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14 Sep 2023


Europe: Local activists are determined to halt transition mineral projects fearing the EU’s push for mining independence will be a “catastrophe” for environmental law

"Europe’s mining quest faces a hurdle: angry locals"

In Portugal’s northern Barroso region, Maria Loureiro weeps at the prospect of losing her family’s land to a mine that could become one of Europe’s biggest producers of lithium, used in electric vehicle batteries and other clean technologies. [...]

She is among local activists in Portugal and elsewhere whose determination to halt mine developments – via protests, legal challenges or simply refusing to sell or rent the land needed – threatens to slow the European Union’s green transition. [...]

The European Commission’s planned Critical Raw Materials Act would see the EU mine at least 10% of the lithium, cobalt and similar materials it uses by 2030 and refine and recycle more as global competition grows for those resources. [...]

Portugal’s lithium reserves have “an important role to play” in meeting the EU’s target, the environment ministry said, adding that new mines would bring money and jobs for local communities. In a statement, it also pledged “the highest social and environmental standards”.

But Barroso farmer Nelson Gomes, 47, part of the UDCB movement campaigning against mining expansion, is sceptical.

“They (governments) are trying to clean up cities by polluting villages,” he said.


Opposition to mining projects elsewhere in Europe has also focused on environmental damage.

Last month, climate activist Greta Thunberg protested against plans to develop a huge rare earth metals deposit at Kiruna, in Sweden’s far north, which the area’s indigenous Sami people have decried as “colonialism”.

“Are we to be sacrificed so that people in big cities can have electric cars?,” Sami community representative Karin Kvarfordt Niia said.

State-owned miner LKAB’s spokesperson Anders Lindberg said it could minimise the effects on the Sami, who without new mines to hasten electrification would face threats from accelerated climate change to their traditional way of life. [...]

But with only 15 of 916 submissions in a public consultation supporting the project, Savannah faces a struggle to win over locals who have said they will fight it and the APA in court. The company, which aims to start production at Barroso in 2026, has earmarked $40 million for community projects and stressed other benefits including a new road. [...]


An annual camp-out against the mine organised by UDCB in August brought together locals and more than 200 activists from Portugal and countries including France and lithium-rich Chile.

Shouting “Barroso is not for sale” and “Savannah, get off our mountains”, they marched around the village of Covas with its rustic stone houses. Some carried animal skulls to highlight what they say are threats to the region’s fauna.

“This is a Europe-wide problem, as multinationals dig all over the continent,” said Teresa Camille, 54, whose group Stop Mine 03 is campaigning against plans for a mine in France that could supply lithium for around 700,000 EV batteries a year.

Gunilla Hogberg Bjorck, who represents opponents of southern Sweden’s Norra Karr rare earths project, held up since 2009 by concerns it could pollute drinking water, fears the EU’s push for mining independence will be a “catastrophe” for environmental law. “Politicians listen to those who shout loudest and have most money – and that’s the mining industry,” she said.