The news report highlighted the rapid adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in rural China, particularly in regions like Guizhou, showcasing the shift from petrol cars to EVs. Improved infrastructure, including widespread charging stations across rural areas, has facilitated this transition, making EVs more accessible and appealing to residents.
China's measures to bolster the new energy vehicle (NEV) sector, such as extending tax incentives and emphasizing charging infrastructure development in rural areas, have significantly contributed to this trend. Provinces like Zhejiang and regions like Tibetan Plateau are witnessing a surge in EV registrations, supported by extensive charging networks.
However, China is the world's biggest EV market but largely relies on other countries to supply the lithium used in the batteries that power low-carbon vehicles.
A reserach report published by Turquoise Roof, a network of Tibetan researchers, reveals concerns about China's escalating rush for lithium in the Tibetan plateau to meet the surging demand for electric vehicles (EVs). As the world's largest EV market, China aims to tap into its vast lithium reserves in the Tibetan region, comprising about 85% of the nation's total.
However, the report highlighted the adverse impact of this "white gold rush," citing environmental degradation due to hasty and ecologically damaging extraction methods by Chinese miners. The report emphasized the lack of consultation with local Tibetan communities and the severe consequences on biodiverse areas, pointing to instances of pollution in regions vital for Tibetan herders. It also raised issues of human rights violations of the exploitation of Tibet's resources without local consent or consideration.
The study further underscored the geopolitical tensions arising from China's pursuit of domestic mineral supplies amid strained relations with Western exporters, emphasizing the global ramifications of the lithium industry's expansion in Tibet.
Moreover, China's aggressive pursuit of lithium from Tibet has prompted environmentalist and mining expert Gabriel Lafitte to outline few critical aspects concerning the accelerated extraction of this mineral.
In his recent article, Lafitte emphasized the troubling reality behind the rapid lithium mining in Tibet despite the mineral being considered vital for a clean, green, and decarbonized future. The two major players in the electric vehicle market, China's BYD and Tesla, heavily rely on Tibetan lithium for their global corporate expansions. As demand skyrockets, a fierce competition ensues within China to claim mining rights across the Tibetan mountains, leading to an influx of speculative investments and the potential for significant financial gains.
Lafitte warned of the potential fragmentation of the Tibetan Plateau as several Chinese provinces aimed to established multiple lithium extraction enclaves. Moreover, the author sheds light on the gamification of Tibet's sale to Chinese investors, creating an atmosphere akin to a high-stakes game show where mining rights are auctioned online, amplifying excitement and prices.
Despite previous industrial endeavors in Tibet, such as copper extraction and logging, none have compared to the fervor surrounding the quest for lithium, making Tibet a pivotal profit center for China. Technological advancements using satellite imagery have identified substantial spodumene rock lithium deposits scattered throughout Tibet, transforming the exploration process. As the boom continues, Lafitte cautions against the possibility of this lithium frenzy becoming a destabilizing bubble, engineered and nurtured by China's party-state apparatus.
Edited and collated by Team TRC