AMERICA/BOLIVIA - The "ecological way" of the exploitation of Bolivian lithium

Tuesday, 18 July 2023 sustainable development   environment   ecology   geopolitics  

La Paz (Agenzia Fides) - Bolivia has the largest lithium deposits in the world, located in the high Andean plateau known as the "Salar de Uyuni". In contrast to the two other countries in the so-called "Lithium Triangle" (Argentina and Chile), the deposits discovered in Bolivia in 1976 have only been exploited since 2008, initially under the leadership of state-owned mining companies. This distinguishes Bolivia from Chile and Argentina, which opened the doors to private companies. C Lithium mining in Chile and Argentina does not have strict environmental protection measures, so it may damage the surrounding soil and contaminate the air. Many indigenous communities in Chile's lithium mining areas have been forced to migrate. With the privatization of the water supply decided by both countries, prior consultation of the communities and other interest groups is no longer necessary. It is worth remembering that lithium mining requires around 500,000 liters of water per ton, diverting large water resources away from other economic activities, including agriculture. Bolivia, which was the scene of a so-called "water war" (the protest of the citizens of Cochabamba against the privatization of their scarce water resources) in 2000, is the only country in the Lithium Triangle with legislation providing for a sustainable and fair mining process. Exploration began in 2008 with the construction of a working pilot plant using a water-saving evaporation technique. A year later, Bolivian citizens ratified a new constitution that reshaped the state's pact with its citizens on water issues. It includes the right to prior consultation on projects affecting indigenous communities and their territories, identifies water as a basic human right, and establishes the right of citizens to monitor government initiatives. Bolivian law also requires that government revenues from natural resources be invested in social programs, education and the integrated development of indigenous peoples. The new constitution also tightens the existing requirements for socio-economic environmental impact assessments. The 2012 Bolivian "Mother Earth Law" created additional regulations, including an obligation to prevent and remedy environmental damage. The La Paz government also intends to capitalize on the growing global demand for lithium to expand its industrial base by not only focusing on lithium mining and refining, but also with countries and industries interested in the Bolivian mineral electricity in the country. This is also intended to compensate for the expected drop in demand for hydrocarbons such as gas and oil, which have so far been the main exports of the Bolivian economy. Bolivia is also forming alliances with other hydrocarbon producers like Mexico and regional partners like Argentina to go beyond fossil fuels and collaborate on lithium extraction. Due to Bolivia's stated interest in developing the entire value chain, the Bolivian and Mexican governments have jointly announced that their state-owned companies will collaborate on the production of lithium batteries and the purchase and export of electric vehicles, including the Bolivian Quantum electric car. And in July 2022, the Bolivian and Argentine governments signed a cooperation agreement to exchange technologies for lithium battery production. (LM) (Agenzia Fides, 18/7/2023)