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Centre for International Environmental Studies

Green Dealings? – Negotiating Lithium Between South America and Europe for Batteries that Fuel a Just Energy Transition

Funding Organisation: Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS)
Timeline: 2021-2023
Budget: 266’000 CHF

Summary:

The project addresses how the emerging "green" energy regime and its reliance on lithium batteries are shaping the political, economic and ecological relations between South American lithium producers and the European Union. Lithium batteries have become the key technology for electric vehicles and grid renewable energy storage, leading actors like the EU to promote domestic battery industries through initiatives such as the Green Deal and the European Battery Alliance. This research probes core concerns largely overlooked in the midst of the political imperative for a clean energy transition. Batteries require large amounts of critical raw materials like lithium, which are highly concentrated geographically, particularly in the South American "lithium triangle". European norms for socially and environmentally sustainable batteries promise to reform relations with resource-dependent producing countries, but whether they actually challenge inequalities between the two regions will depend on how diverse actors engage in different forms of negotiation along the lithium battery chain.

In light of this, we ask: How does the role of lithium in the emerging energy regime challenge or reproduce unequal relations between producer and consumer regions, and can it pave the way for a sustainable and just energy transition? We address this challenge by combining critical approaches to raw material governance from political ecology and economic geography, among others, to study diverse cases of negotiation ("Green Dealings"). As a consortium of South American and European researchers and research partners, we engage stakeholders across the two regions in the process of knowledge production to identify opportunities for collaboration, asking how negotiations could foster a more just energy transition.