While the world has surged ahead to invest in a greener future, China’s energy dominance and forward-thinking strategy — coupled with key alliances with resource-rich nations — present a grave threat to U.S. interests.
Despite recent commitments of more than $500 billion to clean energy in the Inflation Reduction Act, the United States still lags behind China by trillions of dollars when it comes to investments in future energy technologies and finds itself vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. With climate change becoming more evident every day, the countries that control the minerals essential to our future clean energy goals could hold the keys to global salvation.
This is not just an environmental issue but an economic one. Control over these essential resources will affect the global political climate of this new age. Should the United States sit idly by while China controls the world’s renewable energy supply chain, we will quickly find our long-held position as the world’s greatest economic superpower crumbling.
Throughout history, energy has transformed impoverished nations into prosperous ones. Saudi Arabia was a relatively poor country before oil. We anticipate a similar transformation for countries rich in copper, lithium, iron and other rare earth metals required for electric batteries and nearly all renewable infrastructure. Because no one country controls all these critical metals, a cartel not unlike the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries may emerge to exploit the global supply of green energy metals, or “GEMs.”
OPEC was established in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, to set global oil prices by controlling output to benefit its members. Having expanded to 13 members, OPEC controls more than 80 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, giving the cartel global political leverage as most of the world still relies on fossil fuels. There is nothing sustainable or socially responsible about the world’s relationship with OPEC; it has enabled countries that have committed horrible atrocities against their people to be tolerated and appeased. If we do not act quickly and purposefully, we risk empowering bad actors once again to become global powerhouses in our race to slow climate change and protect the planet.
An organization of metals exporting countries — or OMEC — would likely mirror the OPEC model, resulting in a few countries collectively influencing the global trade in green energy metals. Given China’s current position as the dominant player in the renewable energy sector, it would likely have the greatest influence and be the de facto leader of the cartel.
Why should I care about this now? If OPEC has existed for 60 years in some semblance of harmony with the United States, why would an OMEC pose such an existential threat to us?
China is already a global power and is a major player in the renewable energy supply chain, giving it a significant competitive advantage over the United States. It is in the best interest of the United States and its allies to aggressively invest in domestic green energy technology, manufacturing, or even the processing infrastructure that China doesn’t necessarily control. A vital element of the strategy will be forging relationships with other potential OMEC members to mitigate the risks associated with China’s green energy dominance and secure a sustainable future, environmentally and economically.
Here is what the green energy supply chain looks like today: a few countries with reserves of GEMs export the extracted raw materials to the largest processors, of which China is king. The processed metals are then sold to the largest manufacturers of renewable energy technologies (batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, etc.), mostly based in China. Beijing has vertically integrated the supply chain for the world’s future energy needs, and Xi Jinping is manning the controls of the global energy transition. The United States cannot afford to abandon control and power over something strategically vital to our survival.
It is worth noting that the United States has the world’s largest crude oil refinery capacity. Imagine what oil prices would be if Saudi Arabia refined most of the world’s oil, selling crude to themselves and setting the price on the refined products that are actually usable?
This fundamental difference in supply chain dynamics underscores the magnitude of the threat posed by a potential OMEC cartel. China already has economic leverage like that of OPEC, and now has the potential to manipulate the implementation, pace and direction of the global clean energy transition.
The United States and other nations need to wake up and act. The consequences of relinquishing control over the green energy supply chain to China are profound.
On this front, the United States is losing … we are decades and trillions of dollars behind.