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Hydrogen high on the COP27 agenda: Hydrogen Council reflects on Sharm el-Sheikh conference

Hydrogen took another step up with COP27. Here, Daria Nochevnik and Daryl Wilson share their reflections.

By Daria Nochevnik, Director Policy and Partnerships, and Daryl Wilson, Executive Director, Hydrogen Council

Hydrogen took another step up with COP27. A two-hour high-level roundtable was chaired by COP27 host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah ElSisi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. It was attended by over 20 heads of state from Europe and Africa, the leaders of the International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Also in attendance were Hydrogen Council member CEOs including: CEO of Siemens Energy, Christian Bruch; President of Microsoft, Brad Smith; CEO of OCI, Ahmed El Hoshy; Executive Chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, Andrew Forrest; Founder and CEO of Safetec, Antonio Lapa.

The group focused on hydrogen in the developing world. There is wide recognition that a hydrogen economy can play an important role in the Global South, fuelling sustainable economic growth, a just transition and creating new trade relations with the developed countries, thanks to cost-effective export projects in some regions. Yet there are many challenges, as we have already seen, where renewable energy deployment in Africa lags behind the rest of the world – some 770 million people are still without access to electricity[1].

The Global Renewable Hydrogen Forum was announced at the roundtable meeting. This is a multilateral initiative for capacity building, overcoming challenges and advancing the adoption of global standards in the developing world, brought together by the COP27 Presidency and Belgium. Supporting organizations include UNIDO, IRENA, Green Climate Fund and the Hydrogen Council. In the meantime, other supporting organisations are looking to join this initiative.

This was the first COP held in the Global South in quite some time. This brought better access to hear African voices particularly. Some highlights include the announcement of the Green Hydrogen and Derivatives Strategy for Namibia followed by an MoU signing with the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen. The strategy was well articulated by the Namibian Energy Minister and the promise of local and global benefits from hydrogen development in Namibia was clear.

Similar progress is evident in Mauritania. The President of Egypt left the high-level roundtable to cut the ribbon for the commissioning of a 100 MW electrolysis plant for renewable ammonia production with Hydrogen Council member OCI N.V. South Africa is also very active in hydrogen with strong leadership from Hydrogen Council members Sasol and Anglo American.

COP (Conference of the Parties) is a chaotic collaboration of 36,000 people from governments, industry and civil society. No one can properly claim any ability to synthesize all that happened.  It is not like anything you will have ever experienced! From our perspective and experience, here are some takeaways from the two weeks:

  • When it comes to climate action, there is no “us” and “them” divide between industry, government and civil society. There is only “us” – one team on the same side of this existential issue. Hence the well placed theme for COP27: Together, for Implementation.
  • The ambition and speed of execution has to move up substantially. We are off to a good start with about $260 billion of the needed $750 billion in hydrogen investments required by 2030 to ultimately meet a 2050 net zero outcome. We are only one third of the way there for this decade of action. We need to fully realise every announcement so far and do two times more on top.
  • If we are going to meet our goals, industry, the hands and feet of getting things done, has to change and be unleashed with enabling policy and funding. No government in the world can pay for all of this, but policy and support in paying down the green premium for the solutions is an important role for state actors.
  • Deep collaboration and activation of the private sector is the only way to get the job done. At COP, industry is called NSAs (non-state-actors). There is sufficient critical mass of NSAs already mobilised that others will inevitably start to follow.
  • Hydrogen needs to be embraced and implemented in the Global South, maximising its social and environmental benefits. Notwithstanding many of the challenges to do this, there is no solution to climate change without hydrogen.
  • The Global South holds precious renewable resources, metals and minerals critical to getting the job done. All peoples of the world need to come together in mutual respect and collaboration ensuring that the benefits of global development in hydrogen and other solutions are well shared in a just and equitable way. Social and environmental justice are a core part of the story – this will open up healthy respectful trade and multilateral trading relationships, which will endure.
  • The priority areas for hydrogen moving into 2023 include:
    • Evolution of global sustainability and safety standards, coupled with certification schemes which provide for transparency, consumer trust and tradability.
    • Permit processes which work on a timely and practical basis.
    • Activation of demand and strong environment for developing customer off takers.
    • Material contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Global South, related to sustainable economic growth, trade and supply chain development.

In the final days much of the focus for COP came down to negotiating of the loss and damage provisions which have been long envisioned, but never funded or practically enabled. An agreement was reached in the end. In like manner, there are many issues which have been much discussed but now are down to practical action and implementation. The good news is we all seem to be tired of just talking and the bias for action is moving up. We left encouraged that we collectively have rounded the corner to focus indeed on action and implementation on the ground.


References

[1] SDG7: Data and projections, access to electricity, IEA 2022

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