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We hereby express our concern about the serious socio-environmental deterioration that the high Andean salt flats and wetlands have suffered as a result of the exploitation of their waters for use by metallic and non-metallic mining, both in Chile and throughout the Puna de Atacama ( Argentina and Bolivia), specifically in the area known as the lithium triangle.
This statement encourages the overexploitation of this mineral in the salt flats as a strategic commodity for a "green" energy transition, whose environmental and social costs continue the historical ecological footprint of extractivism, affecting the Andean indigenous peoples.
In light of the continuous irregularities committed by extractive companies and the inability of the State to supervise and punish them in a timely manner, we, from our communities and territories, universities and NGOs, see with concern the absence of an effective protection of the High Andean salt flats and wetlands as fundamental ecosystems for human and non-human life, vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the irreparable impacts of mining extractivism.
To the verification of the serious offenses committed by the lithium giant SQM, and which led the Superintendency of the Environment SMA to open a sanctioning process that is still open, is added the fact that the granting of additional quotas of brine by way of RCA 226/2006 (SQM) and RCA 21/2016 (Albemarle / Rockwood Lithium), it has been carried out without sufficient knowledge of the hydrology of the Salar de Atacama (Chile); without prior, free and informed indigenous consultation; and under the assumption that the brine (salted water) of the salar is not water. Along with this, the over-extraction of fresh water from the aquifers of the salar for 15 years by Minera Escondida (BHP Billiton) adds to the permanent damage caused by the same company during 27 years of extraction of water from the neighboring Salar de Punta Negra, which is why the First Environmental Court recently accepted the lawsuit filed by the State Defense Council.
In this context, we express our full support for the arguments put forward in numerous instances by various representatives of the Atacameño / Lickanantay people insofar as their rights have not been respected and that environmental damage has a clear danger of socio-environmental and water depletion of the Salar de Atacama. It seems important to us that, as stated by the Atacameño Peoples Council, the most severe measures contained in the Organic Law of the SMA are taken according to the power given to it by Article 3 letter H of “Temporarily suspending the operating authorizations contained in the Resolutions of Environmental Qualification or adopt other urgent and transitory measures, for the protection of the environment, when the execution or operation of the projects or activities, generates effects not foreseen in the evaluation and as a consequence of this an imminent and serious damage may be generated for environment"; and the sanctions contemplated in Article 39 "The sanction that corresponds to apply to each infraction will be determined, according to its seriousness, within the following ranges: a) Very serious infractions may be subject to revocation of the environmental qualification resolution, closure, or fine of up to ten thousand annual tax units. b) Serious infractions may be subject to revocation of the environmental qualification resolution, closure, or a fine of up to five thousand annual tax units ”.
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As recognized by the SMA itself in an official letter dated August 14, in the Salar de Atacama measures are necessary that take into account in an aggregate way the activities of the four megaprojects that operate here: SQM, Albemarle, Minera Escondida and Minera Zaldívar ( Antofagasta Minerals / Barrick). Likewise, it is necessary a binding participation of civil society, especially the Atacameño or Lickanantay communities, to consider the climatic vulnerability of the communities and biodiversity, and to enforce the various protection regimes present in the basin: Los Flamencos National Reserve, Laguna Tebenquiche Nature Sanctuaries and Soncor Hydrological System Ramsar Site. For this reason, we call on the State and its agencies to prioritize the socio-environmental and ethnocultural protection of the salt flats over the extraction of low-cost commodities for the individual electromobility market, and we ask the relevant authorities:
Recognize the vital function of water in the salt flats, according to available scientific knowledge, indigenous science and worldview.
That the recommendations contained in the documents "Report of the Special Investigating Commission of the Acts of the Competent Public Organizations, Responsible for the Inspection and Protection of Glaciers, Hydrographic Basins and Salares of Chile" and "Conclusions of the Investigative Commission of the Participation of Public Organizations in the Exploration, Processing, Exploitation, Exportation and Transportation of lithium, as well as the Characteristics of the Contract signed between Corfo and SQM ”, especially with regard to the environmental protection of the Salar de Atacama and the contracts with the companies of lithium.
Conformation of a transdisciplinary, multisectoral and plurinational table for a National Policy on Lithium and Integrated Management of Salares and to replace the Non-Metallic Mining Committee that was eliminated by the government of Sebastián Piñera in 2019; understanding that these basins are inhabited by the Atacameño or Lickanantay, Colla, Aymara and Quechua peoples; and that lithium mining seeks to extend to the Salar de Aguas Calientes, Salar de Maricunga, Salar de Pedernales, Salar de Coipasa, Salar de Huasco, Salar de Ollagüe, Salar de Ascotán, among many others within the national territory.
Recognize the vulnerability to climate change of the Andean peoples and the complexity of the watersheds, in order to integrate said elements to the work of the Office of Sustainable Projects, to the Climate Change Law and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC); for an economic reactivation and an energy transition where the limits of a development model based on mining extractivism are recognized, especially copper and lithium, as well as the intrinsic value of the ecosystems associated with the high Andean salt flats and wetlands.
To read the statement in Spanish and English, click here.
Source: Declaration by the Salar de Atacama and the High Andean Wetlands of Chile against the advance of mining extractivism