Today we begin a two-bulletin series comparing the Critical Mineral Strategies of Australia and Canada, two remarkably similar countries, from a geological and legal perspective. We begin the first bulletin by comparing the list of critical minerals in both countries, their respective ambitions with regard to the energy transition and each country’s geological endowment, and end the bulletin with a review of Australia’s approach to exploration.

Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy 2023-2030 [1] (the “Australian Strategy”) was released in June 2023, and Canada’s own strategy was released in December 2022 (the “Canadian Strategy”). The Canadian Strategy currently available has been amended to incorporate elements of the recent federal budget, which considered the effects of the signing into law of the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022.

The Critical Minerals Lists of Australia and Canada – What They Have in Common and How They Differ

Let’s first look at the list of critical minerals in both countries, 26 in Australia and 31 in Canada:

The Australian Strategy states that a process to update the list will be established to ensure that it responds to global strategic, technological, economic, and policy changes.

We should also mention that Canada has a list of six prioritized minerals: lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper and rare earth minerals. Australia does not have such a list, but we get a sense of Australia’s priorities when we note the minerals in respect of which the Critical Minerals Development Program has given grants for their production, namely: lithium, cobalt, graphite, high-purity alumina (HPA), tungsten, tantalum, battery precursor chemicals, and vanadium.

The Canadian Strategy states that the federal government will engage with the provinces and territories through a task team to help “refine” and support Canada’s list of critical minerals.

Critical Minerals and the Energy Transition: Australia’s and Canada’s Objectives

The Australian Strategy states that critical minerals are essential to manufacture technologies that will help the transition to net zero emissions, such as electric vehicles, batteries, permanent magnets for wind turbines, solar photovoltaics, hydrogen electrolyzers, and energy-efficient technologies like LEDs.

Similarly, the Canadian Strategy says that critical minerals are the building blocks for the green and digital economy, for renewable energy production and storage, electric vehicle batteries, defence and security technology, consumer electronics, and critical infrastructures.

Australia’s Geological Endowment and Canada’s Resource Wealth

Both Australia and Canada are blessed with a rich geology. Australia has some of the world’s largest recoverable resources of cobalt, lithium, manganese, rare earth elements, tungsten, and vanadium. It is the world’s largest producer of lithium, the third-largest producer of cobalt, and the fourth-largest producer of rare earth elements.

Canada has an abundance of cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel; Canada is a leading producer of nickel, potash, aluminum, and uranium.

A Focus on Exploration: The Australian Approach

Like Canada, Australia is an enormous country, sparsely populated and with large undiscovered minerals.

“Up to 80 per cent of the Australian continent remains underexplored, with significant potential to discover new deposits,” [2] says the Australian Strategy, which adds that Australia has “world-leading scientific expertise, particularly in exploration technology and the generation of precompetitive data, and a track record as a reliable producer and exporter of energy and resources.”

The Australian Strategy goes on to say that mineral exploration “will continue to be supported by the globally recognized expertise within Geoscience Australia and state and territory geological surveys that improve our understanding of Australia’s critical mineral resources potential, ensuring a strong pipeline of future projects.” [3]

The Australian Strategy has six focus areas, one of them being “Developing strategically important projects” and under that focus area, one specific goal is to “[e]nable a pipeline of new critical mineral discoveries and projects by supporting exploration.” [4] Quite logically, the Strategy states that “[i]n order to build clean energy technologies, we first need to know where to find the raw minerals” [5] and the Strategy underlines that Australia is already doing something on that front through “Geoscience Australia’s AU$225 million Exploring for the Future Program[, which] provides world-leading, precompetitive geoscience data and information to encourage investment in new resource projects today and in the future.” [6]