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Renewable hydrogen can drive net-zero industrial growth in developing countries

Renewable hydrogen can drive net-zero industrial growth in developing countries

The past years clearly show the devastating impact of climate change. It is an existential threat.

But there are solutions that can counteract the negative consequences, support energy security and bring prosperity to developing countries. One of these big opportunities is green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen produced from renewable energy is a clean, storable and portable energy vector. It can be blended into existing energy networks and integrated with current infrastructure.

It is very versatile and essential for the heavy-emitting steel, cement and chemical industries and long-haul transport.

Right now, it is the only way we have to decarbonise them — and to effectively fight climate change, we absolutely need to decarbonise these essential industries.

Paving the way to growth

Renewable hydrogen is particularly promising for the developing world and emerging economies. In Africa, Latin America and Asia there are ideal conditions to produce it efficiently and comparatively inexpensively.

The decentralised nature of renewable hydrogen production also brings increased energy security.

Global hydrogen trade can offer chances for creating win-win situations for producing and importing countries, bringing profit to all.

Students from the Soshanguve Automotive School of Specialization pose for a photograph behind solar panels on a train roof, north of Pretoria, November 2022
Students from the Soshanguve Automotive School of Specialization pose for a photograph behind solar panels on a train roof, north of Pretoria, November 2022 - AP Photo/Denis Farrell

Local production and application of renewable hydrogen can drive net-zero industrial development and economic growth in developing countries. They can leapfrog to renewable hydrogen as a clean energy solution and start building up their local hydrogen value chain.

This can pave the way for job creation, skills upgrading, innovation and investment mobilisation. Renewable hydrogen can reinforce developing countries’ overall resilience.

Beyond this, global hydrogen trade can offer chances for creating win-win situations for producing and importing countries, bringing profit to all.

Benefits have to be shared fairly

To build up a sustainable and just hydrogen economy, we need to carefully manage resources and make sure that the benefits are shared fairly.

For example, regions with abundant solar energy potential are often arid and prone to water stress. The production of renewable hydrogen depends on water for electrolysis and we need to make sure that there is adequate oversight to avoid improperly diverting scarce water resources.

Everyone involved must make sure that local communities benefit from hydrogen infrastructure through appropriate skills development, job creation and better overall living standards.

A herder boy who looks after livestock quenches his thirst from a water point during a drought, in the desert near Dertu, October 2021
A herder boy who looks after livestock quenches his thirst from a water point during a drought, in the desert near Dertu, October 2021 - AP Photo/Brian Inganga

Similarly, the energy required to process renewable hydrogen should not come at the cost of the energy needs of local populations.

Everyone involved must make sure that local communities benefit from hydrogen infrastructure through appropriate skills development, job creation and better overall living standards.

It is encouraging that the number of countries with national hydrogen roadmaps has more than tripled over the last two years. This shows that many countries are getting ready to produce and use renewable hydrogen and benefit from the economic opportunities it will provide.

What can organisations like UNIDO do to help?

At the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), we launched our Global Programme for Hydrogen in Industry to support developing countries in overcoming identified barriers.

We want to encourage a just hydrogen transition that puts social and environmental aspects in focus. Together with our partners (such as IRENA, IEA, and ISO), we support the development of market policies, standards, skills, financing instruments and innovation.

Contributing to preparing and de-risking investments in tangible renewable hydrogen projects is a key element of the programme.

Recently, UNIDO has taken over the coordination of the International Hydrogen Trade Forum. It provides a platform for future low-carbon hydrogen exporting and importing countries.

In this function, UNIDO will help to unlock the socio-economic and environmental value of international hydrogen trade that brings benefits to all countries involved.

Petra Schwager is Chief of the Climate and Technology Partnership (CTP) Division, Directorate of SDG Innovation and Economic Transformation (IET) of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

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