Australia is a leading global supplier of mineral resources. The resources sector has enabled our economy to remain resilient throughout the global pandemic. The ongoing investment and interest in Australia’s mineral potential enables us to grow an innovative and successful resources sector that delivers sustained prosperity and social development for all Australians, particularly in the regions.
Since 1975, Geoscience Australia has produced Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources (AIMR) publication. AIMR provides a unique insight into our diverse and abundant ore reserves and mineral resources. The timing of the 2020 edition of AIMR provides an important baseline for measuring our COVID-19 economic recovery. Understanding what we have overcome and what still needs to be achieved is fundamental to ensure the ongoing prosperity of all Australians.
Compiled from the mining industry, these figures reveal trends in reserve estimates, resource estimates and mine production, and provides a strong evidence base to inform policy decisions and international investment, as well as managing the sustainable development of our mineral resources.
At the end of 2019, Australia remained a global leader in mineral exploration and production, and one of the world’s most desirable locations for investing in mineral resources. Some highlights from the 2020 edition of AIMR include:
Advancements in technology are driving the world’s appetite for critical minerals. The Government supports Australia’s mineral industry to build on the opportunities arising from this growing global market. Australia’s Critical Minerals Facilitation Office is assisting companies in securing investment and market access and Geoscience Australia is leading science collaboration with partners in the United States, Canada and India to better understand our respective geological resource potential.
The Government’s investment of $225 million in the Exploring for the Future program, led by Geoscience Australia, recognises that a strong pipeline of new exploration opportunities is essential for Australia’s future economic prosperity. The program has already resulted in significant new investment in resource exploration across Northern Australia, with over 120,000 square kilometres of greenfield exploration tenements under application.
Australia is ready to maintain and grow its global leadership in supplying critical and other essential minerals to the world. Our National Resources Statement paves the way for attracting additional investment, including in new technologies, developing new resources and markets, creating well paid and secure jobs, many in regional and rural Australia, and ensuring that all Australians share the benefits of mining success.
Our resources sector is more important than ever, and I look forward to seeing it expand and continue to drive Australia’s economy for years to come. I welcome the launch of the 2020 edition of Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.
The Hon Keith Pitt MP
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia
Australia has a robust and world-leading mining industry evidenced by a top five position as a producer for some 15 commodities including gold, bauxite, iron ore, rare earths, mineral sands, zinc, nickel and coal. In 2019, Australia’s mineral exports (excluding petroleum products) amounted to $234 billion which was 60% of all export merchandise and 47% of all exported goods and services1. In 2019, mining accounted for 12% of gross domestic product2 In addition, the mining industry employed some 243,000 people in 2019, with many more employed by related industries3.
The major commodities of iron ore, black coal, gold, aluminium and copper contributed some $207 billion to Australia’s export income in 20194. Australia is also richly endowed with many other minerals, particularly those that are regarded as critical5, or strategic, minerals by many trading partners. Growing markets for these commodities, particularly for those associated with emerging technologies such as battery storage, renewable energy and electric vehicles have stimulated exploration and resource delineation in Australia in recent years. Critical minerals such as lithium, cobalt and graphite are essential for the development of low-carbon technologies such as wind, solar and energy storage batteries. Demand for these minerals is projected to significantly rise—by 965% for lithium, 585% for cobalt and 383% for graphite, relative to 2017 production—by 20506.
Geoscience Australia and its predecessors have prepared the annual assessment of Australia’s mineral resources since 1975. Thus, this publication—Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources (AIMR)—is able to draw on 45 years of data to reveal trends in reserve estimates, resource estimates and mine production over a range of periods. This assessment also provides useful long-term indicators of potential resource life and future supply capability, including for 13 of the 24 critical minerals listed in Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy 20197. AIMR is designed to assist government policy decision making, enable mineral sector program planning, and contribute to the sustainable development of Australia’s mineral resources.
AIMR presents Australia’s Ore Reserves at operating mines (Table 1) and all deposits (Table 2), and also longer-term estimates of the nation’s Identified Mineral Resources (Table 3) and changes in resource estimates from the previous year (Table 4). AIMR also provides useful comparisons of the mine inventory as a proportion of the national inventory (Table 5), national reserves as a proportion of national resources (Table 6) and insights into the distribution of Australia’s mineral wealth within the largest deposits (Table 7). It is also of interest to note Australia’s ranking as a global source of minerals as many countries are dependent on reliable supply from Australia for their own economies (Table 8).
The estimates in AIMR 2020 of Australia’s Ore Reserves and Mineral Resources are as at 31 December 2019 and thus precede the COVID-19 pandemic. The data in this report will therefore form an important reference point going forward as government and industry assess the short and long-term effects of this health and economic emergency in coming years.
The data in the national minerals inventory is sourced primarily from published company reports but includes some confidential and historical data. The category of highest geological and economic confidence in the national inventory is Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) which, in essence, combines the Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) Code categories of Proved and Probable Ore Reserves and most of Measured and Indicated Mineral Resources.
Mine production figures are sourced from the Office of the Chief Economist at the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, state government publications and company reports. World rankings of Australia’s mineral resources have been calculated mainly using information published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
1 Office of the Chief Economist (Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources), Resources and Energy Quarterly, Historical Data spreadsheet September 2020, Table 17.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian National Accounts, National Income, Expenditure and Product, cat. no. 5206.0, Figure of 12% calculated by dividing Mining (B) Table 45 by Gross Domestic Product Current Table 1.
3 ABS, Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, cat. no. 6291.055.003, February 2020, Table 4.
4 See above n 1.
5 Critical minerals are elements and minerals regarded as vital for economic well-being, but for which supplies could be disrupted by factors including geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, or trade policies. The proliferation of technologies used in everyday life, as well as specialist applications, that rely on critical minerals has led to increased government interest in the sector, both domestically and abroad. See below n 7.
6 World Bank, Climate-Smart Mining: Minerals for Climate Action (Infographic, 8 October 2019). See https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/10/07/changing-mining-practices-and-greening-value-chains-for-a-low-carbon-world (accessed 18 December 2020). This supplements a recent World Bank Report which projected that meeting obligations under the Paris Agreement by 2050 using clean energy technologies would require an annual production increase of 494% for graphite, 488% for lithium, 460% for cobalt, and 189% for vanadium relative to 2018: Hund, Kirsten, La Porta, Daniela, Fabregas, Thao P., Laing, Tim, and Dexhage, John. Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition (World Bank Report, 2020), Table B, p 103. See: http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/961711588875536384/Minerals-for-Climate-Action-The-Mineral-Intensity-of-the-Clean-Energy-Transition.pdf (accessed 18 December 2020).
7 Australian Government, Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy 2019, Canberra. See https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/australias-critical-minerals-strategy
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia:
The Hon Keith Pitt MP
Secretary: Mr David Fredericks PSM
Chief Executive Officer: Dr James Johnson
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Senior, A., Britt, A., Summerfield, D., Hughes, A., Hitchman, A., Cross, A., Champion, D., Huston, D., Bastrakov, E., Sexton, M., Moloney, J., Pheeney, J., Teh M, and Schofield, A., Geoscience Australia 2021. Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources 2020. Geoscience Australia, Canberra. http://dx.doi.org/10.11636/1327-1466.2020