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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 Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. 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 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.

Below ground: Human rights and renewable energy value chains in the Andes

The Andes is at the crosshairs of the global energy transition: the region will play a crucial role in renewable technology value chains, and is acutely vulnerable to climate catastrophe. Our research reveals the harms caused by mining companies and how mineral extraction essential for the energy transition is impacting environment and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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.

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.

Land rights, access to water, health issues, lack of FPIC, forced displacement, and killings and violence are among the main impacts so far identified by civil society organisations, including Indigenous Peoples and environmental activists. Explore the table on the right to see examples of impacts linked to transition mineral mining.

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.

The Resource Centre has been tracking human rights issues related to transition mineral mining projects in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador over the past 20 years – the majority of which are currently at the exploration stage. For our briefing Below ground: Human rights and renewable energy value chains in the Andes, we looked at in-depth research by our partner organisations Acción Ecológica, Corporación Geoambiental Terrae and Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente (DHUMA) alongside our records of alleged attacks against human rights defenders; environmental issues such as air, soil and water contamination, failure to comply with environmental standards and failure to address harms; lack of respect for Indigenous Peoples’ and Afro-descendants’ fundamental right to FPIC, including governance of collective rights and their human rights conduct in practice.

The allegations and mines covered in this report provide an instructive snapshot of the risks to local communities, the environment and the energy transition at large if respect for human rights and effective due diligence is not urgently embedded in the transition mineral sector. Read the report and use the interactive map to explore details related to specific mines.

In its report Transition minerals in Ecuador, Acción Ecológica highlighted alleged violations of human and environmental rights including environmental damage, violation of the right to free, prior and informed consultation, arbitrary detentions, and intimidation and threats by mining companies. We asked Solaris Resources, Codelco, ENAMI and Ecuacorriente to respond.

In its report The face of lithium and uranium in Puno, DHUMA identified alleged harms caused by Canadian mining projects Macusani and Falchani - owned by American Lithium through its subsidiaries Plateau Energy and Macusani Yellowcake - on the communities of Puno. We asked American Lithium to respond.

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.