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Work needed to reach Europe’s 2040 climate targets

The European Commission published its Communication in February setting EU targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions by 2040. These new targets are to bridge the gap between the 2030 climate targets and the 2050 Net Zero target by defining the specific measures required to reach a net reduction of 90% of emissions – compared to 1990 levels – by 2040.

At Hydrogen Europe we were encouraged to see that, under the impact assessment, hydrogen will play a key role in the decarbonisation of hard to abate industry and transport, with production of 20 to 35 million tons (Mt) of renewable-based hydrogen expected by 2040, depending on the chosen scenario. This would represent up to 10% of the final energy demand, increasing to at least 16% by 2050 – a substantial and fundamental contribution to the decarbonisation puzzle.

It’s clear from the Communication that hydrogen is a key building block in a Net Zero Europe.

And policymakers demonstrably envision a future of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen powering our industry and mobility sectors. However, the assessment fails to consider other key roles for hydrogen, like long-term seasonal storage, power production and transmission, and commercial road transport. Hydrogen storage is crucial to manage the intermittency and curtailment factor in a renewables-dominant energy mix. Similarly, in the European context, it will be necessary to move electrons long distances in a common European power supply. In many scenarios, transporting power as a hydrogen molecule is more economical. Finally, while batteries will certainly be the preferred option in some transport segments, discounting hydrogen – and its overall system weight and longer-range potential, especially in transport – is an error.

In fact, these omissions demonstrate a larger, worrying disconnect in the modelling between what is desired and what has been put in place thus far when it comes to attaining our expected hydrogen use. The model used in the Communication only accounts for 3Mt of clean hydrogen by 2030, far lower than the 10Mt objective presented in the 2020 Hydrogen strategy and below the combined targets presented in the draft National Energy and Climate Plans. Under the Fit for 55 legislation, which establishes binding targets for the use of clean hydrogen and low-carbon fuels in industry and transport, 2030 targets for hydrogen are more than double the 3Mt assumed in the modelling for the Communication.

With the lofty goals of 10Mt by 2030 set out in the 2020 hydrogen strategy, and the aspirations of 20Mt in the RePowerEU plan, we are certainly disappointed that legislators have not managed to marry ambition with action. The binding targets which have been put in place – including the 42.5% greenhouse gas reduction in industry – are of course welcome. But by the European Commission’s own modelling, they fall well short of where we will need to be by 2030.

Meeting the Fit for 55 targets for 2030 will depend on the determination of European institutions and individual Member States to accelerate the creation of the clean hydrogen market. So far, it has not been enough.

Around the same time as the 2040 Communication, Hydrogen Europe published its own manifesto before the 2024 European Parliament elections. With the looming threat of climate change on all facets of our society, the manifesto emphasises the benefits of a healthy hydrogen sector – more jobs, global development, and more routes to decarbonisation. These priorities are encompassed in the three pillars of the manifesto:

  1. An EU Industrial policy for a competitive, resilient, and sustainable Europe,
  2. A thriving European Market for clean hydrogen,
  3. A Pan-European infrastructure that provides resilience and flexibility to the energy system

Europe has incredible potential for hydrogen production, use, and innovation.

It can be a technological leader, while leveraging this know-how to remain globally competitive and reach Net Zero in an efficient and sustainable way.

The acceleration of renewable energy deployment, the creation of an EU Clean Industrial Plan, as well as a Storage Strategy and Hydrogen Grid Strategy, are just some of the measures advocated by the organisation to help Europe reach its goals.

Implementing these measures will also help us truly bridge the gap between expectation and reality, between 2030 and 2040, and between words and action. When it comes to the climate crisis and the threat of lost global competitiveness, building on skilled workforce and scaling up our hydrogen targets is a win-win.