Saturday

23rd Jan 2021

Industry covertly takes charge of EU's hydrogen alliance

  • With a lobbying group as the secretariat, it appears that industry is in the driver's seat when it comes to the EU's hydrogen policy (Photo: National Renewable Energy Lab)

A fossil fuel-backed lobby group has covertly taken charge of an EU flagship proposal to reduce carbon emissions.

Launched over the summer by three EU commissioners, the so-called European Clean Hydrogen Alliance came with promises of openness and transparency.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But although not stated anywhere on the alliance's website, EUobserver has since learned that the Brussels-based Hydrogen Europe, a fossil fuel-supported lobbying umbrella group, is now acting as its secretariat.

Asked to comment, Hydrogen Europe says it had not received any explicit request to take on the role.

"Whilst Hydrogen Europe has not received explicitly any request, since the launching of the alliance, HE [Hydrogen Europe] has mobilised members and non-members and other associations to take part in the initiative," it said, in an email.

This includes dedicating staff to handle logistics like setting up a website, preparing meetings with the industry, and disseminating the result of those meetings to the wider public.

The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance has yet to become fully operational.

But Hydrogen Europe's role sends a signal the industry may press fossil-fuel solutions on hydrogen - an energy source the EU is pushing to help reduce carbon emissions.

At the July launch of the event, commission vice-president Frans Timmermans described hydrogen as "the rock star of energy."

An EU commission official, who asked not to be named, broadly echoed Hydrogen Europe's new position.

"It has the technical knowledge to organise the operational work on hydrogen," said the source, noting a code of conduct is currently being finalised.

It remains unclear why no selection procedures were used to admit and promote Hydrogen Europe's leadership bid into the alliance.

Asked to explain, the commission said the group had "demonstrated a clear commitment (signed by more than 90 CEOs) to enable the large-scale production and deployment of renewable hydrogen."

The alliance is currently composed of some 200 companies plus dozens of other organisations.

But civil society and green NGOs working on climate change remain sceptical.

So far only three have joined - including a Ukraine-based group that provides no detail on who is behind it.

'Mind boggling'

"How Hydrogen Europe could become the secretariat - I find that mind boggling," said Tara Connolly of Friends of the Earth Europe, an NGO.

"We are talking about EU subsidies or state aid, preferential regulatory treatment. There is nothing stopping from someone going off and doing whatever they want," she said of the alliance.

She noted that when the alliance was initially conceived, it had a governing board. That board has since been replaced by "CEO roundtables".

"It isn't very clear and is seriously lacking in transparency," Connolly said, adding that Friends of the Earth Europe has no intention of joining.

There is also big money involved.

Estimates suggest some €430bn will be needed by 2030 to scale up hydrogen demand, infrastructure, and production.

And the European Commission says unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be needed to transition into cleaner energy.

Such statements are likely enticements for a fossil fuel industry that has spent some €250m lobbying the EU institutions over the past decade.

In July, Hydrogen Europe's secretary general Jorgo Chatzimarkakis spelled out his vision for the alliance.

"Many people are asking why is it industry-led, and why do you have CEOs foreseen for that? Because we need fast decisions," he asked, rhetorically.

Chatzimarkakis noted some one-third of the €430bn would be public money, with the rest pooled from private investments.

He also claimed a major portion would go into renewables like solar and wind.

"We are happy that we see the high-level backing of the European Commission, but in fact we also see there are fields in which we need to invest where there is no legislation," he said.

Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas

Civil society organisations criticised that the commission is relying on early-stage technologies that require the continued use of fossil fuels, undermining the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality target set in the Green Deal.

Opinion

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

EU 'climate bank' won't rule out carbon capture

The European Investment Bank has billed itself as the world's largest climate change action financier as it plans to phase out gas, oil and coal projects. It has, however, not ruled out backing carbon capture and storage technologies.

Gas and oil spent €250m lobbying EU

BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, and their lobby firms have spent over €250m in lobbying the EU to water down climate goals since 2010, a new study shows.

Investigation

Hydrogen - the next battlefield

Part Two of Investigate Europe's long-form examination of the EU gas industry looks at hydrogen - touted as the clean, green, future. But with NGOs sidelined, and industry leading the push, how sustainable is it really?

News in Brief

  1. Hungary buys Russia's Sputnik V vaccine
  2. Netherlands imposes curfew to halt new corona variant
  3. Green NGO fails to stop Europe's biggest gas burner
  4. Swedish minister reminds Europe of Russia's war
  5. Spain: Jesuit order apologises for decades of sexual abuse
  6. NGOs urge Borrell to address Egypt rights 'crisis'
  7. EU conflict-area education aid favours boys
  8. EU told to avoid hydrogen in building renovations

Livestream

Live: Join the Nordic climate debate 'Choosing Green'

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has stalled climate negotiations, work has not stopped. The 'Choosing Green' debate will address some of the most important and most complex key areas relating to the global green transition. Live on EUobserver from 10:00 (CET).

Green Deal

Timmermans 'disappointed' with ongoing CAP reform

For European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, the Common Agricultural Policy has to answer to "higher expectations" on climate action, protection of biodiversity and environmental sustainability, while ensuring a fair income for all farmers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. EU leaders keep open borders, despite new corona variant risk
  2. EU and Cuba appeal for Biden to open up
  3. Portugal's EU presidency marks return of corporate sponsors
  4. MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute
  5. EU warns UK to be 'very careful' in diplomatic status row
  6. A digital euro - could it happen?
  7. US returns to climate deal and WHO, as EU 'rejoices'
  8. Big tech: From Trump's best friend to censorship machine?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us