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Centre for International Environmental Studies

Lithium negotiations between South America and Europe: Towards a network and research agenda for a sustainable and just energy transition

Funding Organisation: Leading House for the Latin American Region, University of St.Gallen
Timeline: 2022-2023
Budget: 21’360 CHF


The transition towards sustainable energy is at the core of the global climate agenda. However, the connection between this transition and social and environmental justice has been largely overlooked.

With this project, we aim at addressing this gap by building both a research network and a research agenda around the negotiations taking place between the European Union and Latin American producers of lithium (Argentina, Bolivia and Chile). Europe has recently undertaken two major initiatives, the Green Deal and the European Battery Alliance, whose goal is to develop a continental lithium battery industry for electric vehicles and grid energy storage. The EU is promoting sustainability as the main normative core of its lithium commodity chain, in line with SDG 13 (“to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”). Yet, most of the lithium raw material used in Europe comes from Latin America,
threatening to reproduce unequal relations between producer and consumer regions, as well as traditional extractivist relations in which local communities face environmental, economic, ecological and gender marginalization.

We want to address this "weak point" of the EU energy transition by: (1) mapping the interactions taking place between EU and its Latin American partners along the lithium commodity chain: stakeholders, issues, interests, divergences and convergences (observables: desk and field preliminary research, mapping); (2) directly consulting a broad range of stakeholders (from civil society, scientific, policy, and corporate fields) related to lithium extraction and the lithium battery industry (observables: workshop and meetings); (3) strengthening and expanding our research networks, forming a research consortium to prepare socially-relevant grant proposals and implement this agenda (observables: network, proposals, scientific paper, blog articles).