Sweden’s business minister, Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, said the decision to approve the next stage of the mining company’s plans was “historic”.
The approval does not necessarily mean that a mine will be built, but that the company can move forward with their plans, and will be permitted to mine in the area.
Thorwaldsson said the biggest challenge would be the environmental assessment by Mark och miljödomstolen, the court in that rules on issues concerning land rights and the environment, but he said he was convinced a mine would eventually be built.
The mine is one of Sweden’s most controversial industrial projects, and has been an issue for the government since 2017.
The resistance comes mainly from the Sami, Sweden’s only indigenous people, and from environmental campaigners, although the UN has also been critical of the project.
“Sweden has today confirmed its shortsighted, racist, colonial and nature-hostile approach,” the Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, said on Twitter.
“Sweden pretends to be a leader for environment and human rights, but at home they violate indigenous rights and continue waging a war on nature. The world will remember this.”
In coming to its decision, the government has weighed two national interests against one another, reindeer herding and mining, but it has decided that mining should take priority.
Thorwaldsson said that the mining industry was important for social development in Sweden, and for jobs and economic growth in particular.
The population in Norrbotten, he noted, had decreased by 23 percent between 1991 and 2016, and that Jokkmokk municipality had said that the mine would help it create jobs and fund its welfare service. In addition, he said, the mine was not located in a national park or nature reserve.
He suggested that the Sami study the “long-term and unique” demands embodied into the planning process, with twelve considerations in place to do as little harm as possible to the local Sami reindeer herding districts or Sameby.
“We’ve done that to make certain that we keep any negative effect on reindeer herding as small as possible,” he said.
The company plans to put up fences and protective walls to prevent accidents and to build secure crossings for the reindeers.
It will also carry out an annual assessment of the consequences for reindeer herding, and will consult with Sami reindeer districts about what needs to be done.