COP 28 – Perspectives on Hydrogen
Author: Modassar Chaudry, Cardiff University
The end of 2023 saw another Conference of the Parties (COP 28) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change come
s to an end. This time the event was held in sunny Dubai, UAE. We had commitment from the participants to ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels, but this departed from earlier stronger language to ‘phase out’ fossil fuels. Despite this, it is the first time that any agreement has explicitly taken aim at the use of fossil fuels.
Ambiguity is the word that comes to mind when describing the text on ‘accelerating zero and low emissions technologies’, which happens to include carbon capture and storage (CCS), which the agreement goes on state will ‘enhance efforts towards substitution of unabated fossil fuels in energy systems’. So plainly speaking, the decision makers at COP 28 want to transition away from fossil fuels but at the same time encourage the development of technologies that primarily use fossil fuels.
From a hydrogen perspective if there was ever an ideal location where we could expect a positive set of announcements then this was the place! Dubai like many petrochemical based economies is pondering on the compatibility of their main source of income with long term international decarbonisation goals. This is where a shift or growth in the demand for hydrogen may assist them especially if it’s the blue variety (Steam Methane Reforming – SMR with CCS), or as the agreed text states ‘low carbon’ alongside zero carbon hydrogen (green).
Accelerating globalisation and commercialisation of hydrogen
There were several hydrogen focussed side meetings and mini summits at COP 28. One of the larger gatherings was the ‘Hydrogen Transition Summit’ which had an impressive 500 delegates from companies, academia, and policy institutions Hydrogen Transition Summit | COP 28 (climateaction.org). This all culminated in the official COP28 Presidency’s High-Level Roundtable on Hydrogen which brought together the inaugural International Hydrogen Tarde forum (IHTF is a recently launched inter-governmental organisation in which UK is member alongside the USA and key prospective importing/exporting countries) and a delegation of the Hydrogen Council CEOs representing the global industrial leaders in hydrogen. The outcome of the High-Level Roundtable on Hydrogen was a suite of flagship hydrogen initiatives which focussed on:
- Accelerating globalisation and commercialisation of hydrogen whilst adhering to the net zero target, through Intergovernmental Declaration of Intent on Mutual Recognition of Certification Schemes for Hydrogen and Hydrogen Derivatives and an ISO methodology providing a global benchmark for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions assessment of hydrogen pathways on a life-cycle analysis basis.
- Unlocking the socio-economic benefits of cross-border hydrogen value chains through establishment of trade corridors in hydrogen and derivatives in partnership with the International Hydrogen Trade Forum (IHTF) and the Hydrogen Council.
Many such as the USA Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewables, described these initiatives as ‘pivotal’ in that they recognise the key role of clean hydrogen in global decarbonisation and for meeting global energy needs, whilst endorsing the declaration of mutual recognition of hydrogen certification schemes to help facilitate a global market.
What does this mean for the UK?
Demand for hydrogen in the UK is mainly focussed on hard to ‘decarbonise sectors’ such as industry, air travel, heavy goods vehicles, shipping, and agriculture. With regards to hydrogen use for domestic heating, a government decision will be announced in 2026 but without input from the hydrogen trials that were set to take place in Redcar. Hydrogen village trial: open letter to Gas Distribution Networks and further information – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
On the supply side, the UK has a target of 10GW hydrogen production by 2030. Currently investment is flowing into fossil fuel (gas) SMR production of hydrogen and as the COP 28 agreement states will transition to low carbon production of hydrogen with the development of CCS (in the UK this is supported by specific funding rounds). The UK government is aiming for least 6GW of the total hydrogen production in 2030 to be produced through green (electrolysis) technologies and recently further support was provided to the tune of £2 billion for 11 new green hydrogen production projects over the next 15 years Major boost for hydrogen as UK unlocks new investment and jobs – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
There are key decisions to be made regarding the use of hydrogen in the UK over the next couple of years, which I don’t think COP 28 has really provided the required momentum. But I will end this blog in positive way with the mantra of the ‘Hydrogen Council’ “There’s no climate solution without clean hydrogen…And there’s no clean hydrogen without action”!