As the United States’ principal energy diplomat, I view energy and resources through a foreign policy and geopolitical lens. I have seen firsthand the call for cleaner forms of energy all around the world.
The COVID pandemic has affected us in many ways, including energy and related investment. Globally, investment in traditional energy is down 30 percent while investment for renewables has increased 6 percent year-on-year. Countries and multilateral organizations (IEA, IRENA) are looking to use the COVID crisis as an opportunity to expand clean energy deployment – and in fact a significant portion of the EU’s COVID stimulus is their Green Deal.
Global policymakers and the private sector have begun to realize that their ambitious clean energy plans will require an exponential demand growth for minerals. In short, mining enables the clean energy transition.
The World Bank evaluated the mineral requirements of clean energy targets. They concluded – pre-COVID – that the production of several energy minerals would need to increase more than 500 percent through 2050.
The World Bank is far from alone in its projections, and an increasing number of international organizations are focusing on related opportunities and challenges.
The International Energy Agency – an organization founded in the aftermath of the 1970s oil crisis – concluded that energy minerals and processing are more concentrated today than oil ever was. The International Renewable Energy Agency’s report on the geopolitics of the energy transformation noted that many of these minerals are concentrated in countries with poor human rights and environmental practices.
By contrast, Chile is a global leader in responsible mineral development and as such, is well positioned to benefit from the energy transition.
I am pleased to see how Chilean and U.S. companies will work together to help the world transition to a clean energy future.
Chile is a leading producer of many minerals and metals that will be key to the energy transition – especially copper.
Copper is required for the electrification of everything. As countries address energy poverty and electrify a growing world, they will need more copper at an unprecedented scale.
Indeed, in the last five thousand years, humanity has mined 550 metric tons of copper. The World Bank predicts that in order to meet future market demand we will need to mine that same amount in the next 25 years.
Again, the scale of demand growth is incredible. Calls for an accelerated transition will move that growth forward in time. This will open new frontiers for mining and increase the importance of existing basins.
Yet, even though a country may have favorable geology below the ground, it may lack the regulatory and governance frameworks or investment climate to attract the best-in-class investor. As a result, their people and economy are unable to fully benefit from their geologic endowment.
Mineral extraction can lead to long-term economic and development benefit if done according to global best practice. However, if done poorly, it can contribute to environmental harm, corruption and jeopardize human rights.
This could lead to two possible and perverse outcomes: either the world does not get the minerals it needs for the energy transition or it does so but in violation of our core principles.
In light of the scale of demand and opportunity before us, it is critical that we fully realize all the benefits of clean energy – from mine site production to zero emissions power generation or transportation.
In order to do just that, we created the Energy Resource Governance Initiative, or ERGI. The United States is proud of its record of responsible resource development. However, we know that we are not alone, that we do not have all the answers, and to address a global challenge requires a global solution.
Therefore, we launched ERGI in partnership with the governments of Australia, Botswana, Canada, and Peru during last year’s United Nations General Assembly.
The Initiative’s Founders span four continents, with diverse regulatory environments, histories and cultures, but all share a tradition of responsible extraction and processing.
The initiative is designed to promote sound mining sector governance and resilient energy mineral supply chains. It brings countries together to advance governance principles, share best practices, and encourage a level playing field for investment.
Like ERGI’s founders, these ambitions transcend geography. Just last month on the margins of the IGF, we convened an ERGI meeting with representatives from twenty countries.
These countries understand that we are experiencing an unprecedented energy transformation, both in terms of energy supply and demand patterns, and technological innovation.
Through ERGI, we have a framework to engage with countries that want to continually improve responsible mining, and help them to identify and close gaps between ambition and implementation, and attract investment.
ERGI seeks to do so in three ways.
First, the ERGI Founding Partners developed a Toolkit to identify and share specific mining best practices throughout project life from exploration to closure and reclamation. The Toolkit is the first of its kind and available free and online to anyone at .
The Toolkit recognizes that every mining sector, project, and policy decisions are different and, as such, offers practical insights of past successes. Underlying each module of the Toolkit are the concepts of community and environmental stewardship, and how to encourage parties to seek value beyond compliance.
Second, information is helpful but some countries may want help in implementation. In response, we expanded bilateral and multi-lateral technical assistance programs to build capacity and demonstrate ERGI principles in action. Within the last year, we have committed over $10 million to support regulators to do just that.
Third, by implementing ERGI principles, countries reasonably expect to attract world class investors and companies. In order to catalyze that investment, we have integrated ERGI principles in the $60 billion U.S. Development Finance Corporation’s lending criteria to reward countries that embrace best practice.
The energy transition is well under way. Critical energy minerals and mining will play an outsized role going forward. Today’s mineral production and processing are too concentrated to meet future needs. Given projected demand growth, today’s concentration means tomorrow’s bottleneck or chokepoint.
The good news is that it is not too late. Together, we can build the mineral supply chain that we deserve – one that is resilient, reliable and responsible.