Green Hydrogen Leadership

GH2 has launched a project focused on Green Hydrogen Sustainability Leadership.

Throughout 2024 we will be documenting how green hydrogen project developers are addressing sustainability challenges, e.g., on renewable electricity sourcing and grid impact assessment, water resource management, community consultation, hydrogen leakage, etc. These issues are often neglected in the usual narrative about hydrogen standards and certification. But they are crucial for securing support from customers, investors, banks, regulators and host communities.

Green hydrogen is so much more than a zero-carbon energy solution. Green hydrogen can help us achieve equitable energy access, economic development and food security around the world.

Understandably there is a huge focus on green hydrogen as a way to decarbonise key parts of our economy. Hydrogen certification schemes therefore tend to emphasise the carbon intensity of the production process. This is evident in subsidy schemes such as that of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and in the case of the EU’s Delegated Act on Renewable Fuels of Non-Biological Origin, where it is all about the CO2 emissions. However, green hydrogen can and must be much more than a clean energy carrier and ally in reaching our climate targets.

If developed well, the green hydrogen economy can offer a positive sustainability impact on the lives of people living along the green hydrogen supply chain. This is why we place such a premium on sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria in the Green Hydrogen Standard.

Others say there are already plenty of standards and codes dealing with sustainability and ESG. For sure the Green Hydrogen Standard does not aim to re-invent the wheel on sustainability. Indeed, there are decades of experience that we’ve drawn upon in the Green Hydrogen Standard such as the IFC’s Performance Standards and the Hydropower Sustainability Standard.

The green hydrogen economy will be so large that issues such as community consultation; working conditions; water use; social and environmental impact; health and safety; and transparency and accountability need to be integral to any certification system for green hydrogen. It can’t be about emissions alone.

Indeed the clean hydrogen provisions in the US IRA have recognised the importance of local economic benefits accompanying green hydrogen production: the best tax credits under the IRA will only be achieved if workers are paid a reasonable wage to produce low carbon hydrogen.

The green hydrogen economy is at such an early stage that there is little experience of applying sustainability criteria and measuring impacts on green hydrogen production. From the start, we need to learn by doing with sustainability at the centre.

We have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t: look at all the sustainability and good governance work that has gone into trying to reverse the ‘resource curse’ in the fossil fuel and mining sectors, not least ensuring that civil society and local communities feel their voices are being heard.

If we don’t get the sustainability aspects right at the start, we are doomed to fail. It won’t take much for local grievances on land access or water availability to derail a green hydrogen project. If the financial benefits of green hydrogen export are concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, leaving the rest of the population with little sense of the revenues received or indeed access to renewable electricity and green hydrogen domestically then we will also have a problem.

We will publish updates on the Green Hydrogen Sustainability Leadership Project on the GH2 and GHS websites, in various publications, and at upcoming events including New York Climate Week and COP 29.

For more information on project, please contact