Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Open Access)
Colby College. Global Studies Program
Echoed by November’s COP27 in Egypt, the climate crisis has become an increasingly pressing and global issue, with the need to move away from fossil fuels more urgent than ever. In attempts to decarbonize the global economy, many countries and companies have turned to electrification –particularly within the transportation sector, one of today’s largest contributors of greenhouse gasses. A crucial component of energy storage and batteries is lithium, now considered a “critical mineral.” Demand for lithium has skyrocketed in recent years and is only expected to continue growing. More than fifty percent of the world’s lithium supply is found within Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia, located beneath the surface of salt flats, or “salares.” Extraction in this region –termed the Lithium Triangle– raises several critical questions about the global energy transition, including can extraction of these critical minerals, such as lithium, be mined in a just way? Who reaps the benefits of extraction and who pays the cost? Who gets to make the decisions surrounding mining? And how ecologically sustainable is extraction via evaporation of brine? These questions are explored within the context of the Salar de Atacama, a salt flat located in Chile’s Atacama Desert, which was the first site of lithium discovery and brine extraction. Globally and historically, Indigenous peoples have often borne the brunt of extractive industries. To ensure that extraction of a mineral, primarily utilized by consumers in the Global North, does not happen at the expense of Indigenous communities in the Global South, the right to and compliance with Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is crucial. FPIC –recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and ILO Convention 169– obligates states to “obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.” Through the conceptual framing of the Just Transition, this paper analyzes how the Chilean consultation processes related to lithium mining align with four core principles of justice. Though existing literature addresses the variety of socio-environmental externalities through a range of perspectives, such as political ecology, emphasis surrounding consultation is lacking. Ultimately, through literature reviews, analysis of written policies, and interviews, Chilean consultation processes are evaluated within the framework of the Just Transition, exploring the tensions between state and corporate commitments with the lived realities of Indigenous community members.
Indigenous rights, climate change, Just Transition, FPIC, lithium, Chile
Recommended CitationWhelan, Isabella R., "Complexities of Community Consultation in Chile's Lithium Industry" (2023). Honors Theses. Paper 1426.
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