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Transition minerals and renewable energy in the Andes

The renewable energy and mining sectors will play a critical role in addressing the climate crisis by providing the energy and technology needed for the transition away from fossil fuels. But a zero-carbon economy can only be achieved quickly and effectively if human rights are respected through a just transition.

This hub provides analysis and resources on the challenges faced by local communities affected by the extraction of minerals essential for the energy transition in the Andean region, with a focus on the experiences of Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and peasant communities. The projects and perspectives presented on this page span across Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In Bolivia, we look at the situation of Aymara and Quechua-speaking communities of Oruro and Potosí, who are affected by copper, lithium and zinc mining. In Colombia, we focus on copper and gold mining, and mining projects which are currently underway. In Ecuador, copper mining is our main focus, and in Peru we look at lithium and uranium mining. All these types of extraction have serious impacts on fragile ecosystems, from the tropical zones of Colombia and Ecuador to the Amazon in Bolivia and Peru, affecting the glaciers at the sources of major rivers crucial to communities’ survival over thousands of years.

The energy transition cannot come at the expense of the rights of Andean communities. Through this work, we seek to encourage meaningful engagement with companies, investors, communities and civil society, strengthen respect for human rights in renewable and extractive industries, and drive accountability for abuse.

Transition Minerals Tracker

Explore our global tracker of allegations of human rights abuse linked to the extraction of six minerals essential for the energy transition: cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc.

Transition minerals

South America is one of the world’s largest producers of minerals. Chile is a leader in copper and lithium exports, while Peru is the second largest producer. New mining concessions have been granted in Colombia and Ecuador to meet growing demand for the minerals essential for batteries and condensers for wind and photovoltaic technologies. Many mining projects are located in fragile ecosystems, like the Amazon or the highlands, which are rich in water sources. In Bolivia, large lithium deposits are the focus of highly water-intensive mining operations, putting the rights, livelihoods and ancient aboriginal cultures of Indigenous populations at risk.

Renewable energy

The electrical matrix in the Andean countries depends mostly on hydropower. However, projects to build large wind and solar farms is growing, and hydrogen is considered a key component of new energy sources for national and regional networks. Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru also use fossil fuels for domestic purposes. International demand for coal, gas and oil threatens climate commitments and the protection of subtropical and tropical forests like the Amazon.

What are the impacts of the renewable energy value chain in the Andes?

There are two main affected groups who bear the burden of transition minerals to respond to the necessary transition to clean, renewable energies:

  • Local farming and camelid gazing communities, such as the Indigenous populations inhabiting the Andean highlands, home of streams and rivers which nurture the Amazon and fossil waters under salt lakes.
  • Amazon Indigenous Peoples who have protected the rainforest ancestrally in this region, shared by nine different countries in South America, including 60% of the Peruvian territory, 53% of the Colombian territory and 48% of the Ecuadorian territory.

The main impacts so far identified by civil society organisations, including Indigenous Peoples’ communities and environmentalists are:

  • Land rights
  • Access to water
  • Health issues
  • Lack of recognition of their existence as differentiated peoples and, therefore, lack of Free, prior and informed consent
  • Forced displacement
  • Killings, death threats, intimidation, attacks with beatings and wounds


Community voices

Hear what local communities think of the current impacts of the energy transition.

"The energy transition - who does it benefit? Does it benefit the communities, like the Inca territory? Or does it benefit the countries of the Global North?"

Fast and fair for whom? Silvia Quilumbango from DECOIN on the impacts of copper mining in Ecuador.


Under-the-radar companies

Very often, junior companies are generally operating in the Andean region as providers of larger business that trade minerals for the transition. We have identified the following companies:

List of companies identified


The role of foreign companies and host governments

Current trends in the region indicate that mining companies are starting to use the language of “fair and just transition” to extract more minerals, despite the risks.

Initiatives

Example 1

We can feature an initiative like this

Example 2

And one like this

Example 3

And one like this

Canada and China as key players

Civil society organisations from the Andean countries have prepared briefings about the impacts by Canadian and Chinese companies. They highlight the urgency to respect international climate and human rights to achieve a really fair transition.

Legal Frameworks

The governments in the region have been legislating about mineral extraction for this energy transition. See here some of the most important norms regulating this field