More than ever before, COP28 demonstrated that switching to clean, renewable forms of energy—and ensuring this energy is used efficiently—was top of mind for the sustainability community and policymakers worldwide. This central focus on accelerating the clean-energy transition will have significant implications for the copper industry and other green technology supply chains. With the UAE Consensus aiming to steer the world toward a rapid transition to low-carbon energy technologies, the demand for copper will grow, given its critical role in renewable energy systems, electric vehicles and energy-efficient buildings.
As negotiators from around the world worked overtime in Dubai to deliver a new plan to address climate change—including a new fund to address losses and damages from climate impacts and the first international accord to directly address fossil fuels—policymakers urgently discussed how accelerating the adaptation of renewable energy will invariably increase the reliance on critical materials, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the copper industry to contribute to a just transition.
A Global Focus on the Clean–Energy Transition
COP28’s extensive agenda sets ambitious global targets beginning with the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, which reflects a commitment to scale up renewable energy access and improve energy-efficiency implementation and financing rates worldwide. These ambitious goals remain pivotal in the mission to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree warming target. Concluding with adoption in the COP28 final decision text, the international community emphasized the deployment of net-zero-emission energy systems and the advancement of low-emission technologies, signaling an intensifying policy focus on accelerating clean-energy adoption worldwide.
As nations triple renewable energy capacity and double the rate of energy-efficiency improvements, the demand for copper—a critical material in renewable technologies due to its high conductivity—is expected to rise. The International Copper Association (ICA) expects copper demand to double by 2050, largely driven by this green transition. These efforts contribute to the larger structural shift toward sustainable development, wherein copper serves an often unacknowledged but essential role as a building block for a greener future. The outcomes of COP28 confirm a global consensus to prioritize this transition, setting a confident trajectory for copper’s relevance and demand in the evolving energy landscape.
Unlocking Critical Minerals
COP28 brought to light the pivotal role of critical minerals, such as copper, alongside the urgent need to harness them in a manner that upholds principles of responsibility and sustainability. In addition to the global negotiations and ambitious targets, conversations among policymakers and the sustainability community centered on questions of how to engage and enable supply chains to meet demand while ensuring everyone can participate in the global shift to clean energy.
Responsible and Sustainable Production
As critical minerals become even more essential to sustainable development, responsible production remains a non-negotiable tenet. While the circular economy offers many potential avenues for meeting demand due to copper’s natural recyclability, durability and versatility, both mining and recycling are needed to meet growing demand. ICA and its members have taken strides in promoting responsible and sustainable mining practices. For example, ICA members—cognizant of copper’s growing centrality to renewable energy—have made ambitious commitments toward reducing environmental impact and upholding high ethical standards in copper production. Copper—The Pathway to Net Zero highlights the membership’s united ambitions to reach net-zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2050 and bring Scope 3 emissions as close to zero as possible in the same period. ICA also launched The Copper Mark®, now an independent and separate organization, that serves as the leading assurance framework for responsible production practices across the copper, molybdenum, nickel and zinc value chains.
Although there is progress to be main, new mining innovations and efficiencies help improve emissions and safety, reducing environmental impact and risks to workers and local communities. Through modern mining practices, ICA members are working to mitigate emissions by implementing renewable energy technologies or electrifying mining equipment and transportation. From less invasive exploration technologies and remote-operated control centers for automated vehicles to biodiversity conservation and end-of-life mine restoration, mining practices continue to develop and improve. The copper industry also provides significant economic value, averaging approximately $73 billion per year in socio-economic value globally, which can help to create jobs throughout the value chain. When done responsibly and sustainably, copper production unlocks critical minerals for global sustainable development while bolstering local communities.
Ensuring a Just Energy Transition
Ensuring developing and emerging economies can access renewable energy technologies and energy-efficient applications that save both emissions and consumer costs is a core pillar of a just energy transition. Industry has a unique and important role to play in making this possible. ICA’s more than 25 years of partnership with the United Nations, as well as its many initiatives in the energy efficiency and energy access space, have demonstrated the commitment of ICA and its membership to enabling a fair and inclusive transition. With the ability to provide technical expertise, collaborate with the value chain to accelerate sustainable production and convene essential stakeholders, these partnerships highlight the possibilities for responsible industry to make a truly global impact.
For example, through ICA-founded initiatives such as the United for Efficiency program, a UNEP-led public-private partnership, ICA works to transform markets for energy efficiency in developing and emerging economies, supporting the advancement of minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) worldwide. Similarly, projects like CORE, GEAR, and Mission Efficiency demonstrate how partnerships can ensure an inclusive energy transition by empowering developing economies with access to clean-energy technology, technical training and capacity building. To support these initiatives, these programs also work to scale energy-efficiency financing through innovative funding models for small- and medium- sized enterprises.
These initiatives can help to amplify advocacy for these solutions on a global stage. At COP28, ICA’s co-founded Mission Efficiency Marketplace released a Call to Action to galvanize the expertise of the energy community and the financial sector to advocate for new energy-efficiency targets, which could provide the solution to meet nearly half of the Paris Agreement’s warming goals. As governments around the world work to fast-track the COP28 policy priorities, industry can and should be a constructive partner in accelerating these shared goals, enabling powerful change on a global scale.