134 local and environmental organisations from Spain and around the world have expressed their support for the citizens of Cáceres, Spain, and their right to say no to Infinity Lithium’s San José de Valdeflórez lithium project.
Infinity Lithium, an Australian mining company, plans to extract lithium from an open pit mine just 800m from the historic centre of Cáceres- a city recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site that relies heavily on tourism and the area’s natural beauty for its prosperity.
The mining project received financial backing from InnoEnergy – a company supported by the European Union – in March 2020, despite growing public opposition from citizens organised under the Save the Mountain of Cáceres Platform (Plataforma Salvemos la Montaña de Cáceres).
In a letter to the to President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the 134 organisations demand that the EU withdraw all financial and promotional support for the San José de Valdeflórez lithium project.
They write that the European Union should not be supporting a mine that lacks the necessary permits to go ahead, is prohibited by Cáceres own General Urban Development Plan and which faces major opposition among Cáceres residents, including the city’s Mayor, Luis Salaya.
The letters authors write: “Top of local people’s concerns are the project’s likely impacts on the environment, water and also on the economic activity of tourism, which is central to the local economy.
“Cáceres is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is surrounded by the Sierra de la Mosca, a natural area of great ecological value. The mine jeopardises both. (It) is totally unfeasible and should not be receiving EU backing of any kind.”
They add that, if the mine were to go ahead, it would violate the “intention” behind the EU’s much vaunted Biodiversity and European Green Deal strategies.
The European Union’s backing for the San José de Valdeflórez lithium project is part of an emerging pattern. Across Europe the EU is providing financial support to prospective mines and research initiatives that seek to increase the domestic extraction of ‘critical’ minerals and metals within Europe’s borders.
Lithium, which is likely to be added to the EU’s list of critical raw materials this year, is one such mineral. It is considered vital to the EU’s plans for a green energy and industrial transition, parts of which will rely in part on electric battery technologies that make use of lithium, and the development of the EU’s own battery production industry.
The EU’s Raw Materials Policy, and related research and financing initiatives, are largely designed to secure the supply of minerals and metals the EU sees as necessary for the large-scale transitions towards green energy and digitisation we are in the midst of.
There is no question about the need to rapidly move away from fossil fuels. But frontline communities and activists across Europe are increasingly concerned that the vision for achieving this energy transition is being influenced by industry and neoliberal economics in a way that jeopardises citizens, beloved ecosystems and our response to climate change.
Guadalupe Rodríguez, a coordinator of the global Yes to Life, No to Mining network, which connects communities opposing unwanted mining around the world, said: “The European Commission, conditioned by the strong economic interests of industries such as mining and car-manufacturing, is not paying due attention to the citizens who are opposed to the lithium mining project in Cáceres. This worries us because what the citizens of Cáceres have to say is crucial: the mine will destroy our city, it is totally unsustainable.”
In their letter, the Save the Mountain of Cáceres Platform plainly states that Infinity Lithium’s proposed mine lacks ‘social license to operate’ – a concept the EU is promoting to try and smooth relations between mines and prospective host communities.
The extensive international support the Save the Mountain of Cáceres campaign has received reflects the reality that communities around the world are facing similar pressures at a new frontier for the extractive industries.
Proponents of expanding mining within Europe frequently argue that it is better that mines are opened in Europe to meet the material demands of the EU’s green transition, rather than in the Global South where environmental and social standards are lower. In doing so they present an either/or choice that is highly misleading.
In Cáceres and elsewhere in Europe, however, promises of high standards, transparency and community consultation have been found wanting. As a result community opposition to mining is growing in new extractive hotspots including Iberia, Ireland and Scandinavia.
Meanwhile, the EU’s commitment to ‘green growth’, founded on the debunked notion that growth can be absolutely de-coupled from the ecological impacts of increased extraction, threatens to de-rail the European Green Deal and action on climate change.
According to a UN study, extraction and processing of minerals and metals is already responsible for 26 percent of global carbon emissions. Not only that, mining is a major contributor to the destruction of ecosystems, such as forests and wetlands, that play a critical role in regulating the climate.
Under a green growth scenario, Europe’s already gargantuan and unequal demand for minerals and metals is set to grow and continue growing. Without major changes, Europe’s green transition will dramatically increase extraction of minerals and metals in Europe and overseas.
This the wider point the people of Cáceres and their allies are putting to the European Commission. This mine is a problem. But it is not an isolated problem. Expanding dirty mining, wherever it takes place, is no solution to climate crisis.
Eduardo Mostazo of the Plataforma Salvemos la Montaña de Cáceres, said: “In the name of economic growth, innovation and technology are allowed to destroy the essence of a city that lives from tourism to implement a polluting industry 800m from the urban centre and other places of importance to the life of citizens, such as the Hospital and the University Campus. It is intolerable and we are not going to allow it.”
Hannibal Rhoades is head of communications for The Gaia Foundation.