Regulating the Hype: Renewable Hydrogen in the Global South


In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement, all sectors of the economy need to decarbonise. This requires countries to become much more energy-efficient and to minimise fossil fuel-intensive practices (e.g. meat consumption, short-distance flights) and affluent countries to also drastically reduce energy consumption. Most sectors such as private and public transport, industrial heating processes, residential heating, etc. can be decarbonised through direct electrification powered by renewable energy (RE). Some sectors (e.g. steel, aluminum, cement, chemical industries, aviation, shipping), however, cannot be easily electrified. For those (end-use) sectors, renewable hydrogen (green) can be a solution for decarbonisation. 

To date, however, no significant renewables-based hydrogen production is in place. Current hydrogen strategies are nevertheless slowly taking up renewable hydrogen as a long-term investment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and massive upscaling of projects can be expected, as part of countries’ post-COVID-19 recovery measures. 

To ensure hydrogen production does not further accelerate the climate crisis and countries won’t be locked in a fossil fuel pathway for decades, hydrogen strategies need to focus on renewable hydrogen production. By increasing renewable energy capacities, countries could leapfrog into the renewable energy age, enhance climate action, strengthen local value creation and increase job opportunities for local communities. In addition, local production and use of renewable hydrogen could fast-track access to energy services, further contributing to economic development, as compared to exporting renewable hydrogen which would reduce locally available energy resources. 

This publication analyses strengths, weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats related to renewable hydrogen production in the Global South, highlights social and environmental criteria for sustainability and concludes with policy recommendations for renewable hydrogen production.