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Low global copper supply imperils climate goals, Freeport CEO says

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·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: Freeport-McMoran CEO, Richard Adkerson poses for a picture during an interview with Reuters at the CRU's World Copper Conference in Santiago
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(Reuters) -Low global supplies of copper - a key metal used in wiring, electric vehicles and other electronics - will crimp global climate ambitions unless regulators green light more mines, the chief executive of Freeport-McMoRan Inc said on Thursday.

The warning comes as global leaders plan to discuss climate mitigation efforts later this month at the COP26 conference https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/cop26-glasgow-who-is-going-who-is-not-2021-10-15, even as some host communities and environmentalists increasingly oppose new mines for so-called strategic metals.

"There's going to be a time when the world is going to be very short of copper," Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson told investors after the company posted better-than-expected quarterly results. "Supply is a real issue for this industry."

In an early warning sign, stockpiles of available copper https://www.reuters.com/article/global-metals-idUKL1N2RF0H7 in the London Metal Exchange's global warehouse system fell last week to levels not seen for more than 25 years https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/london-metal-exchange-has-restrain-disorderly-copper-andy-home-2021-10-21.

Governments in Peru and Chile https://www.reuters.com/business/freeport-ceo-encouraged-after-talk-with-perus-castillo-2021-10-08 - the world's two largest copper producers - have recently threatened to increase mining taxes and regulations.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration on Wednesday took steps to block https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/blow-twin-metals-us-proposes-mining-ban-boundary-waters-2021-10-20a Minnesota copper mine from Antofagasta Plc, the latest in a string of mining projects his administration https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/biden-looks-abroad-electric-vehicle-metals-blow-us-miners-2021-05-25 has moved against.

Adkerson, who also chairs a global mining industry trade group, described the political situation in Washington as a "head-scratcher."

Biden officials understand the importance of copper to climate goals, Adkerson said, but are not likely to lessen mine permitting standards "because that just runs against the grain of their political situation."

Copper prices https://www.reuters.com/article/global-metals-idUKL1N2RF0H7 meanwhile are up 10% this month due to that low supply, with analysts expecting demand will increase alongside the global economy.

RISING COSTS

Freeport itself is not immune to that price rise. The Phoenix-based company aims to switch its truck fleet from diesel power to either electric or hydrogen. Adkerson said the move will "involve a lot of cost."

He said the switch was essential for the industry to show it is serious about fighting climate change via its own operations, which will soon include recycling operations in Spain. Freeport is also studying ways to leach copper out of waste rock piles stored at its mine sites across the globe, Adkerson said.

"The world needs more copper. And yet, more copper, until technology breaks through, is going to result in more carbon emissions," he said.

Freeport's average realized price for a pound of copper rose about 40% during the third quarter, while production of the metal increased about 17% to 987 million recoverable pounds.

The company's adjusted net income attributable to common shareholders was $1.3 billion, or 89 cents per share, compared with $430 million, or 29 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts on average had estimated a profit of 81 cents per share, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Shares of Freeport fell about 2% on Thursday afternoon as copper prices pulled back from their recent gains. The company's stock has more than doubled in the past year.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Houston and Sahil Shaw in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Angus MacSwan and Daniel Wallis)

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