The Pulse

From Dependency to Dominance: India’s Critical Mineral Crusade

Recent Features

The Pulse | Security | South Asia

From Dependency to Dominance: India’s Critical Mineral Crusade

India’s pursuit of critical minerals isn’t just an economic prerogative; it’s a strategic imperative.

From Dependency to Dominance: India’s Critical Mineral Crusade
Credit: Depositphotos

India emerged from COP28 as a beacon of commitment to a sustainable future, advocating for a phased transition that prioritizes inclusion for all while recognizing the continued role of fossil fuels in the global economy. Yet, amid this discourse, the often-underappreciated narrative of critical minerals has taken center stage in India’s pursuit of a greener, more resilient tomorrow.

Critical minerals, the linchpin of renewable energy and clean technologies, remain pivotal but elusive resources in India’s transition toward a low-carbon future. While the nation asserts its ambitious goal to achieve 50 percent of its cumulative installed electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel-based sources by 2030, it faces a formidable challenge concerning the accessibility, extraction, and processing of these minerals, predominantly controlled by a select few nations.

The vulnerability inherent in India’s dependency on critical minerals manifests starkly in its import reliance, notably from countries like China for minerals such as amorphous graphite, cobalt oxides, and nickel oxides and hydroxides. India’s reliance, with imports of significant quantities of these minerals over the last five years, is a critical point of exposure to potential supply disruptions, price volatility, and geopolitical risks. 

Over the span of 2017 to 2023, India procured 50,000 tonnes of amorphous graphite from China, in addition to significant quantities of cobalt oxide (1,100 tonnes) and nickel oxide and hydroxide (5,300 tonnes). Notably, India relies entirely on imports for its lithium and cobalt needs, predominantly sourced from China, a country also commanding more than 60 percent of the global lithium-ion battery production. 

In response to these challenges, India has identified 30 minerals as crucial for its national and economic security. These minerals, including cobalt, lithium, nickel, copper, and rare earth elements, have importance beyond economic implications, intertwining with strategic sectors like defense, space, telecommunications, and high-tech electronics. Such strategic identification aligns with India’s pursuit of self-reliance and inclusivity, integral to realizing its net-zero emissions target by 2070.

The discussions at COP28 also underscored the critical need for sustainable extraction practices, resilient supply chains, technological advancements, and the role of critical minerals in achieving global sustainability goals. The emphasis on a just transition stressed the imperative of ensuring fair access to critical minerals for an equitable renewable energy future.

India’s recent initiatives in the realm of critical minerals signify a proactive stance. Collaborations like the Mineral Security Partnership, approvals for commercial mining, and strategic joint ventures with countries like Australia, aim to fortify India’s self-sufficiency in critical minerals. However, amidst progress, challenges loom large.

China’s dominance in critical mineral supply chains poses a substantial risk to India’s goals, necessitating diversification strategies. China wields considerable influence in the mining sector and holds a commanding stance in the processing and production of vital minerals, including rare earth elements, cobalt, lithium, and nickel. These minerals serve as indispensable components for low-carbon technologies, defense infrastructure, and various high-tech applications. Leveraging its position, China has previously enforced limitations on mineral exports, impacting nations such as the United States, Japan, and Sweden, which rely on these minerals for various applications, such as semiconductors, electronics, and clean energy. Moreover, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament highlighted a concerning vulnerability tied to dependence on Beijing for essential materials, which can hamper U.K.’s net zero ambitions. 

Additionally, the surging demand for these minerals in low-carbon technologies exacerbates supply chain pressures, warranting a nuanced and strategic approach.

Looking ahead, India’s trajectory in the critical minerals landscape hinges on multifaceted strategies. Bridging the gap between demand and supply mandates a blend of domestic development and international partnerships. The narrative isn’t solely about energy security; it’s about resilience, sustainability, and sovereignty.

India’s quest for critical minerals intertwines with its aspirations for a greener future and a stronger economy. Responsible extraction practices that mitigate environmental and social impacts are imperative. The nation’s journey toward sustainability rests on its ability to secure these resources while navigating the complexities of a global landscape.

This pursuit necessitates comprehensive policies that balance sustainable extraction, technological advancements, and global collaborations. India’s resilience and sovereignty in the realm of critical minerals will determine its ability to lead in the transition towards a sustainable and inclusive future.

Thus, India’s pursuit of critical minerals isn’t just an economic prerogative; it’s a strategic imperative intertwined with the nation’s sovereignty and commitment to sustainability. Embracing these minerals responsibly while navigating global dynamics is pivotal. India’s journey toward a greener, more resilient future hinges on its ability to secure these resources while upholding environmental and social stewardship.