The decarbonisation of the global economy – which is necessitated by the climate crisis – and the new wave of technological evolution featuring artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G networks, fuel the race to secure uninterrupted access to critical minerals. Traditional industrial actors (the US, the EU and Japan) are pitted against China and its global Belt and Road Initiative, that sets out to unite Eurasia and Africa and loop in South America into a seamless space of high connectivity (land, maritime, air, cyberspace) and trade. Understanding how the high geographic concentration of rare earths, lithium and cobalt often creates hotspots of contention especially in unstable parts of the world, offers instructive indications of how the race to decarbonise and digitalise the global economy will contribute to shaping geopolitics in the years to come.
Paper prepared in the framework of the IAI-Eni Strategic Partnership, December 2019.
1. Rare earths as a major geopolitical challenge
2. Competition over lithium and cobalt
3. The BRI and the race for critical minerals