The extraction of lithium has been expanding in recent years due to a growing demand in electric vehicles, which can help to decarbonise the world’s energy needs. While lithium extraction may be promoted as good for the environment in supplying a “green” technology, there are potentially severe environmental and social impacts associated with the development of this sector in Latin America.
These are predominantly related to the intense use of water in extreme desert environments. Lithium mining, through abstraction and evaporation across the salares (salt-flat basins where the lithium is concentrated over millions of years), can negatively impact groundwater hydrology.
The Lithium Triangle region, where Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia meet, is the only region in the world where two species of High Andean flamingo breed and feed. Mining for other commodities such as copper in Chile have already impacted Andean Flamingo wetland habitats, where some globally significant breeding sites are now largely abandoned.
As environmental impacts can underpin social impacts, it is not just flamingos and biodiversity that are affected by the imminent lithium boom in the Andes. Water scarcity has led to conflict between national governments and mining companies, as well as with local communities, where in some instances indigenous peoples have been forced to abandon their ancestral settlements.
In this paper, you will find:
- An introduction to increasing demand for lithium in the “Lithium Triangle” region of Latin America
- Information on how the flamingo population is being impacted by these mining activities
- Additional risks associated with lithium deposit extraction in the Lithium Triangle
- Challenges in the current permitting processes to protect at-risk wildlife
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