Green Dealings – Negotiating Lithium between South America and Europe for Batteries that Fuel a Just Energy Transition

How does the role of lithium in the emerging energy regime challenge or reproduce unequal relations between producer and consumer regions, and can it pave the way for a sustainable and just energy transition?

Project Summary

In the context of climate change mitigation, energy transition now seems inevitable. Lithium batteries are at the core of this revolution for energy storage in general and electric vehicles in particular. As part of this response, major industrial countries are implementing industrial policies that promote domestic battery production. The European Union has launched an ambitious “Green Deal” that includes a “European Battery Alliance”. It now aims at setting new social and environmental standards to produce the world’s “greenest” batteries.

However, batteries require large amounts of raw materials such as lithium, highly concentrated geographically, particularly in South America. The new European standards for sustainable batteries may reform historically unequal relations with this resource-dependent region. Yet, challenging these inequalities will depend on how actors engage in different forms of negotiation along the lithium battery chain.

Therefore, the main question the project addresses is:

  • How does the critical role of lithium for batteries in the emerging “green” energy regime shape the relations between South American lithium producers and the EU, and can it pave the way for a sustainable and just energy transition?

This research draws on critical approaches to raw material governance from political ecology and economic geography, among others. Methodologically, we will combine two strategies. Our first goal will be to study negotiations between diverse European and South American actors along the lithium battery chain, paying particular attention to how they are shaped by “green” norms and standards (“Green Dealings”). It will also study the other way around, how norms and standards undergo the influence of these actors.

Second, it will facilitate conversation and exchange between these actors in stakeholder engagement activities and try to see how the relations between the two regions could lead to a just energy transition. To ease the process, we will bring together a multidisciplinary group of scholars from Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, UK, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, and leading experts engaged in policy-making from several key international organisations (ECLAC, EU-LAC, IADB, UNCTAD).

Research Team

Marc Hufty 
The Graduate Institute

Diego Silva
The Graduate Institute

Jonas Köppel 
Principal Member
The Graduate Institute

Daniela Sanchez-Lopez 
Principal Member
Cambridge University

Barbara Jerez 
Principal Member
University of Concepción

Manuel Oliveira 
Principal Member
Higher University of San Andrés


Morgan Scoville-Simonds
Principal Member
University of Agder

Martin Obaya
Principal Member
University of San Martin





Policy domains


Host Institution