Gold is one of the rarest elements in the world, making up between 0.001 and 0.006 parts per million of the earth’s crust. But how much gold is the world digging up each year and what countries produce the most?
According to data released this month by the World Gold Council (WGC), global gold mine production in 2020 was 3,478.1 tonnes (122.7 million ounces), down slightly for the second year in a row after rising consecutively for the past few years. Obviously the pandemic contributed to this slowdown last year, but we may also be seeing the consequences of steadily shrinking exploration budgets.
This raises the question whether peak gold has finally arrived. The low-hanging fruit has already been mined, and giant deposits containing many millions of ounces of gold are not being discovered at the same rate as they once were.
Consider South Africa. The country was at one time the global leader in gold output, digging up over 1,000 tonnes in 1970, but since then its volume has rapidly declined. Last year it slipped out of the list of top 10 gold producers altogether.