Green Hydrogen: The new scramble for North Africa

The potential of the Sahara desert in North Africa to generate giant quantities of renewable vitality due to its dry local weather and huge expanses of land has lengthy been touted. For years, the Europeans, particularly, have thought of it a possible supply of photo voltaic vitality that might fulfill a large chunk of European vitality calls for.

In 2009, the Desertec mission, an bold initiative to energy Europe from Saharan photo voltaic crops was launched by a coalition of European industrial corporations and monetary establishments with the concept a tiny floor of the desert can present 15 % of Europe’s electrical energy through particular excessive voltage direct present transmission cables.

The Desertec enterprise finally stalled amid criticisms of its astronomical prices and its neo-colonial connotations. After an try and revive it as Desertec 2.Zero with a deal with the native marketplace for renewable vitality, the mission was finally reborn into Desertec 3.0, which goals to fulfill Europe’s demand for hydrogen, a “clean” vitality various to fossil fuels.

In early 2020, Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) launched the MENA Hydrogen Alliance to assist arrange vitality tasks within the Middle East and North Africa area that produce hydrogen for export.

While in Europe such tasks could sound like a good suggestion – serving to the continent fulfil its targets of greenhouse emission cuts – the view from North Africa is radically completely different. There are rising issues that as an alternative of serving to the area with its inexperienced transition, these schemes will outcome within the plunder of native sources, dispossession of communities, environmental injury and entrenchment of corrupt elites.

Hydrogen: The new vitality frontier in Africa

As the world seeks to modify to renewable vitality amid a rising local weather disaster, hydrogen has been introduced as a “clean” various gasoline. Most present hydrogen manufacturing is the results of extraction from fossil fuels, resulting in giant carbon emissions (gray hydrogen). The cleanest type of hydrogen – “green” hydrogen – comes from electrolysis of water, a course of that may be powered by electrical energy from renewable vitality sources.

In current years, underneath heavy lobbying from varied curiosity teams, the EU has embraced the concept of a hydrogen transition as a centrepiece of its local weather response, introducing in 2020 its hydrogen technique inside the framework of the European Green Deal (EGD). The plan proposes shifting to “green” hydrogen by 2050, via native manufacturing and establishing a gradual provide from Africa.

It was impressed by concepts put ahead by commerce physique and foyer group Hydrogen Europe, which has set out the “2 x 40 GW green hydrogen initiative”. Under this idea, by 2030 the EU would have in place 40 gigawatts of home renewable hydrogen electrolyser capability and import an extra 40 gigawatts from electrolysers in neighbouring areas, amongst them the deserts of North Africa, utilizing present natural-gas pipelines that already join Algeria to Europe.

Germany, the place Desertec was launched, has been on the forefront of the EU’s hydrogen technique. Its authorities has already approached the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Morocco to develop “decarbonised fuel” generated from renewable vitality, for export to Europe and is exploring different potential areas/nations significantly suited to inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing. In 2020, the Moroccan authorities entered right into a partnership with Germany to develop the primary inexperienced hydrogen plant on the continent.

Initiatives like Desertec have been fast to leap on the hydrogen bandwagon, which is more likely to deliver billions of euros of EU funding. Its manifesto displays the final narrative used to advertise the hydrogen and renewable vitality tasks. It tries to current them as helpful for native communities. It claims it may deliver “economic development, future-oriented jobs and social stability in North-African countries”.

But it additionally makes clear the extractive nature of this scheme: “for a fully renewable energy system in Europe, we need North Africa to produce cost-competitive solar and wind electricity, converted to hydrogen, for export by pipeline to Europe”. And it makes certain to point its dedication to “Fortress Europe”, by claiming that the tasks may “[reduce] the number of economic migrants from the region to Europe”.

In different phrases, the imaginative and prescient behind Desertec and lots of of those European “green” tasks in North Africa seeks to protect the present exploitative, neo-colonial relations Europe has with the area.

A neo-colonial ‘green transition’

During the colonial period, European powers arrange an enormous financial system to extract wealth, uncooked supplies and (slave) labour from the African continent. Although the 20th century introduced independence to African colonies, this method was by no means dismantled; it was solely reworked, typically with the assistance of native post-colonial authoritarian leaders and elites.

Now the fear is that the EU’s inexperienced transition will proceed to feed this exploitative financial system to the good thing about European huge enterprise and to the detriment of native communities in African nations they associate with. The push for brand spanking new hydrogen provide chains proposed in tasks like Desertec does little to alleviate these issues.

This is as a result of one of many largest lobbies behind the EU’s flip to hydrogen represents fossil gasoline firms, whose origins are tightly linked to the colonial exploits of European powers. Two of DII’s companions, for instance, are the French vitality large Total and the Dutch oil main Shell.

In Africa and elsewhere, fossil gasoline firms proceed to make use of the identical exploitative financial buildings arrange throughout colonialism to extract native sources and switch wealth out of the continent.

They are additionally eager on preserving the political establishment in African nations to allow them to proceed to profit from profitable relations with corrupt elites and authoritarian leaders. This mainly permits them to have interaction in labour exploitation, environmental degradation, violence in opposition to native communities, and so forth with impunity.

In this sense, it isn’t stunning that the fossil gasoline trade and its lobbies are pushing for embracing hydrogen because the “clean” gasoline of the longer term in an effort to keep related and in enterprise. The trade needs to protect the prevailing pure fuel infrastructure and pipelines, together with the exploitative financial relations behind them.

Given the trade’s lengthy monitor file of environmental injury and abuse, it is usually not stunning that the hydrogen drive hides main air pollution dangers. Desertec’s manifesto, for instance, factors out that “in an initial phase (between 2030-2035), a substantial hydrogen volume can be produced by converting natural gas to hydrogen, whereby the CO2 is stored in empty gas/oil fields”. This alongside using scarce water sources to supply hydrogen are one more instance of dumping waste within the international South and displacing environmental prices from the North to the South.

The financial advantages for the native inhabitants are additionally underneath query. An enormous upfront funding can be wanted in an effort to set up the infrastructure required to supply and transport inexperienced hydrogen to Europe. Given earlier experiences finishing up such high-cost and capital-intensive tasks, the funding finally ends up creating extra debt for the receiving nation, deepening the dependence upon multilateral lending and Western monetary help.

North African vitality tasks established with European help previously decade already present how vitality colonialism is reproduced even in transitions to renewable vitality within the type of inexperienced colonialism or inexperienced grabbing.

In Tunisia, a photo voltaic vitality mission known as TuNur, endorsed by Desertec, has been scrutinised for its export-oriented plans. Given the nation’s large vitality deficiency and dependence on imports of Algerian pure fuel for energy era, exporting electrical energy whereas the native inhabitants suffers from repeated blackouts makes little sense.

In Morocco, the untransparent land acquisition course of and water exploitation plans of the Ouarzazate Solar Plant – additionally supported by DII members – have raised questions on doable harms native communities could endure. The excessive price of the mission – paid for with loans from worldwide monetary establishments – has additionally raised concern about its debt burden on the nationwide price range.

Amid the rising local weather disaster, North African nations can’t afford to proceed participating in such exploitative tasks. They can’t proceed being exporters of low-cost pure sources to Europe and the positioning of displaced socio-environmental prices of its inexperienced transition.

They want a simply transition that includes a shift to an financial system that’s ecologically sustainable, equitable and only for all. In this context, present neo-colonial relations and practices should be challenged and halted.

As for European nations and firms, they should break free from the imperial and racialised logic of externalising prices. Otherwise, they might proceed to feed inexperienced colonialism and additional pursuit of extractivism and exploitation of nature and labour for a supposedly inexperienced agenda, which might undermine collective efforts for an efficient and simply international response to local weather change.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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