Making green hydrogen the fuel of the future

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Countries must coordinate to ensure that the green hydrogen revolution leads to more than just another opportunity to greenwash energy consumption.

Green hydrogen is all the rage these days. At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt in November last year, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany would invest more than 4 billion euros (US$4.27 billion) in developing a market for it. The administration of US President Joe Biden has made “clean” hydrogen a centerpiece of the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides subsidies for renewable energies. China, too, is so invested in electrolysis that some observers fear that it will take over the market the same way it did with photovoltaic panels. Even corporations such as Australian mining giant Fortescue are betting on it becoming a multibillion-dollar industry.

When a technology is hyped to such an extent, many environmental advocates tend to become nervous. Is “clean hydrogen” merely a way to greenwash so-called “blue” and “pink” hydrogen, generated from natural gas and nuclear energy respectively? Is it an attempt to produce a magic techno fix that vindicates absurd excesses such as space tourism and hypersonic flight, when the world’s middle and upper classes should be shrinking their energy and resource consumption? Or is this the next stage of extractivism, appropriating low-income populations’ land and water under the guise of fighting climate change?

The short answer to all these questions is yes, but that is neither inevitable nor the whole story.

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