The global race for resources has countries look for new ways to meet their mineral resource needs. We’re now used to seeing headlines about mineral riches in the Arctic, beneath the ocean seabed, and even asteroid mining. The latest region in the cross-hairs is Antarctica, with – you guessed it – China aggressively pursuing its interests in the region.
Though the area is technically off-limits for mining under the Antarctic Treaty, experts say there is increasing pressure to change the policy and the ban may be overturned within decades.
A familiar occurrence around the globe, China is enlarging its footprint in the region, and has stepped up investment in Antarctica from $20 million in 2003 to $55 million in 2012. There is also speculation whether the country is looking to “expand its presence from three to four permanent bases on the ice.”
Expect the debate over the Antarctic riches – which are said to comprise copper, coal, chromium and natural gas, as well as iron ore – to heat up, and other nations stake their claims should the mining ban get close to being overturned.
While Antarctic mining is not a near-term scenario, the United States should use these developments in the Southern hemisphere as impetus to step up and formulate a coherent and comprehensive critical mineral strategy, as the rest of the world won’t wait for us to get off the starting block in the global race for resources.
A first important step in that direction may have been made with the launch of DoE’s new critical minerals research hub, but a broad inter-departmental approach is needed for the sake of our strategic and economic future.