The global demand for copper is expected to continue rising at a rapid rate. This is a function of the world moving towards a greener future, powered by renewable technologies. The Copper Development Association (2019) predicts that in the next 20 years, an increase of up to 50 percent in the demand for copper is expected. This is echoed by the World Bank’s 2017 Report “The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a low-carbon future” which indicates a demand for numerous metals, which include copper. This report states that demand for these metals could rise tenfold by 2050 as the world moves towards a low-carbon energy producing future.
Global copper production would need to rise by between 3% and 6% per annum by 2030 for countries to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change (Brackett and Chigumira, 2020). This is true for several metals, including lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese, required to develop technologies and infrastructure to aid the global development of a greener future. This in turn means that more mineral exploration and extraction will be required.
This raises the question: Is there enough copper to meet this demand? Currently the US Geological Survey (2020) estimates the global copper reserve at 870 million tonnes of ore, and annual copper demand is predicted to be 28 million tonnes. Copper resources are estimated to exceed 5 000 million tonnes (USGS, 2014 and 2017, Copper Alliance, 2021). This means that currently suitable resources of copper are available. However, the refined output of copper is expected to increase by 4.3% year on year to 24.7 million tonnes in 2021 (Woodall, 2020) and it is predicted that refined production output will be hindered by slowing mine production growth rates unless there is significant investment in the copper project pipeline (Woodall, 2020). The international copper study group estimates that on average 35% of the world’s copper consumption comes from recycled copper. Copper and rare earth metals are hard to substitute and their re-use is dependent on recycling initiatives, which means that their continued mining is essential to continue to support the renewable energy industry (Watson Farley and Williams, 2020).
It is not enough to ensure that global industries can meet this demand for copper and other base metals. A combination of both efficient and sustainable mining frameworks, procedures and practices, with adequate, implemented and monitored environmental standards are required. A holistic approach is needed to ensure that a viable and responsible copper industry is advanced and that copper supply can be ensured for years to come. The focus should be on increasing the green, sustainable, and society-centric views of the industry (Watson Farley and Williams, 2020).
It is important to acknowledge that materials and metals are required for this energy transition and this in turn means that mining for the respective minerals and metals are required for their production. It is essential to ensure that the required policies, procedures and actions are implemented to make sure that these mines operate in a manner that has the smallest negative impacts to the natural environment and surrounding society. This is pivotal in ensuring that future mining operations will have a lowered environmental impact, while ensuring the decarbonisation of other major carbon producing industries.
Brackett, B and Chigumira, D, (2020). North American oil & Gas Exploration/Production, Global Metals & Mining: King Copper once and future. Bernstein. Available from: https://orocoresourcecorp.com/wp-content/uploads/Global-Metals-Mining-King-Copper-once-and-future-14-September-2020-Bernstein.pdf
Copper Alliance, 2021, Copper Demand & Long-Term Availability. Available from: https://copperalliance.org/about-copper/long-term-availability/#:~:text=COPPER%20RESERVES%20%26%20RESOURCES&text=Copper%20is%20naturally%20present%20in,USGS%2C%202014%20%26%202017).
Copper Development Association, 2019, How will the future copper demand be met? Available from: https://copperalliance.org.uk/coverage-future-copper-demand/#:~:text=Currently%2C%20global%20copper%20reserves%20are,demand%20is%2028%20million%20tonnes.&text=This%20shows%20that%20copper%20will,be%20used%20intelligently%20and%20efficiently.
Watson Farley and Williams LLP, (2020). The Mining Industry: An Essential Part of A renewable Future. Available From: https://www.wfw.com/articles/the-mining-industry-an-essential-part-of-a-renewable-future/
Woodall, T. (2020), Copper supply faces struggle to keep up with growing demand. S&P Global Market Intelligence. Available from: https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/latest-news-headlines/copper-supply-faces-struggle-to-keep-up-with-growing-demand-6%E2%80%A6.