Arctic News Roundup: 30 November – 6 December

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) Finland celebrated its Independence Day (Itsenäisyyspäivä in Finnish) on 6 December. The date is traced back to the same day in 1917, when the country gained its independence from Russia. This year, due to the social restrictions in place to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Independence Day Reception (Itsenäisyyspäivän vastaanotto in Finnish) at the Presidential Palace in the capital Helsinki was scaled down, as yle, the Finnish broadcasting service, reported.

2) James Raffan, a writer and geographer, has published a fiction book entitled Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey through the Fragile Arctic, featuring a story of female polar bear Nanu and her two baby cubs. The Canadian news agency CBC conducted an interview with the author, of which he shared the motivation and inspiration of his writing, as well as calling for further awareness of rights for Indigenous peoples in the Arctic and climate change.

3) According to RÚV, the University of Iceland, (Háskóli Íslands in Icelandic), reported that it is expecting a rising number of students to be registered for the spring semester 2021; up to an estimated 16,000.

4) The High North News reported that the Norwegian Government has published a new policy white paper [in Norwegian] on the Arctic. This document covers areas including the issues affecting the inhabitants of the country’s Arctic region, including social development concerns and increasing local economic performances. The document also discussed improving foreign and defence interests in the High North region, via cooperation with the United States and NATO, as well as to better address the security challenges posed by next-door Russia.

Arctic News Roundup: 23-29 November

Christmas Cat display in 101 Reykjavík [Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) Kim Kielsen, the head of Siumut, a social democratic party in Greenland, has been removed from his position. Kielsen is also the current Prime Minister of Greenland. Mikkel Schøler has written a commentary to explain the details of this event, as well outlining new questions about the future of mining projects, the relationship with Denmark and the next potential coalition government.

2) According to Canada’s CBC, a new-found deposit of gold and diamonds, which is estimated to be 2.85 billion years old, has been confirmed in Nunavut, Canada. The discovery is not only contributing to further natural scientific understanding of the earth, but may also provide another source of future income for the territory. 

3) As Morgunblaðið news service in Iceland reported, the Christmas Cat (Jólakötturinn) has been installed on Lækjartorg Square in downtown Reykjavík, in order to accompany the upcoming holiday and to attract traffic. This frightening character, also known as the Yule Cat, was inspired by traditional Icelandic folklore.

4) KNR reported that new research [in Danish] on glaciers in Greenland demonstrates that the melt rate of said glaciers is faster than previously assumed, which, as is now commonly understood, will have effects such as sea level rise on a global scale. However, as some scientists explain, Greenland itself may probably have an exemption from this consequence, due to the rising of the island caused by decreasing downward pressures from the shrinking glaciers.

5) In light of Estonia’s application for formal observer status in the Arctic Council, an online seminar entitled ‘Estonia as an Aspiring Arctic Council Observer State: Promoting Smart Solutions’ will take place on 30 November on Facebook and YouTube. Further details can be found via this link.

Siumut Elects a New President: What’s Next for Greenland?

[Photo from Inatsisartut, Nuuk, Greenland]

By Mikkel Schøler, CEO of Sikki

Greenland has been the focus of rapid economic development since Kim Kielsen took over as President of the social democratic party Siumut [in Greenlandic], and as Prime Minister of Greenland in 2014. Now, almost six years later to the day, Greenland finds itself at a crossroads, as Mr Kielsen has been removed [in Danish] as head of Siumut.

This places the country’s ambitious airport construction projects and mining projects into question. Will the new party president, Erik Jensen, be able to form a coalition behind him? Or will Mr Jensen’s elevation lead to an election and different coalition?

On Sunday, 29 November, the Greenlandic government coalition, led by Siumut, held their tri-annual general assembly meeting in the capital city of Nuuk. Due to COVID-19 considerations, the assembly had been postponed from July.

Most of the 71 delegates from across Greenland were assembled in Nuuk, as the country is largely free of COVID-19 cases, though a few of the delegates had to participate digitally due to other considerations.

Prime Minister Kielsen was challenged by two other candidates: a former member of Kielsen’s government, Mr Jensen, and President of the Greenlandic Parliament, Vivian Motzfeldt.

The vote revealed a divided party. After the first round of ballots, Erik Jensen gathered 35 votes, Kim Kielsen 29 and Vivian Motzfeldt seven. As per party bylaws, Mr Jensen and Mr Kielsen had to face off in a second round, as no candidate had a fifty percent majority. Mr Jensen needed just one extra vote in the second round, all but ensuring his win. In the second round, Mr Jensen received 39 votes to the PM’s 32.

The current coalition overseen by Prime Minister Kielsen has focused on improving Greenland’s financial performance. Two new international airport facilities are under construction, and a third regional airport is planned for southern Greenland with capacity to connect to the world via Keflavik, Iceland.

Greenland Prime Minister Kim Kielsen at the 2017 Siumut General Assembly [Photo by Mikkel Schøler]

Under Mr. Kielsen, Greenland’s GDP has risen more than 45% during 2014-19. Unemployment has been more than halved and two mines have been opened, with another scheduled to go into operation next year.

The Kvanefjeld Mining project in southern Greenland, which is currently overseen by an Australian firm (Greenland Minerals) in partnership with a Chinese company (Shenghe Resources), has the potential to be a world-class source of rare earth elements (REEs) and uranium. However, this project may be in doubt now that Kielsen has been ousted.

Investors may be holding their breath, and so will much of Greenland. There is also the question of how Greenland’s relations with Denmark may shift in light of ongoing questions about potential Greenlandic independence from the Danish Kingdom. Political upheaval is an everyday occurrence in Greenland, but the overall political course has been steady across changing coalitions in the country’s 41-year political history.

Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) [in Danish], Greenland’s main opposition party, with left-wing socialist roots, opposes uranium mining in the country, claiming that even if a mine adheres to Greenland’s rather strict environmental legislation, the mine would never be safe for the populations living in the area.

If IA claims power in the coming months, Greenland could be poised to do a 180º turn on the country’s mineral extraction policy

While the vote showed a divided party, Erik Jensen won the party presidency. The short-term situation with Siumut has been decided.

For a time in the late 1980s and early 90s, Lars-Emil Johansen supplanted Jonathan Motzfeldt as party president for Siumut, with Motzfeldt remaining as prime minister. For now, Mr. Kielsen will stay on as Prime Minister until he either calls a general election, (the most recent was held in April 2018), steps down or faces a vote of no confidence against him.

The question now is, what does the future hold for Greenland?

Event: ‘Estonia as an Aspiring Arctic Council Observer State’

This month, the Government of Estonia submitted its application to become a formal observer [pdf] in the Arctic Council, with that organisation planning on holding its next Ministerial Meeting in Reykjavík during May 2021.

In conjunction with the application, a webinar, entitled ‘Estonia as an Aspiring Arctic Council Observer State: Promoting Smart Solutions‘, will be held [pdf] on 30 November at 1500-1700 CET (0900-1100 EST).

The speakers for this online event will include Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid and Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, as well as specialists in Estonia’s foreign policy and Arctic interests. Marc Lanteigne, OtC editor, will also be speaking at the event. The webinar will be streamed via the Estonian Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page and on Youtube.

Arctic News Roundup: 16-22 November

Laugavegur street, in central Reykjavík [Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) Icelandic news service Morgunblaðið featured a series of photographs of empty and (temporarily) closed shops in downtown Reykjavík, including those commonly popular with tourists on Laugavegur. This main shopping street in Reykjavík had been a major beneficiary of growing numbers of foreign visitors, (with figures surpassing two million per year, starting in 2016), as well as locals. However, many properties have had to close their doors this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and sharply fallen tourism numbers.

2) As the High North News revealed, the British Parliament has become the first to establish a task force group specialising in Greenland affairs. The purpose of the new assembly is to better promote the understanding of Greenland, and to continue the strengthening of the relationship between London and Nuuk. The announcement came at a time when UK concerns were raised about access to seafood from Greenland, especially for the United Kingdom’s trademark fish and chips, after the Brexit process is completed.

3) The HNN also reported on the downturn of the oil and gas sectors in Alaska during 2020, which was caused by the pandemic which intensified the reduction of global fossil fuel prices over the past five years. The outgoing Donald Trump government has been pushing for an eleventh-hour opening up of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, but that plan has faced serious opposition, including from the office of President-Elect Joe Biden. The coronavirus outbreak has also greatly damaged the US state’s tourism and hospitality industries this year.