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Air Products hydrogen production plant in Edmonton, Alta., on Aug. 25.AMBER BRACKEN/The Canadian Press

Global hydrogen production must double every year from 2023 to 2030 if it is to support a rapid clean energy transition and cut greenhouse gas emissions in hard-to-abate sectors such as heavy industry, maritime shipping, aviation and seasonal electricity storage, a group of international energy watchdogs says in a new report.

And ensuring the hydrogen is low-carbon, or produced using renewable power, will be key.

The report comes against the backdrop of the European energy crisis and the threat of a global food emergency. Produced by the International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions group, the report recommends 25 international collaborative actions to help make clean power, electric vehicles, sustainable farming, and low-carbon steel and hydrogen the most affordable options as soon as possible.

The Breakthrough Agenda Report 2022 also acts as something of an accountability lever. It was requested by 45 countries – including Canada – at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year. They committed to make clean technologies the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in each major greenhouse-gas-emitting sector by 2030.

The idea is to align countries’ actions and co-ordinate investment to scale up deployment and drive down costs across five key sectors that account for nearly 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture.

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Those goals will come under the spotlight in the coming months, at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum and Clean Energy Ministerial in the United States this week, and COP27 in Egypt in November.

Canada and Germany recently signed what they called a “joint declaration of intent” that calls on the two countries to invest in hydrogen and establish a “transatlantic Canada-Germany supply corridor,” and for Canada to start exporting hydrogen by 2025.

But global progress on ramping up hydrogen production has been limited, the report says, and doubling capacity to the required levels will take an accelerated deployment of renewable power.

It will also need higher and sustained investment in research and development, and stronger international collaboration. That includes governments and companies co-ordinating on a number of fronts: increasing commitments to use low-carbon and renewable hydrogen in hard-to-abate sectors; agreeing to comprehensive international standards for the fuel; and dramatically increasing the number of hydrogen demonstration projects worldwide.

The report proposes a swath of recommendations for other sectors as well, including the creation of cross-border electricity “supergrids” to increase trade in low-carbon power, ramping up investment in EV charging infrastructure, governments and private companies making commitments to purchase near-zero-emissions steel, and investing in agricultural technologies and farming practices that can cut emissions from livestock and fertilizers.

The report notes an increase in deploying technologies over recent years, including a doubling of EV sales in 2021 from the previous year, and forecasts an increase in the global capacity to produce renewable power.

However, it also found that each sector needs stronger, more focused and more sustained international collaboration to get the world on track to meet its climate commitments.

International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol said that, in the midst of the first truly global energy crisis, “only by speeding up the transition to clean sustainable energy can we achieve lasting energy security.”

“Through international collaboration, we can make the transition quicker, cheaper and easier for everyone – on the back of faster innovation, greater economies of scale, bigger incentives to invest, level playing fields and benefits that are shared across all parts of society,” he said in a statement.

“Without this collaboration, the transition to net zero emissions will be much more challenging and could be delayed by decades.”

Francesco La Camera, director-general of IRENA, said the current global energy and climate crisis has exposed the vulnerabilities of a system heavily reliant on fuels of the 20th century.

“The report sends a strong signal ahead of COP27 that greater international collaboration can amplify ambition and accelerate progress,” he said.

“Anything short of radical and immediate action will ultimately eliminate the chance of staying on the 1.5 degrees C path” of temperature reduction needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change.