Copper, lithium and nickel, among others, are raw materials used to produce electric vehicles, batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels. The Amazon holds part of these minerals, and large companies want to exploit it. Most mining applications are in Pará state, and some of them will have direct impact on areas located in Indigenous Lands and Conservation Units.

The plans of rich countries – especially China, the United States and the European Union – to curb global warming are based on some important keywords. One of them is the ‘energy transition,’ that is, replacing an energy model that uses fossil fuels such as oil and coal with a different one of fewer greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in order to produce electric vehicles, solar panels, batteries and wind farms – which are crucial to this energy shift – the demand for minerals such as copper, lithium and nickel will increase fourfold by 2040 over 2020.

The Amazon holds part of these several minerals and is one of the places where large mining companies concentrate their efforts. An exclusive survey by InfoAmazonia based on mining procedures open at Brazil’s National Mining Agency (ANM) until May 24, 2024 found 5,046 applications filed by 807 companies to exploit ores considered essential for the energy transition in the Brazilian Amazon. The applications for copper, aluminum, manganese, niobium, silver, nickel, cobalt, rare earths: The set of 15 chemical elements made up of the lanthanide family plus yttrium are called Rare Earths. The elements are as follows: Light ones: lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium and neodymium; Mediums: samarium, europium and gadolinium; Heavy: terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium and yttrium. They are used in neodymium magnets by the electric vehicle industry and in the construction of wind turbines and industrial automation. and lithium cover 64 million acres [26 million hectares] within the biome.

This race for mineral raw materials reveals a contradiction in the international ‘clean’ energy project: while countries like China and the US boost their production of electric vehicles and batteries, electricity barely reaches some parts of the Amazon. Furthermore, experts interviewed by InfoAmazonia are concerned about how this exploitation will be carried out without putting pressure on traditional populations and impacting the biome’s ecosystem.

“There is a lot of talk about how we are going to do well in this low-carbon economy but no clear policy on how this will actually happen. What are the safeguards? The main concern has to be how we are going to exploit these resources,” says Marta Salmon, senior analyst at the Talanoa Institute, a non-profit organization focused on climate policy.

There is a lot of talk about how we are going to do well in this low-carbon economy but no clear policy on how this will actually happen. What are the safeguards? The main concern has to be how we are going to exploit these resources.

Marta Salmon, senior analyst at the Talanoa Institute

At least 1,205 of the projects mapped by InfoAmazonia are within the area with direct impact on ​​137 indigenous lands (ILs) located up to 6.2 miles [10 km] from their boundaries. In 390 cases, mining areas invade these territories, which is banned by Brazil’s Constitution. The survey also found 1,207 applications that overlap 107 conservation units (CUs) in the Amazon.

THE LEGISLATION ON BUSINESS ENTERPRISES IN INDIGENOUS LANDS

According to Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO-169), which is legally binding, traditional communities – including indigenous peoples, quilombola, and riverside dwellers – have the right to free, prior and informed consultation on any enterprise or administrative measure that interferes with the autonomy of their territories. They even have veto power.

The Convention does not set specific parameters to define impacts on indigenous or traditional use lands. These impacts are assessed by studies conducted specifically for each project.

In 2015, interministerial ordinance 60/2015 established a minimum radius of 6.2 miles [10 km] around indigenous lands to determine impacts on communities and require projects to apply for a federal license. In all these cases, the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI) and the communities must be consulted in advance.

Mining in indigenous lands is banned and could only be authorized by an amendment to the Constitution passed in Congress.

The protected areas under the heaviest pressure are in Pará state. The indigenous lands include: the Xikrin Mebengôkre people’s Xikrin do Cateté IL, with 93 mining applications; the Kayapó, with 85; and the Munduruku people’s Sawré Muybu IL, with 77. As for conservation units, the National Forests (known as FLONAS) of Jamanxim, with 132 applications; Carajás, with 85; and Itaituba II, with 81 have the most applications for exploitation of energy transition ores. Pará concentrates more than half of all licensing procedures in the Amazon for these minerals, with 3,069 applications filed with the ANM to explore 36 million acres [14.6 million hectares] – an area larger than the entire territory of England.