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The base metals copper, lead, nickel and zinc provide a range of crucial functions in modern technology, products and infrastructure. While mineral resources are effectively non-renewable and arguably finite, ongoing growth in production rates raises important questions about the long-term sustainability of base metals mining. This chapter presents a thorough review of the base metals sector of the global mining industry, with a particular focus on detailed data sets on reported economic mineral resources and key production trends, especially declining ore grades and increasing mine waste. The resource data are then compared with available national or global estimates of base metal resources. A review of the energy and greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) intensity of base metals mining is then presented, demonstrating that there is an inverse relationship between ore grade and energy/GGE intensity. Given that ore grades for all base metals are in gradual decline globally, this presents significant upward pressure on the future energy/GGE intensity of base metals production. In addition, other crucial issues may also affect base metals production, such as acid and metalliferous drainage, water resources impacts, mine waste management, economic conditions and wealth sharing. The chapter presents a detailed and comprehensive review of the current status of the base metals sector, showing that there is ample room for optimism from a resource perspective, but this needs to be tempered with the reality of the growing effort and risks involved in production.

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