Copper: A key facilitator of a low-carbon economy

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International Copper Association [iStock]

This week, international leaders from business, government and civil society are meeting in New York to discuss how to keep the momentum going, particularly considering Washington’s withdrawal from the agreement, writes Fleming Voetmann.

Fleming Voetmann is vice-president of public affairs at the International Copper Association.

The European Union has been at the forefront of international efforts to agree on a global climate deal, with ambitious climate targets for 2030 in place. The transition to a low-carbon economy will not happen overnight. The right course has to be set now—and it will contain more copper.

Copper is already an essential ingredient in our most innovative technologies, such as smart energy technology, aquaculture, space exploration and electric cars, and its role in electromobility, energy efficiency and renewable energy is growing.

On the basis of this, McKinsey has estimated a 43% potential increase in copper demand by 2035 vs. today’s demand of 22 million tonnes.

How copper can help limit global warming and contribute to a brighter future:

  • Copper is the best non-precious conductor of heat, cooling and electricity. So the things that contain copper tend to operate more efficiently. 70% of copper goes into end-use products that benefit from copper’s high electrical and thermal conductivity;
  • It drives energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the most cost-efficient, large-scale opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. Over their lifetimes, electrical systems containing one tonne of copper will emit between 100 and 7,500 fewer tonnes of CO2;
  • It puts the green in “green tech”. Emerging green technologies can help us combat climate change and reduce air pollution. Copper is essential in improving the performance of green technologies. It is already the key to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar but also electric vehicles, and future green efforts are dependent upon copper;
  • It can be reused over and over again. Copper is 100% recyclable and never loses any of its properties. Every year, 8.5 megatonnes of copper are recycled. It can be recycled into diverse objects and used in multiple ways after everyday products, like cables and wires, reach the end of their life. In fact, over a third of the copper used in the past decade came from recycled sources.

Reducing our own industry footprint

We need to meet the increasing demand for copper without jeopardising the environment. As an energy and water intensive industry, we take our responsibilities in terms of “walking the talk” and doing our bit to constantly reduce our footprint very seriously. To keep track of the sustainable-development performance of our members across the entire copper production value chain, we recently completed a survey of 26 members representing 40% of world copper demand. A couple of headlines:

  • We are investing in a low-carbon future. Each year our surveyed members invest more than $20 billion in improving the environmental performance of their operations.
  • We are successful in driving sustainable production that protects the environment. In Europe, our members have reduced their energy consumption by 60% since 1990. They also reported increasing their water recycling rate by nearly 70% over the past five years.

From Europe to South America to Asia, our members are actively leading initiatives to reduce their CO2 emissions.

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New York Climate week is a key U.S. and global, opportunity to come together as a climate and energy community to underline our seriousness about finding a way to meet the increased demand for clean water, food, low-carbon electricity and clean air while combatting climate change and protecting the environment. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, in Europe, we are also looking ahead to COP23 in Bonn and to an autumn in which we will discuss key pieces of the EU’s energy and circular economy legislative framework.

The International Copper Association and our regional partners in the Copper Alliance are working with many partners across geographies, such as the UN at global level and DecarbEurope at EU level to ensure we also play our part.