Mining is probably the most vital sector to the global energy transition and the success of the much-vaunted net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 targets, but it's currently the laggard in the process.

The mining industry is largely at an inflection point as it knows its raw materials are the building blocks of the move from fossil fuels to clean energy, but it can't seem to convince the rest of world that this is the case.

The overwhelming message from miners to investors at two major mining conferences in South Africa last week is that the situation is urgent, and getting worse.

The challenges do seem pressing, given the vast volumes of copper, lithium, cobalt, nickel, zinc, manganese and graphite that will be required, and the limited plans to develop new mines to produce the metals needed.

The mining industry faces several issues that it needs to address, but still seems to be grappling with how to get its message across.

These include how to convince investors that the real action in mitigating climate change has to be at the very start of the process, namely producing raw materials, rather than at the end, namely making electric cars and things like solar panels.

Once convinced, the battle then becomes to get investors to put capital into new mines, which are often located in challenging jurisdictions, and will take several years to return a profit.

Even if you can get that far, there are myriad development and environmental approvals to be secured, and local communities to be consulted and won over, and then transport and logistical barriers to overcome.

In other words, just because copper has traded this year at record highs above $10,000 a ton doesn't mean that building a new copper mine is necessarily an economic no-brainer.

And finally, the mining industry has to battle its largely negative image problem.

Investing in a shiny new Tesla motor car or a household battery wall unit looks far more attractive than a copper mine in Zambia or Indonesia.

Perhaps this explains why Tesla trades on a price-earnings ratio of about 106, while the world's biggest mining company BHP Group has a P/E ratio of 9.96 and peer Anglo American has one of just 5.95.

The question for the mining industry, and the broader energy transition, is how does mining reverse the current lack of interest and urgency.

Russell is a columnist for Reuters.