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Tibetan lives being devastated in China’s scramble for territory’s rich lithium reserves

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(TibetanReview.net, Nov01’23) – The Tibetan Plateau’s vast currently known deposits constitute around 85% of the total lithium reserves of the People’s Republic of China and Beijing’s rush to exploit it in the face of booming demands for the scarce mineral risks damaging the troubled region’s fragile ecology and deepening rights violations, reported the AFP Nov 1, citing a research published Nov 1.

China is the world’s biggest Electric Vehicles (EV) market but largely relies on other countries to supply the lithium used in the batteries that power low-carbon vehicles. It hopes to change this situation by exploiting the Tibetan reserves.

This “white gold rush” has led to Chinese miners polluting the local environment with “quick, cheap and dirty” extraction and processing techniques, the report said, citing the research by Turquoise Roof, a network of Tibetan researchers.

The group has used satellite data and public resources to chart the impact of lithium mining in culturally Tibetan areas and its links to carmakers, including Elon Musk’s Tesla and its Chinese competitor BYD.

“Bigger, faster electric cars require larger capacity lithium batteries – which cannot be done without a hidden footprint in Tibet,” the report was quoted as saying.

Citing Chinese geological research, Turquoise Roof has said about 3.6 million tons of China’s lithium lies in hard rock deposits in Tibet (Autonomous Region) and Tibetan territories in the adjacent provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai. And miners exploiting those resources risk creating “devastating” pollution in biodiverse regions particularly vulnerable to climate change.

The research has cited the example of a mine in Sichuan whose activities had reportedly killed thousands of fish in a local river and harmed grasslands home to Tibetan herders.

Sadly, “Tibetans have no voice in this latest rush to riches … there can be no informed local consideration of whether there should be extraction.”

In another example, the report has cited a patch of land in a Tibetan autonomous county in Sichuan province whose rich lithium deposits had sparked a bidding war between firms, which was eventually won by Chinese battery giant CATL.

But local Tibetans “were not informed that their hill pastures were being sold, let alone consulted in any way about the land being drilled beneath their feet”.

The Turquoise Roof report has come as China seeks to shore up domestic supplies of critical minerals in the face of fraying ties with Western exporters.

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