The operating principles and assumptions of the 1990s and early 2000s no longer apply to the world in which the Australian minerals industry now operates. Rather than openness, multilateralism, globalisation and free trade, the geopolitical context is characterised by rising strategic competition, inequality, lack of trust, protectionism, nationalism, disruption, and, importantly, consumer awareness and expectations of business.
Changing geopolitical dynamics are causing dramatic shifts in the supply and demand of minerals. At the same time, the supply and demand of minerals have the very real potential to fundamentally redraw geopolitical power maps.
It’s a cycle of cause and effect that looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.
This report examines geopolitical developments and how they affect coal and iron ore, as Australia is the world’s largest exporter in these minerals; and gold, where Australia is the world’s second largest exporter. It also includes a section on the geopolitics of rare earth elements (REEs) and critical minerals. 1
The four major geopolitical trends that drive risk to the Australian minerals sector, as this report will explore, are:
Structural shifts to the international system.
Industrial revolution 4.0.
The climate crisis.
Global geopolitical volatility presents risks, but for those on the front foot, it also presents significant opportunities. Key to success is increasing resilience and preparedness to effectively navigate geopolitical risk.2
Businesses in the Australian minerals sector need to ensure they understand these profound and ongoing changes and, more importantly, are prepared for them.
The increasingly unstable geopolitical environment has four key takeaways for the Australian mineral sector:
The demand for fossil fuels is decreasing, albeit unevenly.
The demand for rare earth elements (REEs) and critical minerals is increasing.
Reputation matters: consumer and shareholder focus on ESG and the social licence to operate is growing.
Security of supply from trusted partners is of increasing importance.
 The rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of 17 mentals that comprise the lanthanide series of elements lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb) and lutetium (Lu) in addition to scandium (Sc) and yttrium (Y), which show similar physical and chemical properties to the lanthanides. The definition of ‘critical minerals’ is less fixed.
Geoscience Australia defines critical minerals as metals and non-metals that are considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, yet whose supply may be at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy, or other factors. Criticality is a subjective concept: different countries have different views on what constitutes ‘critical’. In general, REEs are considered to be critical minerals.
Critical Minerals | Geoscience Australia (ga.gov.au)