difficulties to convey their representations in the assembly, because of their lower ballot bases.

The Greenlandic Parliament consists of thirty-one seats, which means that it takes a minimum of sixteen seats to form a majority government. Terms are for a maximum of four years, though early elections can be called- and are the norm- if a government finds a majority against it or if the sitting prime minister decides to call an early election.

For example, an election came unexpectedly in April this year, as the administration of Kim Kielsen of the Siumut Party, who had been Prime Minister since 2014, collapsed due to the withdrawal of one of its coalition partners, Demokraatit. The internal unrest within Siumut, the largest party in the previous coalition over the Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) mining project and over the political leadership, also led to an early election being called

Who Was Running in the Election Campaign?

Among the 189 candidates approved to run for office this year, one was acting as an independent, and the rest were from the parties of Atassut, Demokratiit, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA), Naleraq, Nunatta Qitornai (NQ), Samarbejdspartiet / Suleqatigiissitsisut (SA) and Siumut.

For a party or candidate to be elected to the Parliament, the party itself should gain close to 1/31 – or 3.22% – of the total votes given. As parties will waste a small number of votes- the surplus for the last seat under the d’Hondt seat variation- in reality a party can win a seat with slightly less than 1/31 of the votes.

In this election, 3.22% of the votes given equalled 874 votes, due to the low voter turnout. During the 2018 elections, 945 votes would have been needed by a party to secure a seat. After the last parliamentary elections in 2018, SA received 1,193 votes, and Nunatta Qittornai 1,002 votes, both securing one seat each. In this election, SA only received 375 votes and Nunatta Qittornai 639, with neither party securing a seat.

Out of the total population of 56,421 in Greenland, there were 41,126 qualified voters in the election this year. 

What Did the Parties Advocate? 

Two major issues in vote this year were the question of independence, and methods and timetable for achieving this, from the Kingdom of Denmark, the other was the future of the Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) mining project in southern Greenland. The latter issue had attracted a great deal of international attention, given that the mining project was established to potentially extract both uranium and rare earth elements for the global market.

Even though the Greenlandic independence movement has evolved for several decades, the methods of best achieving the goal have been debated amongst the parties, with some not regarding the pursuit of independence as best for Greenland.

Political parties also commented on this subject during this parliamentary election. Vittus Qujaukitsoq, the head of NQ, claimed that he had a eleven-step policy to achieve independence for the island, while Siumut and Demokratiit had conveyed their ambition to this goal as well, albeit with differing timetables.

However, Atassut and Samarbejdspartiet / SA were much more lukewarm than the other parties about future sovereignty for Greenland, asserting that other issues within Greenlandic society should be better prioritised.

The Kvanefjeld project for mining rare earth elements (REEs), and uranium as a side product, lies in the Southwest region. In December 2020, the large mining project went into the public consultation phase of the extraction application process. In addition to public opinion, local political parties hold various attitudes toward the project. During the campaign, Siumut reiterated their support and Demokraatit also said they would be okay with it as long as it complied with legislation, while IA reconfirmed their opposition against it.

One of the many other noteworthy ideas proposed during the campaign was the proposal to reduce the current thirty-one seats to twenty-one in the Parliament, as suggested by Bo Martinsen, a candidate from Demokraatit. He stated that politicians must take the lead in reducing expenses for the benefit of ordinary taxpayers.

This consideration was also backed by the leader of the party, Jens-Frederik Nielsen, even though he did not comment on this specific number. He compared the data between Greenland and Denmark, stating that one parliamentary member represented 1800 people in Greenland, while in Denmark, there is a ratio of one MP per 32,000 residents.

What is the Result of the Election and What Does It Mean? 

With a landslide victory, IA has ensured twelve seats in the Parliament, and was granted the right to form a government. According to party leader, and likely Prime Minister-Designate, Múte B. Egede, his wish was for a stable government which would last for the next four years, (or one full governmental term), given the fragile coalitions in the recent past.

The election has been also covered extensively in the Danish media, which were interested in further understanding where the political winds this part of the Kingdom will now be directed. Detailed analysis can be read in the recent OtC article recently written by Mikkel Schøler.

[Photo by Element5 Digital via Unsplash]

What Next?

Right after the vote, IA began conversations with other sides in the Parliament in the hopes of quickly constructing a coalition which would be viable and durable. The possibility of a ‘grand coalition’ with Siumut will did not come to pass, and according to Múte B. Egede, Siumut would not have been an optimal partner for the four-year cooperation pact that he had envisioned. Demokraatit also announced the termination of negotiations with IA, stating that the policy gaps between it an IA were too big to overcome.

Ultimately, IA formed a government with the populist Naleraq party, securing a bare sixteen seat majority. The conservative, and unionist, Atassut party then indicated that it would act as parliamentary supporter of the new two-party coalition, though their opposition to Greenlandic independence kept them from being a full partner.

There are at least two questions which should next be considered regarding the new government. The first is how stable will it be without Siumut, which has traditionally been the biggest party in Greenlandic politics, and the core of numerous previous coalitions.

Second, IA has expressed its strong objection to the Kuannersuit mining project and had vowed to terminate it upon gaining office. The new coalition agreement [in Danish] between IA and Naleraq has stressed that the incoming Greenlandic government will ban the extraction of all resources containing radioactive material. However, given that almost all rocks contain radioactive material to some degree, that stance will still need to be elucidated.

As Greenland faces both domestic challenges and ongoing scrutiny on the international level, the new government, and Greenlanders themselves, will have much to do before the dust even settles.

The author wishes to thank Mikkel Schøler and Marc Lanteigne for their assistance with the preparation of this article. 

Arctic News Roundup: 5-11 April

Rigorous snowfall measurement research conducted by Mingming Shi [Photo by Steingrimur Jón Guðjónsson]

by Mingming Shi

1) While many continue to watch the Fagradalsfjall volcano, the Icelandic news service RÚV reported that the volume of snowfall in the country during the 2020-21 winter season was at its lowest level in forty-four years, with many regions throughout Iceland reporting higher-than-average temperatures.

2) Greenland held its parliamentary elections on 6 April. Out of the 31 seats in total in the country’s Parliament (Inatsisartut), then-opposition party Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) earned twelve, giving it the right to form the next government coalition, with another five political parties shared the rest. According to the news service KNR, IA has begun to negotiate with possible partners to form the next government. The election was watched carefully outside of Greenland given that a major issue during the campaign was whether to halt plans for a uranium and rare earths mine in southern Greenland, a stance IA supports.

3) The Greenland Integrated Observing System (GIOS), a scientific research partnership, has been established [pdf], featuring local studies of atmospheric conditions, hydrology, the ice sheet, biology, permafrost, sea ice and snow, and space weather. Several educational and research institutes in both Greenland and Denmark are responsible for its creation and oversight.

4) In light of the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Estonia and Norway, a webinar entitled The Changing Arctic was announced, with the event to take place on 14 April this month. A number of specialists on regional affairs in the High North have been invited to present their work on various related topics.