Greenland’s government embraced a major policy change last week that could greatly impact the country itself, as well as its relationship with other major countries. On Thursday, legislators narrowly voted to allow for mining of radioactive substances and iron ore on the Arctic island. In a 15-14 vote, Greenland’s parliament lifted a ban on mining uranium and rare-earth minerals, a decision that could significantly change Greenland’s economy and role in international trade. In another move, parliament gave London Mining PLC a thirty year license to mine for iron ore in hopes that the project will bring jobs and investment to Greenland.

Supporters of mining see this as an opportunity for Greenland to become less reliant on the fishing industry and more importantly, to become more independent from Denmark. Greenland is considered an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, although Greenland has had to rely on subsidies from Denmark to cover costs such as welfare and other government programs. A possible economic windfall from various mining projects could allow for Greenland’s economy to become big enough for the country to gain complete independence from Denmark.

Along with the possible benefits to Greenland’s economy, some worry about negative side effects from mining. Environmentalists have brought concerns about possible environmental damage from the extensive mining projects, warning that the mining could harm the Arctic’s ecological system. Some in Greenland also worry about jobs resulting from the construction of pipelines and infrastructure, as upwards of 45% of the workforce could be Chinese workers instead of native islanders. Others see potential problems with the relationship between Greenland and Denmark, since the Danes have a zero tolerance policy on mining radioactive materials.

If mining in Greenland does indeed take off, the impacts on its economy could be huge. Besides independence from Denmark, Greenland also could form a relationship with China, currently the largest importer of radioactive and rare-earth materials. Along with the recent opening of the Northwest Passage, trade and shipping between the two countries could increase, giving Greenland an important trade partner and China a foothold in the Arctic. This development could be the beginning of a battle for power in the Arctic region between the traditional Western powers and China as new, lucrative resources are found. The winner of the battle for resources could come out much richer, making Greenland an important starting point for the world powers who want to maintain or gain influence in the Arctic.

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