top of page

Green Conflict Minerals, The Mad Dash to Net Zero Is About To Get Rough

Updated: Jan 13

This excerpt is taken from "Green Conflict Minerals: The Mad Dash to Net Zero Is About to Get Rough" by James Scott

Climate change represents a looming threat that has already begun to impact the fragile existence of millions who exist in destitute poverty, sinking island nations, and regions of the world where the population eeks out a day-to-day existence from the diminishing yields from their land.. Therefore, the effort to limit the global rise in temperatures to well below 2oC under the Paris Agreement (UNFCC, 2018) and mitigate the effects of climate change requires Herculean resolve and an internationally unified mission to achieve net zero.

A wide variety of technologies aiming to accomplish net zero are being developed and deployed, and their application requires resources that can be limited in supply.

The IEA estimates that “a concerted effort to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement (climate stabilization at ‘well below 2°C global temperature rise’, as in the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario [SDS]) would mean a quadrupling of mineral requirements for clean energy technologies by 2040. An even faster transition, to hit net-zero globally by 2050, would require six times more mineral inputs in 2040 than today.” (IEA, 2022)

The main factor is the increased use of electric vehicles and batteries, which is predicted to increase thirty times by 2040. Lithium should see the highest increase in materials used for manufacturing by 2040, over 40 times, followed by graphite and nickel (20-25 times). Copper demand is slated to double due to the expansion of the global electrical grids. Cobalt consumption is estimated to increase 6 to 30 times, depending on the evolution of battery technology and the stringency of climate policies. Rare earths should see an increase of 3 to 7 times, depending on how widely wind power generation is adopted. Largely, these wide margins of uncertainty are due to a general need for more well-defined long-term policies.

The total consumption of minerals critical for green technologies is expected to increase from around 8 million tons in 2020 to 30-40 million tons by 2050, creating significant opportunities in the field. As a result, this mining sector's value is expected to increase from around $40 billion to over $250 billion in annual revenue. For comparison, today's global coal mining sector is worth around $420 billion in annual revenue.

In the near term (by 2030), the supply outlook is mixed: the supply of some minerals like mined lithium and cobalt is expected to meet or surpass demand, while for others like rare earths, lithium chemical products, or battery-grade nickel, the demand is expected to exceed current and planned production significantly. The existing operations, planned expansions, and new operations are expected to meet only half the demand for lithium chemical products and cobalt and around 80% of the demand for copper. This highlights the lack of urgency on the supply side of climate change mitigation and the relatively long time it takes to develop mining projects from the first deposit discovery to full exploitation (around 15 years). Environmental concerns regarding large mining projects also tend to delay these projects, as local communities are concerned with the impact the operations will have on the local environment.

Resources vital to mitigating climate change and not found locally abundant are now classified as critical minerals. Critical minerals, in general, are defined by current dependence on imports of minerals necessary for security and economic prosperity, usually with limited domestic sources and, therefore, dependence on one or few trading partners. For the US, these critical minerals are assigned yearly by the US Geological service. They include aluminum, chromium, cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese, nickel, rare earths, titanium, vanadium, and zinc (USGS, 2022).

Critical minerals vital to green technologies are collectively named green energy minerals and they include: Aluminum (Wind, solar and batteries), Chromium (Wind and batteries; also hydro and geothermal), Cobalt (Batteries), Copper (Wind, solar and batteries; also hydro, geothermal), Graphite (Batteries), Iron (Wind and batteries), Lead (Wind, solar and batteries; also hydro), Lithium (Batteries), Manganese (Wind and batteries; also hydro and geothermal), Molybdenum (Wind, solar and batteries; also hydro and geothermal), Nickel (Wind, solar and batteries; also hydro and geothermal), Rare Earths (Wind), Silver (Solar), Titanium (Geothermal; potential use in experimental battery and solar technology), Vanadium (Batteries), Zinc (Wind, solar and batteries; also hydro), Antimony (Potential use in an experimental large-scale energy storage), Cadmium (thin-film PV technology), Gallium (thin-film photovoltaic (PV) technology), Germanium (transistors for electronic devices), Indium (thin-film PV technology), Niobium (experimental solar and battery technologies), Platinum (hydrogen-based fuel), Selenium (thin-film PV technology), Silicon (photovoltaic cells), Tantalum (electric cars and other electronic applications), Tellurium (thin-film PV technology), Tin (electronics, automobile components) (Church, 2020).

At the intersection of critical and green energy minerals lies a group of materials that are vital to green technologies and either already in short supply or estimated to become in the next ten years. Moreover, the minerals' supply is likely the decisive factor in the success of the effort to mitigate climate change. Without sufficient supply, no policy or technology will be able to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and limit the global temperature rise to 2oC. Therefore, it is worth examining the state of their global supply (location, production capacities), strategic implications, and most likely scenarios for the future regarding their availability.

Contact the Embassy Row Project

Embassy Row Project Podcast

Embassy Row Project Blog

Embassy Row Project YouTube

The latest books by Embassy Row Project's founder James Scott entitled

Green Conflict Minerals: The Mad Dash to Net Zero Is About to Get Rough

Climate Change Economics: Carbon Capitalism, Regenerative Agriculture & Beyond

A Fast Track to Carbon Neutral: Using Environmental Commodities to Rapid Launch Commercial Sustainability Programs


Church, C. and Crawford, A., 2020. Minerals and the metals for the energy transition: Exploring the conflict implications for mineral-rich, fragile states. In The Geopolitics of the Global Energy Transition (pp. 279-304). Springer, Cham.

Deberdt, R. and Le Billon, P., 2021. Conflict minerals and battery materials supply chains: A mapping review of responsible sourcing initiatives. The Extractive Industries and Society, 8(4), p.100935.

Deberdt, R. and Le Billon, P., 2022. The Green Transition in Context—Cobalt Responsible Sourcing for Battery Manufacturing. Society & Natural Resources, pp.1-20.

IEA, 2022, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions: World Energy Outlook Special Report, Available at:

IISD, 2018, Green Conflict Minerals, The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy, Available at:

Kirschner, M., 2022. Why the circular economy will drive green and sustainable chemistry in electronics. Advanced Sustainable Systems, 6(2), p.2100046.

Rachidi, N.R., Nwaila, G.T., Zhang, S.E., Bourdeau, J.E. and Ghorbani, Y., 2021. Assessing cobalt supply sustainability through production forecasting and implications for green energy policies. Resources Policy, 74, p.102423.

Rÿser, R.C., 2022. Green energy mining and Indigenous peoples' troubles: Negotiating the shift from the carbon economy to green energy with FPIC. Fourth World Journal, 22(1), pp.101-120.

Sgouridis, Sgouris; Carbajales-Dale, Michael; Csala, Denes; Chiesa, Matteo; Bardi, Ugo (June 2019). "Comparative net energy analysis of renewable electricity and carbon capture and storage" (PDF). Nature Energy. 4 (6): 456–465.

UNFCCC, 2018, The Paris agreement. United Nations Climate Change, 20 April 2018.

USGS, 2022, US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2022, Available at:

USAID, 2021, Mining And The Green Energy Transition: Review Of International Development Challenges And Opportunities, Available at:

Wenchang, L.I., Jianwei, L.I., Guiqing, X.I.E., Xiangfei, ZHANG, and Hong, L.I.U., 2022. Critical minerals in China: Current status, research focus, and resource strategic analysis. Earth Science Frontiers, 29(1), p.1.

Zhang, H., Aydin, G. and Heese, H.S., 2019. Curbing the usage of conflict minerals: A supply network perspective. Decision Sciences.


US Net Import Reliance:

ARSENIC, all forms, 100%, %, China, Morocco, Belgium

ASBESTOS, 100%, Brazil, Russia

CESIUM, 100%, Germany, China

FLUORSPAR, 100%, Mexico, Vietnam, South Africa, Canada

GALLIUM, 100%, China, United Kingdom, Germany, Ukraine

GRAPHITE (NATURAL), 100%, China, Mexico, Canada, India

INDIUM, 100%, China, Canada, Republic of Korea, France

MANGANESE, 100%, Gabon, South Africa, Australia, Georgia

MICA (NATURAL), sheet, 100%, China, Brazil, Belgium, India


NIOBIUM (COLUMBIUM), 100%, Brazil, Canada

RUBIDIUM, 100%, Germany

SCANDIUM, 100%, Europe, China, Japan, Russia

STRONTIUM, 100%, Mexico, Germany, China

TANTALUM, 100%, China, Germany, Australia, Indonesia

VANADIUM, 100%, Canada, China, Brazil, South Africa

YTTRIUM, 100%, China, Republic of Korea, Japan

GEMSTONES, 99%, India, Israel, Belgium, South Africa

TELLURIUM, >95%, Canada, Germany, China, Philippines

POTASH, 93%, Canada, Russia, Belarus

IRON OXIDE PIGMENTS, natural and synthetic, 91%, China, Germany, Brazil

RARE EARTHS, compounds, and metals, >90%, China, Estonia, Malaysia, Japan

TITANIUM, sponge, >90%, Japan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine

BISMUTH, 90%, China, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Belgium

TITANIUM MINERAL CONCENTRATES, 90%, South Africa, Australia, Madagascar, Mozambique

ANTIMONY, metal, and oxide, 84%, China, Belgium, India

STONE (DIMENSION), 84%, China, Brazil, Italy, India

CHROMIUM, 80%, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mexico

PEAT, 80%, Canada

SILVER, 79%, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Poland

TIN, refined, 78%, Indonesia, Peru, Malaysia, Bolivia

COBALT, 76%, Norway, Canada, Japan, Finland

DIAMOND (INDUSTRIAL), stones, 76%, South Africa, India, Congo (Kinshasa), Botswana

ZINC, refined, 76%, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Spain

ABRASIVES, crude fused aluminum oxide, >75%, China, France, Bahrain, Russia

BARITE, >75%, China, India, Morocco, Mexico

BAUXITE, >75%, Jamaica, Brazil, Guyana, Australia

SELENIUM, >75%, Philippines, China, Mexico, Germany

RHENIUM, 72%, Chile, Canada, Kazakhstan, Japan

PLATINUM, 70%, South Africa, Germany, Switzerland, Italy

ALUMINA, 58%, Brazil, Australia, Jamaica, Canada

GARNET (INDUSTRIAL), 56%, South Africa, China, India, Australia

MAGNESIUM COMPOUNDS, 55%, China, Brazil, Israel, Canada

ABRASIVES, crude silicon carbide, >50%, China, Netherlands, South Africa

GERMANIUM, >50%, China, Belgium, Germany, Russia

IODINE, >50%, Chile, Japan

TUNGSTEN, >50%, China, Bolivia, Germany, Canada

CADMIUM, <50%, Australia, China, Germany, Peru

MAGNESIUM METAL, <50%, Canada, Israel, Mexico

NICKEL, 48%, Canada, Norway, Finland, Australia

COPPER, refined, 45%, Chile, Canada, Mexico

ALUMINUM, 44%, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Russia, China

DIAMOND (INDUSTRIAL), bort, grit, dust, and powder, 41%, China, Ireland, Republic of Korea, Russia

LEAD, refined, 38%, Canada, Mexico, Republic of Korea, India

PALLADIUM, 37%, Russia, South Africa, Germany

FELDSPAR, 32%, Turkey

SILICON, metal and ferrosilicon, 32%, Russia, Brazil, Canada, Norway

SALT, 29%, Chile, Canada, Mexico, Egypt

MICA (NATURAL), scrap and flake, 28%, Canada, China, India

LITHIUM, >25%, Argentina, Chile, China, Russia

BROMINE, <25%, Israel, Jordan, China

ZIRCONIUM, ores and concentrates, <25%, South Africa, Senegal, Australia, Russia

PERLITE, 23%, Greece, China, Mexico, Turkey

VERMICULITE, 20%, South Africa, Brazil

Mineral, US Consumption (metric tons); US share of imports; main import partner; World leading producing country, percentage of world production produced by the world leader

Aluminum (bauxite), 3,600,000; >75%, Jamaica; Australia, 28%

Antimony, 28,000; 84%, China; China, 55%

Arsenic, 6,800; 100%, China; Peru, 46%

Barite, >75%, China; China, 38%

Beryllium, 200; 16%, Kazakhstan; the United States, 65%

Bismuth, 810; 90%, China; China, 84%

Chromium, 590,000; 80%, South Africa; South Africa, 44%

Cobalt, 6,700; 76%, Norway; Congo (Kinshasa), 71%

Fluorspar, 100%, Mexico; China, 63%

Gallium, 100%, China; China, 98%

Germanium, 530; >50%, China; China, 68%

Graphite (natural) 45,000; 100%, China; China, 82%

Helium, 40; Export, Qatar; the United States, 44%

Indium, 170; 100%, China; China, 58%

Lithium, 52,000; >25%, Argentina; Australia, 55%

Magnesium, 50,000; <50%, Canada; China, 84%

Manganese, 640,000; 100%, Gabon; South Africa, 37%

Niobium, 7,000; 100%, Brazil; Brazil, 88%

Palladium (platinum-group metal), 90; 37%, Russia; South Africa, 40%

Platinum (platinum-group metal), 37; 70%, South Africa; South Africa, 72%

Potash, 7,400,000; 93%, Canada; Canada, 30%

Rare-earth elements, 6,100; >90%, China; China, 60%

Rhenium, 32; 72%, Chile; Chile, 49%

Scandium; 100%; China

Strontium, 4,800; 100%, Mexico; Spain, 42%

Tantalum, 710; 100%, China; Congo (Kinshasa), 33%

Tellurium; >95%, Canada; China, 59%

Tin 45,000; 78%, Indonesia; China, 30%

Titanium; >90%, Japan; China, 57%

Tungsten; 50%, China; China, 84%

Vanadium; 3,600; 100%, Canada; China, 66%

Zirconium, 30,000; <25%, South Africa; Australia, 36%

bottom of page