Lower emissions require more metals investment: BHP

  • Market: Emissions, Metals
  • 06/04/22

Limiting global warming in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement will require a significant lift in investments in new metals production capacity, although minerals mining can be emissions intensive, according to Australian resources firm BHP.

The 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to limit the rise in global average temperatures to below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C. Action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be taken as soon as possible, as delayed action will be significantly more costly in monetary and socio-environmental terms, BHP vice-president for market analysis and economics Huw McKay said.

Policies on emissions reduction must address all fundamental elements of the energy transition to allow the demand and supply sides of the system to adjust as required, he added. Carbon pricing is a core ingredient of any effective policy framework to reduce emissions, McKay said.

"None of the [actions required] will be feasible if the supply of metals does not keep pace with the spectacular demands expected to be created by the needs of the energy transition," said McKay.

The dilemma for investors is that metals are essential inputs for the hardware of decarbonisation, and there will be no energy transition without a significant increase in the production of critical minerals, but the production of minerals can itself be a GHG emission-intensive process, according to McKay.

The energy transition will require a vast capital reallocation and will generate material risks and opportunities, placing investors and global capital markets at the very centre of the challenge, he added. Under the International Energy Agency's (IEA) net zero 2050 scenario, annual average energy capital investments would rise from around $2 trillion at present, or 2.5pc of gross domestic product (GDP), to around $5 trillion for the period from 2021-50, or 4.5pc of GDP in 2030 and falling to 2.5pc of GDP by 2050, McKay said.

All low emissions energy technologies require metals, from the nickel used in electric batteries, steel used in wind turbines, silver and silicon used in solar panels, to the copper that will enable further electrification, he added.

Challenges also remain for the development of many metal deposits. The discovery, appraisal and development of new metal deposits is a time and capital-intensive process, where a decade from start to first production would be regarded as "incredibly swift", according to McKay.

"Exploration success has been only modest over the last decade, and in the case of copper, the bellwether for both the base metal complex and the electrification mega-trend, grade decline is expected to become a material headwind for primary supply over the course of this decade," said McKay.

The industry does not currently have an abundance of high-quality development opportunities ready to go, and scrap supply is insufficient to fill the gap, according to BHP.


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19/04/24

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