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Rocks and Hard Places: A priority for the US going into the G20 Leaders’ Summit

Article by Tony Silberfeld

September 5, 2023

Rocks and Hard Places: A priority for the US going into the G20 Leaders’ Summit

As India prepares to welcome members of the G20 Summit to New Delhi, leaders will be confronted with a range of daunting global challenges from technology transformation to the reform of multilateral institutions. Some of these discussions will result in hand wringing and the usual declaration of aspirational targets that will never be met. There are, however, real opportunities for this group to channel its efforts toward meeting the India presidency’s lofty goal of “One Earth, One Family, One Future.”


High on the Summit’s priority list is creating a viable pathway toward a green future. While it’s probably a fair critique to question the credibility of ‘an Arsonists Convention on Fire Prevention’, the reality is that the energy transition cannot come to fruition without the likes of the United States, China, India and the other members of the G20 club. Central to mitigating the impact of climate change is continuing to expand the use of renewable energy from wind and solar, and electric batteries. Paradoxically, these technologies are powered by minerals that necessitate digging up the planet in order to save it. Added to the environmental costs involved in extracting critical minerals like lithium, nickel, and cobalt, is the moral and economic quandary of propping up regimes around the world with dubious safety and human rights records to satisfy this massive demand. According to the International Energy Agency, from 2017 to 2022, the overall demand for cobalt rose by 70 percent, nickel by 40 percent and lithium tripled.[1]


These figures can no longer be ignored. The United States has begun to chart a path that aims to secure reliable sources of critical minerals by working closely with partners and allies to future-proof its economy from uncertainty or potential economic coercion. Beginning at home with the Inflation Reduction Act, US Congress set out to incentivise the green transition throughout the global supply chain. To bolster this effort, the United States and Japan signed a critical minerals agreement in May 2023, that serves as a blueprint for creating a bloc of countries from Australia to Canada to South Korea with the shared objective to ensure access to the production, processing and delivery of the materials that will shape the decades ahead.


In order to capitalise on this momentum, US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agreed during their June bilateral meeting in Washington to, among other things, begin negotiations on a US-UK critical minerals agreement to increasing “our respective and collective clean energy industrial capacity, boosting electric vehicle production and deployment, and expanding access to sustainable, secure, high-standard critical mineral and battery supply chains.”[2]


It remains to be seen whether this Anglo-American initiative will yield action, but it is clear that the current winds toward agreement are favourable. With China controlling approximately 60 percent of critical mineral production and 85 percent of processing, the external catalyst for movement is present. Containing China continues to be one of the few bipartisan issues in the US Congress, and there doesn’t appear to be much daylight left between Washington and London on addressing the rising challenges posed by China.


Though the US, UK, and its partners among the G20 nations may have been behind the curve in connecting the dots between securing critical minerals and prospering in a green future, the upcoming meeting in New Delhi may prove to be pivotal to defining the road ahead.


Tony Silberfeld is the Director of Transatlantic Relations at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington, DC.


[1] IEA, Critical minerals market sees unprecedented growth as clean energy demand drives strong increase in investment, July 2023,

[2] White House, The Atlantic Declaration: A Framework for a Twenty-First Century U.S.-UK Economic Partnership, June 2023,

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