COP26: What Role for Hydrogen in the Journey to Net-Zero?
The COP26 climate change conference drew to a close in Glasgow, Scotland on 13 November. The annual meeting of world leaders and interested parties had been hailed in its build-up as the most important Conference of the Parties (COP) since 2015’s COP21 in Paris. That conference produced the Paris Agreement, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, and set a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels and preferably limiting it to 1.5°C. COP26 presented an opportunity for countries to demonstrate that they were meeting their carbon emissions targets and to set new goals to help the world reach net-zero by the middle of the century.
While the outcomes of the Glasgow talks were not as ambitious as some had hoped for, a number of potentially transformative pledges and commitments were made by participants. Hydrogen can play a key role in many of these pledges, as public and private sector organisations increasingly recognise its importance in keeping the 1.5°C target within reach. We set out below some of the key announcements made at the conference.
Hydrogen formed part of the newly launched Breakthrough Agenda at COP26, with more than 30 countries pledging to make affordable renewable and lower-carbon hydrogen available globally by 2030. The Agenda aims to catalyse the growth of markets, jobs and economic development globally for clean technologies and sustainable solutions, to support the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to strengthen the climate resilience of our societies and to realise multiple co-benefits such as cleaner air, water and better health.
The Green Hydrogen Catapult
The Green Hydrogen Catapult, a private-sector coalition of leaders in green hydrogen development, announced a joint commitment to develop 45 GW of electrolyser capacity by 2027. Combined with existing capacity and other announced projects, this commitment places the world close to the green hydrogen production capacity needed for a 1.5°C pathway, as outlined in the International Energy Agency Net Zero by 2050 roadmap.1 It also has the potential to reduce green hydrogen costs to below US$2/kg, widely seen as a tipping point for green hydrogen’s cost-competitiveness with blue hydrogen and, in some cases, grey hydrogen.
First Movers Coalition
President Biden announced the launch of the First Movers Coalition, a new platform for companies to harness their purchasing power and supply chains to create early markets for innovative clean energy technologies. The Coalition includes more than 25 large companies as founding members, including Amazon, Boeing, Fortescue, Volvo, AP Moller-Maersk and Vattenfall, who made commitments to drive the commercialisation of emerging technologies this decade. The coalition has proposed clean hydrogen as a key technology for their plans to decarbonise the steel, trucking and aviation sectors.
28 companies in sectors including mining, energy, vehicle and equipment manufacturers, and financial services made pledges across three categories relating to hydrogen – demand, supply and financial or technical support. Demand side pledges focussed on replacing grey hydrogen with green or blue hydrogen, with the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 14 million tonnes per year. On the supply side, the pledges added up to more than 18 million tonnes per year of lower-carbon hydrogen, which could help the world avoid around 190 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels
Shortly before COP26, a group of companies including Amazon, Ikea and Unilever committed to purchase only ocean freight services powered by scalable zero-carbon fuels from 2040 onward. Hydrogen-derived shipping fuels are attracting particular interest as future alternatives to fossil fuels. The coalition aims to coordinate investment by multiple actors across the maritime value chain to accelerate the development of such hydrogen alternatives.
Green Hydrogen Roadmaps and Standards
The International Renewable Energy Agency and the World Economic Forum launched a series of enabling roadmaps for green hydrogen, each of which shows the top 10 measures and critical timelines for their implementation in areas such as cost reduction, demand growth, international standards, infrastructure and technology development.
Meanwhile, the non-profit Green Hydrogen Organisation is seeking to create a new recognised standard which will certify that green hydrogen has been produced using renewable energy with close to zero emissions. The standard will track the overall environmental, social and governance performance of certified hydrogen, and the impact of green hydrogen development in developing countries.
Other Key Developments
In addition to developments relating to hydrogen, COP26 also saw notable progress in the following areas:
- 190 countries and companies signed up to a “phasedown” of unabated coal powered electricity generation within the next two decades. A smaller group committed to end all direct government investment in new coal power generation, including all of the G7 nations who pledged to do so by the end of 2021.
- 150 countries signed up to a pledge to reduce their methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Major absentees from the methane pledge include Australia, China, India and Russia, but there is hope that China at least may sign up during 2022.
- The new Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, whose 450 members control US$130tn or approximately 40% of the world’s financial assets under management, agreed to direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries and towards clean technologies and renewable energy.
- World leaders agreed to accelerate efforts to “phase-out” inefficient subsidies that artificially lower the price of coal, oil, or natural gas.
- Leaders finalised Paris Agreement rules regarding carbon trading markets. These now provide clear accounting guidance for emissions trading between nations and a new crediting mechanism to allow countries to attract further clean investment through the global carbon market, which will be open to both the public and private sectors.
- Over 130 countries, accounting for over 90% of the world’s forests, signed up to the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, including a commitment to halt and reverse global deforestation by 2030. 11 countries and the EU also pledged to provide £8.75bn (US$12bn) of public money between now and 2025 to support developing countries achieve this goal.
- Parties at COP26 agreed to tighten the “ratchet” mechanism introduced under the Paris Agreement. Countries are now expected to “revisit and strengthen” their pledges for further decarbonisation at the next COP in 2022, rather than in 2026 as previously required.
- The United States and China issued a joint statement committing both countries to take “enhanced climate action” this decade. In a rare recent show of cooperation, both sides will “recall their firm commitment to work together” to achieve the 1.5C temperature goal set out in the Paris Agreement.
COP27 will be held in November 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt and will provide a further opportunity for parties to make new commitments in the transition towards net zero.
1. Net Zero by 2050, A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, International Energy Agency Flagship Report — May 2021.
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