Minerals and the low carbon economy

Minerals are essential to the way we live and a crucial part of the low carbon economy.


Like it or not, our modern economy can’t function without mining. Everything we depend on is either made from minerals or relies on minerals for its production and distribution. Watch Dr Kenneth J Reid, Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota explain why.

The products of mining are essential for modern society. Aggregates for infrastructure, housing, concrete; coking coal for steel; gold, copper, cobalt, rare earth elements (REEs), lithium and vanadium for electronics, hybrid cars, solar panels, batteries - this list goes on (we can provide plenty of further detail). We mine to meet demand and the demand for minerals exists to maintain and grow our standard of living, in New Zealand and globally.

This reliance on natural resources is not going to decrease. 

A recent report by the World Bank, The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future, predicted increased demand for many minerals as we move to a lower carbon economy. New Zealand has the potential to supply many of these.

World bank report cover image


GNS Study - Minerals in New Zealand

NickelCobalt conservationLithium conservation v2REE conservation


In 2018, a mineral potential study, by GNS commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, found possible areas of lithium, nickel-cobalt and rare earth minerals in New Zealand.  The study concluded there was a high potential for lithium along the West Coast and the Taupō volcanic range, nickel-cobalt in Tasman-Marlborough and Southland, and rare earth minerals on the West Coast.

Energy and Resource Minister Megan Woods said the report provided the government with a strong basis upon which to make decisions on the future of mineral mining in New Zealand.

"There is sky-rocketing demand around the world for minerals which are used in clean-tech and which can aid our transition to a low-carbon economy," Ms Woods said. "That demand represents a real economic opportunity for New Zealand."

Rare Earth Elements have been flagged as of significant strategic importance – the government has rightly made many references to strategic minerals, including at the 2018 Minerals Forum. A GNS study found 79% of land prospective for Rare Earth Elements in New Zealand lies in the conservation estate. The same study found that 69% is the figure for nickel-cobalt and for lithium its 66%.

If we don’t mine in New Zealand, we simply import the resources we need from other countries.  We can choose to allow all mining to occur overseas, but that will often be in places with lower environmental and safety standards than we have in New Zealand, and sometimes in places where labour is exploited. We believe most responsible New Zealanders would not be comfortable simply shifting the issue offshore. And even if you overlook the environmental trade-off, the increased carbon footprint (and associated costs) of importing minerals from overseas make no sense.

Metals materials demand from lithium chart

 The 8 arguments against the ban (click each argument to see more detail).