The French government at the bedside of New Caledonian nickel

As COP28 opens this week in Dubai, one of the challenges will be to reach an agreement on the exit from fossil fuels... Oil, coal and gas that need to be replaced by electric batteries in particular. To manufacture these batteries, which are crucial in the energy transition, nickel is needed. A metal that is almost non-existent in Europe... except in New Caledonia, a French overseas territory. As the European Union seeks to strengthen its independence in this area, nickel production is at an impasse in the Pacific archipelago. The French Minister of the Economy was on site this weekend to try to revive this activity.

The Goro Nickel Mine in New Caledonia. Fred PAYET/AFP

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Of the three nickel plants that exist today, none is profitable. A situation that has been going on for more than ten years. This is due to the fact that electricity is too expensive and faulty in the archipelago, or that operating permits have not been issued by the local authorities, who are pro-independence.

As a result, one of the factories has been completely shut down since this summer. And the shareholder of another Glencore is threatening to pull out early next year if new funding is not found.

However, the state will not put its hand in its pocket without a guarantee of reforms, explained Bruno Le Maire. He is at the microphone of our colleagues from New Caledonia the 1st:


To give you a precise figure, the total financing requirement for the 3 industrial sites amounts to 1.5 billion euros. The state will not write a cheque. And the state will not finance industrial activities at a loss."

But France is ready to invest, in renewable energies for example, if and only if commitments are made to make nickel production profitable.

Among the conditions put forward: that industrialists obtain long-term visibility for their operating permits, or that mining groups invest in their plants to produce nickel that can be used in batteries, which is not currently the case in two out of three sites.

Paris hopes that an agreement will be signed with local authorities and industrialists by the beginning of January. New Caledonia's nickel could meet nearly 85% of the needs of French electric battery factories in 2030, according to a report published this summer.

Read alsoNew Caledonia in the raw materials trap

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