The energy transition and the risk of resource nationalism – by Carole Nakhle (GIS Report – May 12, 2023)


Some countries have a stranglehold on the materials the world needs to build a low-carbon economy.

The energy transition to a low-carbon world is mining-intensive and vulnerable to resource nationalism. To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the pivot toward curbing greenhouse gases will spur unprecedented demand for some of the most critical materials used in renewable energy generation and storage.

From solar panels to wind turbines, battery storage, electric vehicles and electricity cables, green technologies and infrastructure all rely heavily on different sets of minerals and metals. To keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, graphite, lithium and cobalt production will need to rise more than 450 percent by 2050 from 2018 levels – and that is just to meet demand from energy storage technologies.

By 2030, at least 300 new mines – for materials like cobalt, copper, graphite, lithium, nickel, rare earth elements (RREs) and vanadium – will need to be brought onstream. That is no easy task, especially given the time lag between committing the capital, developing the mine and starting production (if commercial discoveries have been made), which can easily span 10 years or longer.

Concerns about potential supply shortages have begun to emerge. One study warned of a chronic gap between worldwide copper supply and demand that could open up by the middle of this decade, causing severe consequences across the global economy and adverse effects on the timing of net-zero targets.

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