By Caitlin Purdy, Rodrigo Castillo
Latin America holds considerable reserves of critical minerals, sometimes also referred to as future-facing commodities, which will be crucial to the global energy transition. What the development of these resources in Latin America will mean for governments and citizens is uncertain. The global energy transition presents an opportunity that could translate into significant commodities windfalls. The end goal for governments is a well-regulated mining sector that increases public goods and spurs socioeconomic development with minimized social and environmental impacts. Transparency, accountability, and participation will be crucial to achieving this.
However, two major variables could undermine the ability of governments to deliver on this vision. First, most countries in the region face persistent conflicts over natural resource governance, including opposition to mining projects based on environmental impacts, insufficient consultation with affected communities, and inequitable distribution of socioeconomic benefits. Governments have struggled to meaningfully respond to civil society and community concerns and reduce conflict as they face competing pressures, fractured legislatures, and a cacophony of views on mining. These challenges are not impossible to solve through sustained effort and good policy, but it is unclear whether or how governments will be able to address them and, by extension, how overall levels of conflict around mining will evolve.
The second major variable is uncertainty about future demand for the four critical minerals. Demand will depend on factors such as the pace of the energy transition and emerging technological developments (for example, identification of replacements for these minerals in key applications or drastic improvements in mineral recycling processes).
The way these two variables interact will determine which of several scenarios might play out for critical minerals development in Latin America. This report explores these potential scenarios in detail.
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