Monday

14th Jun 2021

Timmermans slammed as 'colour blind' on hydrogen

  • 'The biggest challenge we face is that we repeat the same mistakes we made in the previous crisis,' said EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission is expected to announce the Energy System Integration Strategy in June, in which hydrogen could play a key role in the decarbonisation of the economy.

"Hydrogen is of essential importance for the future energy situation of the EU," commission vice-president Frans Timmermans told MEP of the committee on industry, research and energy on Friday (8 May).

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

"Hydrogen can offer huge opportunities for the EU's economy - mainly as a storage facility and as a fuel for those forms of transport that cannot rely on electricity alone," he added.

Similarly, the EU commissioner for energy Kadri Simson said last week that hydrogen "has the potential to be a game-changer" - especially for the heavy industry and transport sector.

Yet, where the hydrogen originates from makes a difference. Experts differentiate between 'grey', 'blue' and 'green' hydrogen.

Grey hydrogen comes from natural gas and still generates significant carbon emissions, while blue hydrogen production relies on controversial technologies that can capture and store carbon emissions (CCS).

The cleanest version of all is green hydrogen as it is generated by renewable electricity without producing emissions - although this option is also the most expensive at the moment.

"Timmermans is committed to the Green Deal and Paris Agreement, but he seems to be colour blind when it comes to the origin of hydrogen as he is not favouring 'green' over 'blue' [or grey]," said Esther Bollendorff, coordinator at NGO Climate Action Network.

"The gas industry is keen on continuing business-as-usual using fossil gas to produce hydrogen, but decarbonised hydrogen [grey and blue] is not the way to go, because it leaves the doors open to fossil fuels," Bollendorff told this website, stressing that this approach will not limit global temperatures under 1.5 degrees and therefore it is not aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Likewise, Bollendorff warned that "hydrogen cannot play a role in all sectors," adding that the EU's future energy system needs to be based primarily on energy efficiency and renewables.

Fossil-fuel dependency

Yet, natural gas is expected to play a role in the transition towards climate neutrality.

Timmermans admitted on Friday that "natural gas will have to play a role in some parts of Europe" to support the phase-out of coal and oil.

"Ending support to natural gas infrastructure entirely will no doubt be controversial, especially in regions planning to expand gas use to replace coal," points out a leaked scoping paper on gas infrastructure planning from commission seen by EUobserver.

The leaked paper, which the commission is working on for the update of the Trans-European Networks for Energy regulation, reveals that hydrogen will be one of the main new gas priorities.

However, it also reveals the risk of green-washing for future EU projects - funded with EU money - focused on adapting the infrastructure for hydrogen or other 'bio-gases'.

For instance, when the aim is to build a "hydrogen-ready" pipeline that could continue to serve primarily for caring natural gas for years, reveals the leaked paper.

"The biggest challenge we face is that we repeat the same mistakes we made in the previous crisis," said Timmermans, who claims that investing in the energy efficiency of buildings and decarbonising the transport sector will be the priorities of the EU's recovery plan.

However, data indicates that energy efficiency remains very much a 'pending' task for the bloc.

In 2018, energy consumption in the whole EU was five percent above the efficiency target set for 2020 (and 22 percent away from the 2030 target), according to statistics published by Eurostat.

"We will only have one shot of investment," said Timmermans, referring to the recovery plan post-coronavirus crisis.

"We will put an extra burden on the shoulders of our children otherwise our economy will collapse but we need to try to deliver a better world for them and that better world is not based on fossil fuel 21st-century economy," he added.

How pandemic opens doors to green transport industry

While much of the transport sector is pushing for unconditional state aid and to postpone climate policy action, experts believe that this crisis could help to transform the EU's transportation system, making it more resilient, sustainable and flexible.

Analysis

Will coronavirus torpedo the Green Deal?

2020 was supposed to be the crunch year in the fightback against climate change. However, the coronavirus pandemic has flattened Europe and beyond, which is likely to slow down international negotiations to fight climate change

Podcast

Standing up to bullies with Frans Timmermans

To succeed Timmermans needs to stand up to governments and vested interests rushing to reboot economies crashed by the coronavirus. That means ensuring the trillions of euros the EU and its member states spend transform rather than entrench polluting industries.

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.

News in Brief

  1. EU top court fast-tracks rule-of-law case to October
  2. Hungary's Fidesz wants to ban LGBTIQ content for under-18s
  3. MEPs join EU citizens on farm-animal cage ban
  4. Council of Europe urges Russia to release Navalny 'immediately'
  5. China's anti-sanctions law alarms EU businesses
  6. Airlines seek to water down EU passengers' rights
  7. EU leaders join call for further probe into Covid origins
  8. Liberal MEPs under fire over Babiš abstention

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).

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. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU urges Poland to step back from 'legal primacy' clash
  2. Pressure builds on EU to back WTO vaccine-patent waiver
  3. EU anti-fraud agency cracked down on fake pandemic supplies
  4. MEP office expenses kept secret on dubious evidence
  5. What the EU public think of EU pesticide regulation
  6. MEPs set to take EU Commission to court on rule-of-law
  7. EU takes legal action against Germany on bonds ruling
  8. MEPs demand new EU biodiversity law by next year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us