Critical minerals boom: Global energy shift brings opportunities and risks for developing countries

The global energy transition offers mineral-rich countries the chance to bolster their industries and diversify their economies but also risks deepening their commodity dependence.

A worker cleans solar panels in the Atacama Desert in Chile
© Shutterstock/abriendomundo

A worker cleans solar panels in the Atacama Desert in Chile
© Shutterstock/abriendomundo
As the climate emergency intensifies, demand is surging for minerals that are critical for renewable energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles (EVs).

UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD) projections based on data from the International Energy Agency indicate that by 2050, for example, lithium demand could rise by over 1500 %, with similar increases for nickel, cobalt and copper.

The booming demand poses significant opportunities and challenges for developing countries rich in critical energy transition minerals, especially those grappling with commodity dependence – when 60 % or more of a country's merchandise export revenue comes from raw materials.

Such dependence hinders economic development and perpetuates inequalities and vulnerabilities across sub-Saharan Africa, South America, the Pacific and the Middle East.

It currently affects 95 developing countries, almost half of the UN’s membership. A total of 29 out of the 32 nations classified as having low human development in 2021 were commodity dependent.

“Commodities and commodity dependence are issues at the heart of the past and especially the future of trade and development,” UN Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan says.

$225 billion investment shortfall in critical mineral mining projects

Global investments in critical energy transition minerals are not keeping pace with escalating demand. Current production levels are inadequate to meet the needs required to limit global warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement.

More information

Related articles:

African mining can make the most of energy transition

With the global energy transition gathering pace, it is imperative that African mining keeps up with the rapidly growing demand for commodities – both to responsibly develop the continent’s...


Saudi Arabia Shares Insights on Global Mining and the Opportunities in the Emerging Mining ‘Super-Region’ that Includes Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia

During a keynote address here at the FT Commodities Global Summit, 21 to 23 March 2022, Saudi Vice-Minister for Mining Affairs Khalid Al-Mudaifer highlighted three trends that are driving the global...

Issue 11/2014 How long are our mineral resources going to last?

Scarcity of Mineral Resources

How long are our mineral resources going to last?

1 Introduction Indium is one of the world’s rarest mineral resources. In its elemental form, the heavy metal has only seldom been found in minerals, although it was proven to be present in rock...

Issue 04/2023 Sustainable future

Mining: a vital link in the transition to a net-zero economy

Modern society is heavily reliant on metals and minerals and the demand is growing, driven by a combination of global trends. The rising urbanization and higher living standards are pushing up the...

Issue 05/2023


Dear readers, Not a day goes by without discussions in the media about the energy turnaround, CO2 savings, sustainable mobility etc. This is only possible with advanced technology, and this in turn...