Climate change and extractives

17 December 2018

The ending of the climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, this week reminds us of the critical role the extractives industries have within the climate change debate.

The oil and gas sector is well and publicly recognised as one of the dominant contributors to global warming. Many regard the metal extractives industries as only bad news since metal extraction, of course, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants of various kinds. Further, heavy metals are particularly damaging types of pollutants.

However, the situation is more complicated: metals can also be part of the solution. Copper, for example, is critical in the electronics and electrical industries (as well as in construction and industrial machinery). Much green energy will finish up as electricity which requires copper in generation, transmission and consumption. Lithium is a vital component in batteries. More exotic (semi-)metals like cadmium and tellurium are important components of photovoltaic devices and rare-earths for magnets, fuel-cells etc.

In 2017 World Bank produced a useful article on the role of metals in the low-carbon future.

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