The Paris Climate Accord committed the world to keeping global warming to well below 2°C from pre-industrial levels, aiming ideally for a 1.5°C limit. To have a 90% chance of staying below 2°C and a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, the world must reduce CO₂ and other greenhouse gases to around zero by mid-century, with a reduction of around 40% achieved by 2030.
Achieving this will require the rapid and large-scale rollout of multiple clean energy technologies, of which the most important support the massive expansion and complete decarbonisation of electricity supply, a deep electrification of most energy final uses, and a hugely expanded role for low-carbon hydrogen, primarily produced via electrolysis.
Building this new clean energy system will require a wide range of critical raw materials, from copper for wiring, steel for wind turbine towers, rare earth elements for electric motors, lithium, nickel and graphite for batteries, and silicon for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Supplying these materials will require large scale investments and rapid expansion of mining and refining capacity.
The key conclusions are that:
- The new clean energy system has manageable requirements for land, water and materials – and will lead to drastically lower emissions, helping to reach net-zero emissions and avoid future climate change and its impacts.
- Over the long term, there are sufficient resources of all the raw materials (and of land area and water) to support the energy transition, and in those cases where currently assessed “reserves” fall short of potential cumulative demand – in particular copper and nickel – reserve expansion can and will be achieved.
- There is major potential to reduce future cumulative demand for energy transition materials via technical innovation and recycling, which should be strongly supported and required by public policy.
- Mining will need to expand. Scaling supply rapidly enough to meet demand growth between now and 2030 will be challenging for some metals, in particular lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt, graphite and neodymium; but actions can be taken by governments and companies which would prevent any serious constraint on the pace of the energy transition.