Guardian: Rio Tinto’s past overshadows Serbia’s hopes of lithium revolution


In an extensive analysis of the Rio Tinto project to exploit lithium in western Serbia, the London’s Guardian daily wrote that “throughout its almost 150-year history, the Anglo-Australian multinational, which posted profits after tax of 10.4bn dollars (£7.3bn) in 2020, had faced accusations of corruption, environmental degradation and human rights abuses."

The daily recalled that Rio Tinto “is currently fighting a civil lawsuit by the US Securities and Exchange Commission that accuses the company of fraud at its Mozambique coal business. That follows a £27.4m fine in 2017 from the UK’s financial watchdog for breaching disclosure and transparency rules.”

The Guardian further quoted Simon Trott, the Rio Tinto CEO, as admitting the company was not proud of its history “at its Marandoo mine in Western Australia where hundreds of ancient artefacts were thrown into a rubbish dump.”

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“Last year, the then chief executive resigned after the company deliberately blew up an ancient cave, one of Australia’s most significant archaeological research sites, where there had been evidence of 46,000 years of continual occupation. This summer the company finally agreed, after decades of appeals, to fund an “environmental and human rights impact assessment” of its former copper and goldmine in Panguna, in Papua New Guinea, where it is claimed that 1bn tonnes of mine waste was dumped into the Kawerong-Jaba river delta and continues to wreak catastrophic damage, “ the Guardian wrote.

The daily then summarised the history of the Rio Tinto arrival in Serbia, saying that “it is 17 years since lithium, a silvery-white alkali metal, was discovered by chance by Rio Tinto geologists in one of two boreholes in a cornfield in Jadar valley.”

In July, as the Guardian recalled, the company said it would invest 2.4 billion dollars in a project in the Jadar Valley, “building what it says will be Europe’s biggest lithium mine, and one of the world’s largest on a greenfield site.”

“The company estimates that over the expected 40-year life of the mine, it will produce 2.3m tonnes of battery-grade lithium carbonate, a mineral critical for large-scale batteries for electric vehicles and storing renewable energy, and 160,000 tonnes of boric acid annually, necessary for the renewable energy equipment such as solar panels and wind turbines,” the Guardian cited Rio Tinto’s pledges.

However, the Guardian also recalled ”the thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets of Serbia’s cities of Loznica and Belgrade over recent months, say they are witnessing an unfolding disaster in the country’s “breadbasket”, responsible for around a fifth of total agricultural production, raising questions about the strange bedfellows being made in the maelstrom of the green revolution, and whether lessons have been learned about consumption and production that has made the transition to a decarbonised world so urgent.”

“Shortcomings in Serbia’s democracy further raise concerns over whether the voices of those on the frontline are being heard,” the daily warned.

In January, Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, told a TV chat show: “We do not have sea or natural resources that will bring us millions. We have jadarite, and I’m dying with laughter when I hear that people are protesting over it. They are protesting down there, in western Serbia, over Rio Tinto, and they say it will be a disaster. No, it will not. No disaster will happen there,” the Guardian recalled.

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