Reaching Net Zero Will Need 450 Percent Increase in Mining: Australian Treasurer

Reaching Net Zero Will Need 450 Percent Increase in Mining: Australian Treasurer
Treasurer Jim Chalmers hands down the 2023 Budget in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on May 9, 2023. (Martin Ollman/Getty Images)

Australia’s Federal Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has said that a 450 percent increase in mineral production will be needed to meet net zero by 2050.

This comes as Resources Minister Madeleine King released a new strategy (pdf) for making Australia a global producer of raw and processed critical minerals.
Speaking at the 26th World Mining Congress in Brisbane on June 29, Chalmers said Australia “stands ready” to play a part in meeting the world’s climate goals by 2050 but admits that this requires a “strong and successful” resources sector.

“We can’t generate renewable energy or get to net zero without the copper and cobalt that go in solar panels and wind turbines,” he said.

“And we can’t store it without the lithium, nickel, and graphite needed for batteries.

“That’s why, on some estimates, meeting the world’s climate goals by 2050 will require a 450 percent increase in the production of these minerals.”

The interim CEO of Newcrest Mining, Sherry Duhe, also revealed the cost of producing electric cars was far higher than conventional vehicles.

"When you look at the amount of earth we have to move to produce one car, it's ten tonnes," she told the Congress.

"And when you think about that in terms of being six times the total material you need for a conventional vehicle, it just shows you the enormity of the problem and the challenge that we're facing. And that's just to electrify vehicles; that's just one element of the electrical system."

Previously, mining magnate Gina Rinehart has made similar statements.

“You simply can’t build minerals-guzzling electric vehicles without massive mines. The average electric vehicle contains over 206 kilograms of copper, lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, graphite, and rare earth elements,” Rinehart said in May.

Currently, Australia is the world’s largest producer of lithium, third-largest producer of cobalt, and the fourth largest producer of rare earths.

Chalmers said that Australia has what the world needs in terms of critical minerals.

“And many of those resources are right here in Queensland.”

However, BHP CEO Mike Henry said that increasing mining royalties in the state of Queensland, as well as recent policies in state and federal governments, would compel companies such as BHP to pull investment from the region, despite major opportunities in critical mineral mining.

“Capital is global. It will flow to where the risk/returns ratio is most attractive. Where governments act unpredictably and unreasonably, they increase risk for investment,” he told attendees at the World Mining Congress in Brisbane on June 27.

In 2022, the Queensland government raised mining royalties amid rising public spending.

Federal Environmental Approves New Mine Despite Criticism From Greens

In May, Federal EnvironmentMminister Tanya Plibersek granted approval for Australian miner Bowen Coking Coal’s Isaac River project with a five-year lifespan for producing steel-making coal. The coal mine is in central Queensland.

This was a first for the minister, despite accusations from Greens environmental spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young, who said that the coal mine would fuel global warming.

The environment minister has the final say in approving major projects of environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

“The Albanese government has to make decisions in accordance with the facts and the national environment law—that’s what happens on every project, and that’s what’s happened here,” Plibersek said.

However, in February, Plibersek vetoed Clive Palmer’s proposed coal mine site in the Great Barrier Reef catchment due to concerns over environmental damage.

In May, Plibersek also rejected two other Queensland coal mine proposals—the MacMines China Stone mine and the Stanmore Resources Range project—due to the proposal’s failure to provide information on potential damage to the environment.

Coordinated Approach Between Industry and Government

Chalmers outlined three factors federal Labor would capitalise on in the mining sector.

“One, building new resilience in supply chains. Two, making the right critical mineral investments that work for our people and our international partners. And three, linking critical minerals up properly with a broader effort to drive growth through the energy transformation,” he said.

Chalmers added that a central strategy to the plan is building international partnerships that will help diversify the supply chain.

“Currently, there is one country that dominates processing for copper, rhenium, nickel, cobalt, lithium, and virtually every other critical mineral and rare earth I could name—and that’s China,” he said.

“This kind of concentration isn’t going to lead to the strong, secure supply chains that we need, and if critical minerals are going to create the opportunities that they should for the global community, we’ve got to address it.”

According to the strategy, the government will target $500 million of new investment into critical mineral projects via the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

Additionally, the existing National Reconstruction Fund will add an additional $1 billion for "value-add in resources" to support critical mineral projects. Another $3 billion is earmarked for "renewables and low emission technologies" priority areas.

“Increasing Australia’s sovereign capability in mineral processing will involve moving beyond exporting ores and undertaking more concentration, separation, refining and smelting onshore,” the strategy report states.

“We can use these high‑purity, value-added chemicals and metals to realise economic benefits for Australia.”

Queensland Resources Council’s (QRC) Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane said the council welcomed federal Labor’s Critical Mineral Strategy.

“Queensland has abundant reserves of the new minerals the world needs as we transition to a decarbonised future, and the Federal Government’s Critical Minerals strategy recognises that more mines will be needed if we are to meet ambitious emissions reduction targets,” Macfarlane said on June 20.

Meanwhile, Rio Tinto CEO Sinead Kaufman told attendees at the World Mining Congress that mining has always been key to Australia’s wealth.

“In the last few years, as decarbonisation, critical minerals and increasingly complex geopolitics have put the importance of mining back on the global agenda, it is clear that there are still some elements of what was true last century that still hold—a good quality resource and great people to develop and mine it are still important,” Kaufman said.

“A very strong ability to partner with communities, stakeholders and governments as well as other industry partners has also become an even more important factor for success.”

Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this report.
Henry Jom is an Australian-based reporter who focuses on Australian and health-related news. He has a bachelor's in health science, specialising in rehabilitation, and is currently completing a postgraduate degree in law. Henry can be contacted at [email protected]