Sustainable Extraction of Energy Transition Minerals

Mining, if not sustainable, can put local communities at risk. Photo credit: ADB.

Share on:           


Develop a national strategic plan that adopts ESG standards for mining of minerals.


The global clean energy transition is one of the key trends of the 21st century that will be marked by its scale, speed, and technical complexity. Most renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines and solar photovoltaic, are mineral-intensive. Hence, a transition to a cleaner energy system will increase the demand for energy transition minerals and metals. These resources must be responsibly and sustainably extracted or mined to mitigate any environmental and social impacts.


Opportunities and challenges for energy transition minerals

Rapid deployment of energy efficient technologies, batteries, and electrification is set to increase the demand for copper, chromium, lead, silicon, and rare earth elements. The same goes for minerals used in robotics, drones, and computing hardware, such as antimony, bismuth, gallium, and iridium. Forecasts indicate that the demand for copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and neodymium may increase by 30%, 1100%, 200%, 333% and 200% by 2040,[1] respectively, as compared to 2020, and the lack of availability of these minerals can increase the risk of delayed or a more expensive energy transition.

However, extraction cannot be scaled up rapidly due to infrastructure constraints. Stringent social and environmental criteria for mining permits help mitigate issues, such as deforestation, land degradation, pollution (land, air, water), loss of biodiversity, displacement of local communities, and exploitation of labor, including women and children.  Other barriers for sustainable mining include corruption, lack of technical capacity, and other resource governance issues. Irresponsible mining activities can put local communities, especially indigenous people, at risk.

Lack of robust and publicly available geological data also hinders responsible production. The increasing price trajectory of minerals and its volatility can lead to uncertain revenue flows, which restricts long-term investment.

Extraction activities can bring several positive impacts, such as job creation, tax revenues, foreign direct investment, and infrastructure development, which also brings more economic opportunities. However, mineral extraction must be sustainable to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative socio-economic risks and externalities. 

While national governments are key players responsible for governance and policy making, private mining conglomerates, financial institutions, and other actors in the mineral supply chain play an equally important role in making the extraction of energy transition minerals sustainable. 

Toward sustainable extraction

Studies that estimate the demand of clean energy technologies can help gauge the need for energy transition minerals. The survey of mineral resources using satellite imagery, preparation of 3D maps, and geological characterization of mineral rich areas are prerequisites for exploration projects. Harmonized data collection and reporting can be strengthened by following established standards, such as the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources and the United Nations Resource Management System. 

Adoption of a circular carbon economy framework, which includes deployment of improved technologies for extraction activities, reuse and recycling of raw materials from waste streams and mine tailings, substitution of critical materials, repair and reuse of goods, and efficient collection and recycling of products at end-of-life, can decrease extraction of virgin material. Robust mineral resource governance, stable tax regimes, and clear regulatory and legal frameworks attract investments and enable economic diversification. 

Adoption of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards is essential for addressing rehabilitation, health impacts on workers, and safety issues. The environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) of extraction projects ensures safe management of waste, effluents, and biodiversity protection. Well-established mechanisms for mine closure, land restoration, and integration of regenerative practices will enable responsible extraction. Inclusion of women in the workforce and strengthening their participation in decision-making can enhance community development.

Private investment in the entire value chain, from prospecting to recycling of minerals, is also important. Strict ESG criteria, mine licensing, political stability, demand uncertainty, and price volatility are risks for developers. Sharing of information about mineral resources on open data platforms, unambiguous taxation regimes and increasing transparency in allocation of mineral production rights can lower the investment risks.  

Integrated global supply chains can be enhanced by developing international partnerships. Some of the recent coalitions on important minerals include the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative (2019) for mapping and discovery and the Mineral Security Partnership (2022) for building robust and responsible mineral supply chains. Collaboration on technology and innovation can also yield rich dividends from productivity improvements. 


Developing a high-level integrated strategic plan and a roadmap for energy transition minerals will enable timely and responsible resource exploration and production.

A national strategic plan for mineral resources development must emphasize mapping, resource estimation, exploration, processing, and recycling while ensuring minimal environmental and social impacts.

[1] To meet clean energy deployment trends under the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) as projected in the World Energy Outlook 2020, complemented by the results in the Energy Technology Perspectives 2020.

Radia Sedaoui
Chief of Energy Section, Climate Change and Natural Resource Sustainability Cluster, UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

Radia Sedaoui has more than 23 years of experience in energy markets and climate change. Aside from her current role, she is also the president of the Arab Energy Club. She has an MBA from Robert Golden University, United Kingdom.

Follow Radia Sedaoui on

Kapil Narula
Senior Analyst, Breakthrough Agenda, Climate Champions Team

Kapil Narula holds an interdisciplinary PhD in Economics and a master’s degree in Engineering. With more than two decades of work experience spanning India, Europe, and the Arab region, he has focused on energy transition and sustainability.

Follow Kapil Narula on
Leave your question or comment in the section below:

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or its Board of Governors or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this publication and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. By making any designation of or reference to a particular territory or geographic area, or by using the term “country” in this document, ADB does not intend to make any judgments as to the legal or other status of any territory or area.