Understanding the social complexities of mining in the Lithium Triangle

7 May 2023

The University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute’s International Centre of Excellence in Chile (SMI-ICE-Chile) has delivered the first report for a research project to better understand the social impacts of lithium mining in Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

The Lithium Triangle houses nearly 60% of the world’s lithium resources, and because of its use in clean energy technologies (like EV batteries), the region is experiencing a significant increase in global demand.

However, lithium extraction in South America often occurs in ecologically sensitive high-altitude salt flats, often on ancestral Indigenous territories, adjacent to Indigenous or rural communities.

Researcher Lucia Neme said that despite the long mining history in the three countries, lithium extraction has particularities in its operational activities.

“There are unique social and environmental challenges, and mining companies are under increasing pressure to identify and mitigate the social risks related to their operations,” she said.

“This project intends to contribute to taking lithium production forward in an increasingly sustainable and responsible manner.

“The objectives are to identify the perceptions of the different stakeholders about the social risks of lithium extraction in the Lithium Triangle and construct a set of indicators that assist a better holistic understanding of these risks at a regional scale.”

The project engaged with different stakeholders in communities, industry and government to include their perspective in the analysis and the research team applied a systemic approach that can be replicated in other regions.

Camilo Erazo, Deputy Director of Centers and Associative Research at ANID (Chile’s National Agency for Research and Development), who partly fund SMI-ICE Chile, said it was important to support projects that grow understanding of the opportunities and risks associated with development, at a social, environmental and economic level.

“Seeking to identify the social risks related to lithium extraction in Chile and across the region, is fundamental for the design of sustainable development for this industry, given the central role it will have in mitigating climate change," he said.

Media:  Lucia Neme l.neme@smiicechile.cl ; contacto@smiicechile.cl; Connor Pound c.pound@uq.edu.au +61 (0)447 812 081