Publication | The hydrogen trail

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  • An investigation by the Debt Observatory in Globalisation (ODG), in collaboration with Ecologistas en Acción, analyses the development of the hydrogen market, geopolitical relations, financing mechanisms and the impacts that projects have on the territory.

  • Massive consumption of water and renewable energies, as well as the reproduction of neo-colonial practices with countries in the global south, are some of the impacts detected in their large-scale implementation.

  • The ODG and Ecologistas en Acción visited the locations of future projects in Camp de Tarragona, Andorra and Monzón (Aragon), Muskiz (Basque Country) and Torrelavega (Cantabria) to learn about the possible impacts from local organisations.

In the current context of climate crisis, institutions are promoting the energy transition to reduce CO₂ emissions and, therefore, meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement. This transition is characterised by the decarbonisation of the economy, which involves the electrification of productive sectors through the implementation of non-conventional renewable energies, photovoltaic and wind, on a large scale.

Not all sectors can be electrified, and this is where green hydrogen comes into play as a necessary and essential element for the energy transition.

Europe, in search of hydrogen across the planet

The European Union aims to become the major hydrogen consumer region by 2030. According to the European Commission, it is estimated that Europe will need 20 million tonnes to meet its decarbonisation needs. Half of this sum is intended to be imported from third countries.

Import agreements are intended to be used to establish new relations or consolidate existing ones with countries in the Global South, reproducing the neo-colonial practices that it has also carried out with fossil fuels. One example is Chile, with whom the EU has modernised the existing trade agreement, including elements required for the green transition, such as hydrogen and critical raw materials.

Public financing is one of the key elements for energy projects because it facilitates their construction and reduces the risks for the private companies which promote them. In the case of the European Union, more than 25 billion euros are available through different financing mechanisms created for hydrogen projects. So far, large energy companies and companies in the sectors where hydrogen will be used have been the main beneficiaries.

Climate, social, territorial and gender impacts on the territory

Currently active hydrogen projects are small-scale or in the pilot phase, which makes it difficult to determine the scope of the impacts linked to large-scale projects. The report has analysed, from an ecofeminist perspective, the climatic, social, territorial and gender impacts that projects such as the Camp de Tarragona Petrochemical Complex, the Green Hydrogen Project and Catalina I in Andorra (Teruel), the geological hydrogen deposit in Monzón, the Basque Hydrogen Corridor and Besaya H2 in Torrelavega can generate.

The main effects detected by local organisations are related to the high consumption of water and renewable energy required for its production, as well as the prioritisation of spending on industrial mega-projects over investments on social sectors and community prorities.

In the case of the Andorra Green Hydrogen Project, where an old thermal power plant is located, Endesa plans to build a 15 MW electrolyser, accompanied by 1,800 MW of renewable energy plants and two battery storage plants. This project has been included in the Just Transition Plan, in an Autonomous Community, Aragon, which currently exports half of the electricity it produces.

In Chile, the main producer of green hydrogen in Latin America, the impacts of the projects are borne by the indigenous communities of Pueblo Chango, who see how the biodiversity of their coastline is affected by the desalination plants that aim to feed water to the green hydrogen projects that will be installed.

This was the result of fieldwork carried out by the ODG in northern Chile in November 2022 and by the ODG and Ecologistas en Acción in the Spanish state in December 2023.

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