The Race for Critical Minerals in an Era of Geopolitical Realignments
The decarbonisation of the global economy in response to the climate crisis and the fourth industrial revolution, featuring artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G networks (massively accelerated in response to the coronavirus pandemic), has triggered a race to secure uninterrupted access to critical raw minerals (CRMs) that are indispensable inputs for high-technology applications. Moreover, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which unites Eurasia and Africa and loops in South America into a seamless space of trade, infrastructure and digital connectivity, challenges the dominance of traditional industrial powers (the United States, the European Union and Japan) and requires critical minerals. Rare earths, lithium and cobalt – among the most critical of the CRMs – are found in high geographic concentration, creating hotspots of contention, especially in unstable parts of the world. As economic transformations accelerate, securing access to these materials will both impact and help shape geopolitics in the years to come.
Keywords: critical minerals, 5G, China, geopolitics, rare earths, Belt and Road Initiative