Serbia revokes Rio Tinto's lithium project licenses
Serbia has revoked Rio Tinto’s lithium exploration licenses on Jan. 20, putting a halt to the development of the $2.4 billion Jadar lithium project that would have helped make Rio Tinto one of the top 10 lithium producers in the world.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the government's decision came after requests by various green groups to stop the project on environmental concerns.
“All decisions (linked to the lithium project) and all licenses have been annulled,” Brnabic told reporters after a government session. “As far as project Jadar is concerned, this is an end.”
Rio Tinto had previously pushed back its timeline for first production from Jadar by one year to 2027, citing delays in key approvals.
Rio Tinto said it was “extremely concerned” by Serbia's decision and was reviewing the legal basis for it.
Reuters reported that the company committed to the project just last year, as global miners pushed into the metals needed for the green energy transition, including lithium, which is used to make electric vehicle batteries.
Brnabic accused Rio Tinto of providing insufficient information to communities about the project. In a statement, Rio Tinto said "it had always operated in compliance" with Serbian laws.
Thousands of people blocked roads last year in protest against the government's backing of the project, demanding Rio Tinto leave the country and forcing the local municipality to scrap a plan to allocate land for the facility.
The decision to revoke the licenses comes as Serbia approaches a general election in April.
Serbia's populist ruling coalition, led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), had initially showed support for lithium and copper mining, a stance that made it come under fire, helping erode the comfortable majority the party enjoyed in a 2020 vote.