The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) stresses that a greener and fairer economy is needed and that the EU Clean Hydrogen Strategy provides an opportunity to achieve exactly that.
The European Union must overcome the COVID-19 crisis by building a new model of society, where our economies will be greener, fairer and more resistant to future shocks; to this end, we need clean energy, for which hydrogen can be a key driver. This is the main idea behind the opinion adopted at the January plenary session and drafted by Pierre Jean Coulon.
In the document, the EESC backs the EU Hydrogen Strategy put forward by the European Commission as a step forward in creating a favourable environment to increase supply and demand of hydrogen and, in so doing, to achieve a carbon-neutral economy.
Clean hydrogen must become a clear priority, as this is the only option compatible with climate neutrality, said Mr Coulon during the plenary debate.
The European recovery funds must make it possible for businesses, innovators, workers and investors to affirm their role as world leaders in the expanding clean energy markets.
Launching a European Clean Hydrogen Alliance
In particular, the EESC supports the creation of a European Clean Hydrogen Alliance to be tasked with planning production investments and organising demand for clean hydrogen in the EU. This body will include industry leaders, civil society, national and regional ministers, and the European Investment Bank. Since it will play a key role in speeding up the transformation of European industries, it is essential that the EESC is involved in its capacity as the representative of organised civil society.
The Committee also asks the Commission to provide a detailed description of the transition timeline in each industry sector. The steel, cement and chemical industries could help reduce CO2 emissions but need support to change their production methods. In the absence of a structured plan, these industries may not survive the transformation.
Need for a comprehensive EU energy strategy: clean hydrogen means high costs
However, the EESC stresses that establishing a clean hydrogen economy in Europe is just one element of the strategy to link up the EU's various energy sectors more effectively. The Committee therefore points out that the EU should revise its ambitions upwards to allow for the emergence of a clean energy system that incorporates renewable energy and energy efficiency while also providing solid support to European businesses.
On the negative side, clean hydrogen does have high production and transport costs and, for this reason, it should only be used in cases where other decarbonisation options are not possible, for example in sectors where it is difficult to reduce carbon emissions or in some very specific applications in the transport and construction sectors.
Implementation of the EU Hydrogen Strategy, consultation and participation are essential
Finally, the Committee calls for Europeans to be given a greater role in the strategy's implementation process by means of direct, representative consultation and participation. Establishing a hydrogen economy requires buy-in by entrepreneurs, workers and consumers and, according to the EESC, it is unfortunate that there has been no discussion so far in this regard.
Last but not least, the Committee asks the Commission to carry out a study assessing the impact of developing clean hydrogen on energy costs for households and to identify those workers in declining sectors whose skills could be useful in new hydrogen-related jobs.
The success of the energy transition will be diluted if some workers lose out or if the most vulnerable are unable to benefit from it. At a time of particularly high unemployment, especially among young people, it is crucial that the full potential for job creation is harnessed in developing sectors. Likewise, it is vital to ensure that the transition does not lead to economic decline in some regions, generating structural unemployment.