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Government delays lithium auction to hold ‘strategic environmental evaluation’

The race to attribute concessions for lithium mining has been temporarily halted as the government undertakes ‘strategic environmental evaluation’.

Environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes pledged in Lisbon yesterday that the country would not exploit lithium ‘at any cost’.

The auction for nine areas in the north and centre has been delayed for at least six months but there is no question that lithium mining won’t go forwards, he said.

“Lithium is absolutely fundamental for the digitalisation and decarbonisation of the economy”, Matos Fernades told a conference on climate action.

“Europe doesn’t have many of its own resources, but Portugal has lithium reserves and we must exploit them.

From the moment lithium gained such strategic importance, the government stopped handing out (exploration) licences and decided to hold an auction for a series of places where studies have shown great potential”.

“And precisely because there are various places with potential we believe we should do a strategic environmental evaluation. This will be done now in half a dozen months. We’re anxious to have lithium but the pressure isn’t measured by days”, he said.

The nine areas highlighted with ‘elevated lithium potential’ are Serra d’Arga, Barro/Alvão, Seixo/Vieira, Almendra, Barca D’alva/Canhão, Argemela, Guarda, Segura and Maçoeira – almost all of them communities bitterly opposed to the changes that lithium extraction will bring.

Matos Fernandes acknowledges “there are many people determined that exploration doesn’t go forwards at all costs” but stressed “we don’t want to produce at all costs. We want to do it according to the characteristics of the territory, existing reserves and (by ensuring) environmental preservation”.

He pledged the auction now scheduled for 2021 will be ‘transparent’.

As for the new law controlling mining nationally, this has been “very delayed”, he said, due to the decision that royalties which would normally have gone to the State will now be shared 50% with local municipalities.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com