World's Mineral Distribution Among Countries

How can the goals of sustainable development be achieved if natural wealth is distributed unevenly?

Natural mineral deposits shape the world's history. Some minerals are invaluable in warfare while others, like gold, had formed the whole concept of an economy as we now know it.

Earth's crust still holds so many unexplored deposits that we may only wonder how much more left. Any country can have a deposit that, when discovered, might turn the tide of cultural and financial influence.

The concern about sustainability was in the air since 1987. The UN report called “Our Common Future” clearly explained the tenets underlying the idea. Meet the needs of present generations without compromising the needs of future generations – that is the motto of sustainable development.

It warms my heart to notice how many good and noble things are written on paper.

Upon a second closer look, it turns out that the idea of sustainability was spoken out and applied as early as in 1713 . I assume that ever since a human mind got its ability to observe and make conclusions, it has been obvious: you cut trees faster than they grow back, and eventually you're out of a forest. Suppose that you fuel your forges with charcoal that is produced from timber. Deforestation then is not just an environmental issue, it's the threat that can destroy the economy of the whole country. Once a single significant link in the chain of supply and demand is broken, the global financial crisis starts, as it happened in 2008.

All these ideas were in the air well before any first record of them appeared, and real experience proves the value of these ideas.

But is sustainable development possible in the environment of market competition?

The figure below illustrates that in fact, cumulative production of the set of most important metals had doubled in the period from 1945 to 2001.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to analyze consumption rates but merely to seek hints that point out which part of the world holds the most strategic advantage in terms of available resources. Mind that not every mineral 'resource' can be called a 'deposit.' A resource is an estimated amount of a given mineral that is believed to be contained within a source mixture. It is not necessarily an economically viable deposit that can be mined profitably. But in time, when a corresponding demand arises, or a technological advancement so allows – a resource might become a deposit. So, the definition does not only depend on the percentage of the desired mineral in the original mixture.

A 'reserve' is a notion synonymous to a 'deposit.'


It's not a secret that the Middle East holds most—about a half—of world's oil reserves. Take a look at this diagram of total production by value . The values are given in millions of euros. It clearly suggests that a country that possesses that much petroleum has a potential to earn a great deal of money. But it does not mean that if the Middle East has half of the world's oil reserves, then it produces exactly half of the world's total. In fact, it produces about 30% .

Such a proportion plays well for the Middle East in the long run. It can afford itself any commodity it needs for further development.

The US, Canada, and Russia come next in the rating.

Natural Gas

The Middle East and the United States are the leaders in the world's natural gas reserves, with Russia follows up.

While gas is less useful than petroleum, environmentalists view it as a safer substitute for coal.


Most of the coal reserves are held by North America, CIS countries, and China. China is the top consumer of coal, followed by the US. There's a fairly old post that contains some unfavorable predictions on the future of Chinese coal industry. China won't carry on rising their production/consumption levels 10% a year for another decade, they said. Well, China may not have plans to keep raising the rates, but it clearly has plans to modernize mine safety and efficiency right until 2035, and it's just a beginning.

In case Chinese coal does run out, it will most likely be forced to import it from Russia or India (much less likely from Australia, South Africa, or the US) which probably won't be much of a problem.

Uranium & Thorium

It is highly unlikely that nuclear power will play any significant role in the nearest future. It is expensive and relatively unsafe. Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada hold the most known reserves of Uranium. India, the US, and Canada hold the most Thorium.

Rare and precious metals

The quick résumé here is that these metals are scattered around the world and wait until their value rises sky-high and the countries owning them make their late comeback into the world economy. Or strengthen their position even more. The top producers so far are:

–                Canada – Cobalt;

–                USA – Beryllium, platinum-group metals;

–                Mexico – Fluorspar;

–                Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – Tin, Gold, Cobalt, Tantalum;

–                Brazil – Tantalum, Niobium;

–                Russia – platinum-group metals (second largest Platinum producer after South Africa ), rare earth metals;

–                Turkey – Magnesium;

–                Afghanistan – Cobalt, Niobium, rare earth metals, Gold, and Lithium;

–                China – Antimony, Beryllium, Fluorspar, Germanium, Gallium, Indium, Magnesium, Graphite, Tungsten, and more. China holds about one-third of the world's reserves of rare earth metals. Consumers realize that the right time to buy rare minerals is now, before they become too scarce, and before money lose their value due to various economic factors. So, China shows a great example of sustainable production: they restrict export even if the demand urges them to produce more.

–                Japan – Indium;

–                Australia – Tantalum, Gold;

–                South Africa – Platinum top one producer, its reserves are just disproportionately huge. That is why the estimated price of South Africa's ore assets is higher than anywhere in the world.

–                Vietnam, Brazil – rare earth metals.

Although I didn't take base metals, gemstones, and timber into account, here is the list of leaders.

China has been mentioned within the scope of this post a few times. Its economy is just balanced too well, so it leaves any other country behind. Notably, it strives to keep production rates low enough to stay in the saddle for another century or so.

Judging on the height of the skyscrapers, Saudi Arabia is okay with all the petroleum and natural gas reserves it owns. The only wrong thing with it is the lack of diversity.

Canada 's resources are diverse and plentiful. While it has not won a particular “Top 1” trophy, “the third largest” is more than enough.

Russia 's mining industry is one of the biggest in the world. The total estimated worth of its natural resources is $75 trillion, but considering climate conditions and low population density, Russia is incapable of making the best use of its commodities. Much of its wealth might still lay undiscovered under Siberian snows.

The rate of petroleum extraction in Russia raises concerns among economy specialists. It won't be a hydrocarbon country forever. Still, it works on nuclear power innovations and hopes to catch up with global cryptocurrency makers in the race for financial domination.

The US owns about 31% of the world's coal reserves, and sizable deposits of copper, gold, oil, and natural gas. Most of its $45 trillion natural resources worth is made up of coal and timber. But it's not the natural resources that make the US the top country - it's the huge value of intellectual property. American Internet services are used worldwide.

Australia happens to be more or less on the par with the wealthiest countries due to its uranium, coal, aluminum, iron, and gold mining industry.

There's a bunch of countries that were happy enough to possess huge quantities of a certain commodity, but the problem is that eventually, they fail to add value. Selling out the ores won't make a country any richer in the long run. So good luck to India , Brazil , Venezuela , and DRC .

The polarized world must be a good thing. Whenever there is more than one pole, we have some guarantees that a dominating country won't take over the rest of the world, establishing a new state of informational slavery, like the 21 st century Roman Empire.

Except that prolonged intensive competition leads to the exhaustion of either side and eventually, the conflict.