Australian Economy

Boosting copper output ‘the biggest contribution Australia could make’ to hitting net zero

“The world has never produced so much copper in such a short timeframe as would be required,” Yergin said.

The study notes Australia is the sixth-largest copper miner in the world, while having the second-largest known reserves of the metal. China leads global copper refining and smelting capacity required to turn mined copper into usable metal, while also accounting for more than half of its usage.

Yergin – who has provided energy advice to almost all US administrations since Richard Nixon was president – said the report was “a wake-up call” for governments that have raised concerns about the availability of critical minerals needed to reach climate goals.

Copper is known as a bellwether for economic conditions and its price has fallen recently as interest rate tightening increases fears of a recession.

Copper is known as a bellwether for economic conditions and its price has fallen recently as interest rate tightening increases fears of a recession.Credit:Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg

“Australia has a significant role to play here and it means thinking about mining in a different way,” Yergin said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the Sydney Energy Forum on Tuesday that Australia has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become “a renewable energy superpower” amid the global energy transition. Copper was among the key commodities Albanese said could help Australia grow new industries and support global energy security.

Copper was not named on the Australian government’s list of 26 critical minerals released earlier this year, which include battery minerals such as lithium and cobalt. The metal was also not mentioned on the United States’ list released in February.

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“I think that the lack of including copper as a critical mineral arises from not focusing or not understanding what the scale of the energy transition demands because it’s new and has happened quickly,” Yergin said.

“When it becomes clear how central copper is to the energy transition, and the pressures on supply, I think it’s likely that more and more governments will see it as a critical mineral.”

Report co-author and S&P Global Market Intelligence director John Mothersole said Australia had potential to become a key contributor of copper for the energy transition, although mine production had been “relatively stagnant over the last 10 to 15 years”.

The study found new mines would unlikely be able to account for the looming copper shortfall as the International Energy Agency estimates new developments take an average of 16 years.

Therefore, increasing existing mine output and copper recycling are left as the main sources of additional supply required meet demand in 2035, which the report says is a key date as clean energy and transport technology must be deployed “at scale” by then for the world to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

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