Green cars = green conflicts? : Governance, grievances and conflict dimensions of the Bolivian State Lithium Program
Growing demand for consumer electronics and e-cars makes lithium a crucial resource for energy storage. Most lithium is found in South America, with Bolivia guarding the largest treasures. Currently, the country is developing a strategy for lithium industrialization and the government has assigned 900 million dollars to this project. In the past, resource exploitation has been severely contested in Bolivia and led to violent national conflicts, as the so-called “Gas Wars” of 2003 and 2005 as well as a long history of conflictive mining initiatives illustrate. However, the case of lithium may diverge from this pattern since the government’s policy approach to lithium industrialization exhibits major differences compared to past programs. The question thus emerges if lithium exploitation can lead to conflict in Bolivia or if these governance changes significantly reduce the likelihood for violence. Research has for a long time engaged with the link between resources, governance and conflict. Thereby, case studies from all over the world underline that specifically the impacts of extraction on local livelihoods are decisive triggers of conflict. The findings are however scattered and a systematic assessment is missing. In this thesis, the concept of “meaningful grievances” is applied and refined by a governance perspective. Based on extensive qualitative interview data, the local perceptions of the lithium program and its governance are assessed, identifying grievances locals connect to the program and the meanings they attach to these grievances supporting a further refinement of the theories on a resource-governance-conflict-link.
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