Focal Study 4: Global Extractive Chains and Social Inequalities: Lithium Mining in Argentina and Chile

The focal study addresses the specific role of export-oriented extractive chains for the configuration of social inequalities on a local, subnational and national level. Lithium is considered to be a new strategic resource, because of its key role for the development of low-emission lifestyles and related green technologies (e.g. renewable energy, electric mobility). In this way, the promotion of ecological and economic sustainability in the industrial centers produces unsustainabilities in the peripheries. The so called “lithium triangle”, which encompasses the Salar de Atacama in northern Chile, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, and small salt lakes in northwestern Argentina, holds about 70 % of the world’s lithium reserves in brines. These are vulnerable ecosystems in regions at the periphery the states, populated primarily by indigenous people.

The extraction of lithium has environmental impacts, with losses of environmental goods and services. This does not only have effects for the local population, it also produces costs and risks for future generations. Furthermore, the access to lithium and the possibilities to take advantage of its value-added potential is rather unequally distributed along the valorization chain. Each production chain creates a complex network of few transnational companies and many local and national producers as well as public and private institutions.

In the focal study, scenarios of conflict and negotiation related to lithium mining in Argentina and Chile will be addressed.

Researcher: Barbara Göbel


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