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Indigenous Environmental Rights, Participation and Lithium Mining in Argentina and Bolivia: A Socio-Legal Analysis

Abelvik-Lawson, Helle (2019) Indigenous Environmental Rights, Participation and Lithium Mining in Argentina and Bolivia: A Socio-Legal Analysis. PhD thesis, University of Essex.


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The focus of this thesis is the lithium-brine mining industries developing on three salt flats: two in Argentina (Salinas Grandes and Olarozi-Cauchari) and one in Bolivia (the Salar de Uyuni). In particular, I focus on the environmental human rights of indigenous communities living near the salt flats upon which the mines are located. At the heart of their rights is participation in decision-making over mining which is likely to affect them and their lives. This includes decisions made by mining companies and state authorities that will affect their environment, and the land they occupy and use for their traditional livelihoods, such as salt gathering and quinoa agriculture. To understand what is at stake, the thesis also examines the potential environmental impacts of lithium mining at scale in these regions, particularly in terms of water use and contamination. Lithium is a valuable commodity in the emerging low-carbon economy due to its increasing use in electric cars and renewable energy storage batteries. Over half of the world’s lithium is found in the high Andean plains of the “Lithium Triangle”, at the border regions of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. This thesis is based on qualitative socio-legal research conducted 2015–2019, including six months of fieldwork in the region in January–June 2017. The research found that little reliable information about lithium mining’s environmental impacts have been made available to indigenous communities, and that consultation has been weak. Some Argentinean communities have organised a successful resistance however, making full use of their rights under international law. In Bolivia, the industrialisation of lithium is a key goal of the socialist regime (2006–present), meaning an increasingly centralised state project and a lack of transparency over potential contamination for communities in the region.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: lithium mining human rights indigenous Argentina Bolivia environment
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
J Political Science > JL Political institutions (America except United States)
J Political Science > JX International law
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Human Rights Centre
Depositing User: Helle Abelvik-Lawson
Date Deposited: 13 Nov 2019 11:36
Last Modified: 13 Nov 2019 11:36

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