Indigenous people risk losing water in lithium extraction for essential transition to low-carbon economy
Eniko Horvath, Senior Researcher & Amanda Romero, South America Senior Researcher & Representative, BHRRC
Lithium is key for electric vehicle batteries and renewable energy storage. But how can we ensure its extraction not only contributes to our much-needed transition to a low-carbon economy but also respects access to water and rights of indigenous peoples?
(This article was published by Ethical Corporation on April 8, 2019)
For the past 50 years, Raúl and his family have worked in agriculture in Peine, a small community in the middle of Chile’s Atacama Desert. “I enjoy agriculture. This is my life,” he says, as he waters his produce from a narrow stream. Raúl proudly displays the plum tomatoes, towering corn, and hearty beets he grows, and then sells at the local store.
But in this water-scarce region, Raúl’s goods have an unusual competitor for water: lithium, a key mineral for the world economy that threatens to leave communities without the vital water resources they need to survive.
The so-called “lithium triangle” – an area spanning Chile, Bolivia and Argentina – holds around 60 per cent of the world’s lithium reserves. Demand for lithium, which is used for electric car batteries and storing renewable energy, is projected to increase tenfold over the next decade, leading all three countries to double down on being world leaders in this “white gold”.