Environmental Justice in the "Lithium Triangle": The Problematic Road to Electromobility

Martin Güppner

Student thesis: Master thesis


Context – Backed by global climate change mitigation efforts, the drive towards electromobility has manifested itself in a rush for lithium, a mineral crucial for battery technologies. In the so-called “Lithium Triangle” (Bolivia, Chile, Argentina), hopes of leveraging the region’s resource endowment for economic development are complicated by an increasing awareness of lithium mining’s negative ramifications, spurring protests by local Indigenous populations that are once again feeling by-passed and threatened by extractive projects. Purpose – This thesis investigates the externalities of lithium mining projects in terms of environmental justice. The movement has been adapted by Latin American scholars, incorporating Indigenous struggles and decolonial thinking, and thereby constitutes a particularly insightful tool. Methodology – A multiple case study including all three triangle states, both primary and secondary data collection techniques are utilized to arrive at a holistic understanding that takes into account structural and subjective factors. Findings – Fundamentally, the local impacts of lithium mining are found to be four-fold, affecting environmental, economic and sociocultural aspects, while failing to uphold the special rights of Indigenous peoples. In terms of environmental justice, though not in all cases, lithium mining in the triangle states entails distributional, procedural and recognitional injustices, in addition to threatening community capabilities. From a decolonial perspective, it becomes apparent that lithium mining under the current neo-extractivist rationale is neither compatible with relational ways of life nor contributes to plurality and the construction of otherness. Implications – The relevance of this study’s findings is highly dependent on the audience’s perspective, but overwhelmingly point to a need for action regarding extraction technologies, safeguarding human rights, and ultimately a change of course in climate strategy

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture - Business and Development Studies, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2021
Number of pages89
SupervisorsJacobo Ramirez