Policy Analysis: Environmental Justice Across the Lithium Supply Chain: A Role for Science Diplomacy in the Americas

Published in Journal of Science Policy & Governance Volume 22, Issue 02

Alice Grossman (1), Matías Mastrangelo (2), Camilo De Los Ríos (3), Mónica Jiménez-Córdova (4)

Publication year 2023
DOI https://doi.org/10.38126/JSPG220205
  1. InterAmerican Institute for Global Change Research and Texas A&M Transportation Institute
  2. InterAmerican Institute for Global Change Research and National University of Mar del Plata
  3. InterAmerican Institute for Global Change Research and Duke University
  4. InterAmerican Institute for Global Change Research and Secretaría de Investigación y Postgrado, Instituto Politécnico Nacional 
IAI Program

Science, Technology, Policy Fellowship (STeP)

IAI Project Science, Technology, Policy Fellowship (STeP)
PDFPolicy Analysis Environmental Justice Across the Lithium Supply Chain A Role for Science Diplomacy in the Americas.pdf


While climate change mitigation is a global concern that all countries must play a role in curbing, the costs and benefits of various strategies across geographic boundaries must be examined from a full supply chain perspective. In countries such as the United States (US) where the transportation sector is a leading source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, switching from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) to electric vehicles (EV) has emerged as one strategy to combat climate change. However, these EVs rely on critical minerals in their batteries, which are sourced largely from the global south, where there are not as many environmental and social protection regulations and practices. One such mineral, Lithium is found mostly in the Lithium Triangle (LT) in the South American countries of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. Lithium mining is negatively affecting natural resources and ecologies in the LT, in turn creating challenges for nearby communities including indigenous people in the area. Science diplomacy could strengthen relationships and communication between Northern and Southern American countries and more equitably distribute the social and environmental costs and benefits of lithium extraction and EV sales and operations. This paper explores how science diplomacy can foster the governance processes and scientific inputs needed to support more sustainable and just supply chains. It demonstrates higher benefits at the use stage of the EV supply chain in North America, and higher costs at the raw materials extraction for lithium in the EV supply chain in South America. This paper also calls attention to standards and measures that could be applied to sustainable mining. We document best practices, lessons learned, and gaps in collaborative potential between interdisciplinary and transitional stakeholders to develop definitions, measures, and goals across the entire supply chain of lithium for EV batteries.