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South America: NGOs analyse indigenous peoples’ demands on access to water in fragile salt lakes in lithium production areas; Albemarle proposes a network to monitor water scarcity in Chile

A report analysing the demands by indigenous peoples affected by a growing demand of lithium extracted at three salt lakes in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile highlights the increasing concerns about responsible use of water by companies in that South American region.  In response to concerns by German vehicles Volkswagen, US lithium company Albemarle proposed the creation of a network to monitor “water scarcity” in its Chilean operations. The complete version in Spanish can be found here. It refers to: Albemarle, FMC, Galaxy Resources Limited, Ganfeng Lithium, Lithium Americas Corp (LAC), Livent, LSC Lithium Corp., Neo Lithium Corp, Orocobre Limited, Sentient Group of Global Resource Funds, Sichuan Tianqui Lithium, Xinjiang TBEA Group, Jujuy Enería y Minería Sociedad del Estado JEMSE, Pluspetrol. Sales de Jujuy, SQM, Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos, YLB

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10 February 2020

Responsible Renewable Energy Companies: Lithium Extraction and Indigenous Peoples' Rights in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile ("Lithium Triangle”)

Author: Amanda Romero (Business & Human Rights Resource Centre), José Aylwin and Marcel Didier (Observatorio Ciudadano, Chile)

In the current climate crisis, there is an urgent need for a transition to low-carbon energy sources that respect human rights. Responsible extraction of lithium, a key component of electric vehicle batteries and renewable energy storage, is an essential element of this transition and is becoming strategically important in the Lithium Triangle between Argentina, Bolivia and Chile which holds over 70% of global lithium reserves.

To date, there has been no comprehensive scientific assessment of the long-term impacts of lithium extraction on the environment and indigenous peoples inhabiting the high salt flats between Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. This report seeks to fill part of this gap by providing an analysis of harm including violations of the rights of indigenous peoples such as the right to free, prior and informed consent, loss of water sources (lagoons, rivers and groundwater) for household use as well as traditional shepherds and farming communities, and a lack of appropriate remedies.

Despite peaceful protests, advocacy, and legal actions by communities in the region, most harms have gone unaddressed, leading to growing resistance and scepticism within communities. Failure to address this going forward will not only result in further abuse of indigenous peoples’ rights but would also expose the end-users of lithium – including electric vehicle manufacturers, solar and wind energy companies – to financial and reputational risks putting our global transition to a low-carbon economy in jeopardy

Download the full document here

10 February 2020

“Top lithium miner seeks to monitor water scarcity in parched Chile salt flat”

Author: Dave Sherwood at CNBC

10 February 2020

…With residents and courts ringing the alarm about depleted water supplies in Chile’s Atacama salt flat, the world’s top lithium miner Albemarle quietly filed a proposal in December for a network to monitor flows beneath the parched desert floor…The previously unreported move is an indication of how important it has become for miners to prove their supplies of the so-called “white gold” battery metal are sustainable as they court automakers preparing for the coming electric vehicle revolution…Car companies have ratcheted up scrutiny in the Atacama, by far the biggest source of supply in South America’s so-called “lithium triangle,” where one lithium producer is locked in a court battle over pumping of brine and a copper miner has opted for pricey desalination over drawing water from local aquifers…“What we’re seeing is a scrutiny of how lithium is being produced, and particularly, in the Salar de Atacama,” Ellen Lenny-Pessagno, Albemarle’s Chile manager, told Reuters in an interview in capital city Santiago. “They want data.”

She said a team from Germany’s biggest car maker Volkswagen - which expects to produce 1.5 million electric autos by 2025 - visited the Atacama last month to scope out the social and environmental impact of mining operations there…A source at Volkswagen, who asked not to be named, confirmed a recent trip had been made to Chile to check on local conditions. The carmaker declined to comment…That came after a Chilean judge sided with local indigenous communities and knocked back an environmental remediation plan from top rival SQM in December, warning of “fragility” in the Atacama’s ecosystem.

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