Breaking the Silos: Cooperation Across Industries is Needed to Address Climate Change

(Climate Action, 6 Dec 2019) Steve Kukoda, Executive Director at International Copper Assoication, discusses the importance of cooperation across industries to address climate action.

The world showed its commitment to COP and climate change by quickly finding an alternative for COP25 in Spain. Not having such a meeting at a critical time for the planet would send the wrong message. As this critical climate conference approaches, one of the many industries that will be part of the discussion is the raw materials sector. The copper industry is working to address the impact of mining on the environment, through initiatives such as responsible sourcing and production. However, if climate change is to be dealt with properly and for the Paris Agreement goals to be reached, different industries must work together, as no single industry can tackle climate change alone.

The world is already working to decarbonize. The technologies and innovation used in this process, from efforts delivering greater energy efficiency to more renewables and electric vehicles (EVs), will all require more natural resources, including copper. According to the World Bank’s 2017 report on "The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future," demand in metals should rise tenfold by 2050 with a significant shift to a more decarbonized economic system. Demand for copper alone is expected to rise by up to 40 percent by 2035.

Despite the higher demand for copper a decarbonized economy requires, there is enough copper to meet this demand. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), copper reserves amount to 830 million tonnes, while resources, which include reserves, discovered and potentially profitable deposits and undiscovered deposits predicted based on preliminary geological survey, could exceed 5,000 million tonnes. It is widely anticipated that current and future exploration of copper will reveal an increase in both reserves and known resources. USGS data also indicates that since 1950 there has consistently been around 40 years of copper reserves and over 200 years of resources left due to regular new discoveries.

Demand can be partly met by recycled copper, especially as it can be recycled without losing its properties. In its 2018 World Copper Factbook, the International Copper Study Group (ICSG) estimates that, on average, 35 percent of global copper use comes from recycled copper.

Even with this recyclability of copper, the increase in demand means more extraction will be needed in the coming decades. While copper production does cause emissions, its superior electrical and thermal conductivity mean that copper-containing products operate more efficiently and with a lower carbon footprint. Producing one tonne of copper emits around 3.5 tonnes of CO2 while products using that one tonne of copper emit between 100 and 7,500 fewer tonnes of CO2 thanks to the properties of copper.

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Climate Action, 6 Dec 2019: Breaking the Silos: Cooperation Across Industries is Needed to Address Climate Change