Environmental NGO Quercus is urging the newly-inaugurated Portuguese government to rethink its strategy for lithium exploration in order to avoid an environmental disaster.
With the whole lithium debate high in the public eye – particularly over allegations of insider ‘dirty dealing’ – Quercus has stressed the importance of listening to “legitimate concerns” of populations, councils and environmental associations.
“If NGOs, mayors, councillors and people are against, I believe the government will reconsider”, Quercus’ Paulo do Carmo told Lusa.
“This is not about just digging our heels in for the sake of it. We’re hoping the decision of the secretary of state regarding around 10 new areas of lithium exploration will protect the lives of Portuguese people, nature conservation and the value and biodiversity of the interior.
“We’re hoping his report does not translate into an environmental disaster for Portugal”.
But as the secretary of state concerned is João Galamba – the man highlighted in a recent TV exposé – environmentalists admit to being “concerned”, particularly as Galamba’s report will affect “thousands of hectares across several points of the country”.
In Quercus’ view, exploration planned for natural parks and protected areas will have a “violent impact on underground water sources”, affecting homes, businesses and ways of life that rely on water pumped from boreholes.
Projects outlined for the Serras de Estrela and Malcata, for Serra d’Arga in the Minho region, for Argemela in Castelo Branco, for Nelas (Viseu) and Boticas (Vila Real) are diametrically opposed to the government’s pledge for a transition towards renewable energies, said the activist.
“This would be anything but. We’re talking about open-pit mining…” more often than not in interior regions already affected by dwindling demographics.
The government’s way forwards “should not seriously affect the lives of people who have chosen to live in the interior”, do Carmo told Lusa, adding that it’s all very well for the State to have assessed the potential (financial worth of) lithium exploration in this country, but it must also assess how people will be able to live alongside it.
Lusa adds that while several people’s protests have mobilised against plans for lithium exploration, economy minister Pedro Siza Vieira has tried to dismiss fears as unfounded – saying the use of mineral resources “must always safeguard and respect the environment”.
At the same time however Siza Vieira has emphasised that the government’s objectives go beyond lithium exploration. It hopes to promote a refinery on national soil, thus ensuring increased profits for all involved.