Lithium is considered the future of mining due to its growing relevance for green energy infrastructure, but its exploitation could generate severe environmental and health crises in regions where the white gold’s deposits will be developed, warned Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT).
During the forum Lithium in Latin America, Challenges and Opportunities, Agustín Ávila, General Director of Policy for Climate Change, SEMARNAT, said that Latin America is rich in lithium potential as it holds 67 percent of the world's lithium reserves. Furthermore, demand is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, reaching 160,000 tons in 2030 and 500,000 tons in 2050.
Despite the opportunities, Ávila highlighted that in countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina, the exploitation of the mineral has caused serious damage to the environment and the health of its inhabitants because its intense production requires significant amounts of water. It also produces emissions that contribute to global warming, “which generates serious consequences for the communities near the projects. This can generate socio-environmental conflicts in Mexico,” Ávila said.
He explained that the controversy surrounding lithium production is also related to the use of hydrochloric acid, which affects the quality of the soil and the air. Aleida Samara, Doctor in International Economics and Development, Tecnológico de Monterrey, emphasized that in some regions of Argentina and Chile the soil has been worn down so much that it has forced entire communities to migrate. She added that it will be key for Mexico to find alternative production processes and establish stricter environmental regulation.
Mexico aims to create a partnership with Chile, Argentina and Bolivia to exchange experiences and knowledge regarding lithium exploitation. According to President López Obrador, the experiences of these countries, which have important lithium reserves, will help Mexico to develop its state-owned lithium company.
However, despite the government's efforts, experts say the government may not be able to exploit the resource for another 7 to 13 years because it lacks the knowledge, experience and technology to do so.