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30 Apr 2019

Susanne Götze, Deutschlandfunk

The downside of electromobility: Lithium mining in South America destroys livelihoods & access to water for indigenous people

This is an unofficial summary translation by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. The full document in German is available below.

[...] Car manufacturers need about ten kilos of lithium to produce a single electric car battery. Since 2016 alone, global lithium mining has more than doubled and experts estimate that by 2030 more than 240,000 tons of lithium will be needed each year in the automotive industry. For the indigenous people of Argentina, this growing demand for lithium is likely to become a problem. [...]

Marcelo Sticco is one of the few independent hydrologists to deal with lithium production in the region and the consequences for freshwater supplies. [...] According to the hydrologist, freshwater losses could soon make life in the region impossible. [...]

The current evaporation technology, which is used to break down lithium, is also causing problems in other countries such as Chile. [...] Even though there are alternatives. A Canadian company recently presented a technology that uses nanotechnology to extract lithium directly from the liquid and pump the residual water back underground. This prevents the problematic drop in the water level and preserves the drinking water reserves. [...]

In Argentina, however, there are no signs of a turnaround in lithium mining. At the so-called national lithium table, a high-level meeting of ministers and regional politicians, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri announced that 100,000 tons of lithium would be sourced in the Puna region over the next four years. [...]

The Kolla communities see Macri's plans as a threat to their livelihoods. They have already filed a lawsuit against the licensing of the Argentine state before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This lawsuit is based on a convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). According to this agreement, companies and politicians must provide indigenous communities with sufficient information about commercial projects and their consequences. [...]

[also refers to Toyota, BMW, Volkswagen, Daimler, Orocobre, Lithium Americas, Sales de Juyjuy & ACI Systems Alemania]