Several speakers at the Minerals Council of Australia MW21 conference in Canberra this week talked up copper as being the next wonder export for Australia with the advent of electronic vehicles, while coal would be relegated to the has-beens of Australian mining.
This includes instant expert and leader of the opposition Anthony Albanese who glibly told his audience at lunch on Wednesday that these metals would make up for any losses as the world decarbonises.
Lithium, critical minerals and rare earths are apparently the budding young super-stars.
Tesla chair Robyn Denholm said the electric car and power storage company expected its spend on Australian minerals to increase to more than US$1 billion per annum over the next few years.
"There is a global transition to sustainable energy underway," she said.
"It provides a huge opportunity to Australia."
The International Energy Agency also tried to strike an optimistic tone in its Net Zero by 2050 report, which highlighted the opportunities of reducing carbon emissions by phasing out fossil fuels.
This makes for very interesting sound bites and headlines but when you look more closely at the figures and the practical reality of competing on the global stage, the outlook is much less rosy without our world class coal mining industry.
Copper, lithium and other base metals and rare earths would not go anywhere near filling the gap left by coal mining's contribution to the nation's economy.
The coal mining industry employed about 50,000 workers in 2019 with another 120,000 indirect jobs supported by the industry.
In 2018-19 Australia exported 210 million tonnes of thermal coal worth $25.9 billion and 184Mt of metallurgical coal worth $43.6 billion.
The Australian coal industry paid more than $6 billion in royalties in 2018-19, including Queensland $4.4 billion and $1.9 billion for New South Wales.
Compare this with copper, which is supposed to be the leader of the pack in the renewables metals.
Australia's copper export earnings are forecast to grow from an estimated $9.5 billion in 2018-19 to $12.2 billion in 2020-21, supported by both higher prices and export volumes, according to the Resources and Energy Quarterly.
Even if that figure doubles in the next 20 years to $24.4 billion, that is still well shy of the $70 billion provided by coal.
If coal exports halved to $35 billion, that would still be greater than copper's contribution.
Lithium and other rare earths can only contribute US$1 billion, which is just a drop in the ocean.
Australia still has to compete against other nations with high reserves of copper and lithium, especially South America.
On the other hand, Australia has a world competitive coal mining industry that will continue to produce high quality coal in demand by importing nations that need reliable energy for decades to come.