UN Climate Champions launch ‘guiding principles’ for climate-aligned hydrogen

By Climate Champions | October 21, 2021

***Updated Guiding Principles launching soon***

  • seven principles aim to anchor policy and business strategies in fact and probability to deliver urgent energy sector transformation
  • global community of experts and stakeholders collaborates to focus and secure critical path for near-zero carbon hydrogen

The United Nations High-Level Champions for Climate Action, Gonzalo Muñoz and Nigel Topping, and the global partners of the UN Marrakech Partnership are today publishing the result of months-long collaboration to strengthen and ground discourse on the role of hydrogen in decarbonization efforts.

The ‘Guiding Principles for Climate-Aligned Hydrogen Deployment’ will assist stakeholders in managing complex issues of path dependency, emissions accounting, and health and socioeconomic equity. These principles can help to streamline the emerging production and use of clean hydrogen while raising the standards of conduct by which firms, governments, and communities pursue it.

“It’s high time for a principled approach to the energy transition. Efficiency, reliability, equity, and speed in the deployment of clean energy to meet the climate challenge are imperative,” says Nigel Topping, UN High Level Champion for Global Climate Action. “Suboptimal approaches that do not recognize and account for technical, physical and market realities and moral imperatives will push us off course and must be avoided.”

These principles extend from the Climate Action Pathways published by the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, which were developed with input from expert stakeholders and organizations. These show specific and feasible courses of action, by every actor, in every decade, to decarbonize every sector before 2050.

The principles mark a new, collaborative approach to managing the complexities of transforming energy and industrial sectors while striving for a world with less than 1.5-degrees warming. Partners to the Marrakech Partnership who participated in the process included the Energy Transitions Commission, E3G, Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency, International Trade Union Confederation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Stockholm Environment Institute, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and World Wildlife Fund.

International collaboration between business, policymakers, and civil society can be strengthened through adherence to these principles to deliver UN Breakthrough Outcomes in decarbonizing end-use sectors with near-zero carbon energy sources. These include:

  • focusing the use of near-zero carbon hydrogen where other solutions like efficiency and direct, renewable electrification are unavailable;
  • full lifecycle emissions and pollution accounting and independent verification against rigorous carbon intensity thresholds to meet a high burden of proof;
  • redoubling efforts in pursuit of renewable hydrogen, as the only resource strictly and reliably compatible with climate goals;
  • moving fast to unlock needed cost reductions through deployment and investment, without overcommitting to partial or inefficient infrastructure investments;
  • ensuring proactive focus on inclusive and supported workforce transitions, and the essential pursuit of equity in international development and socioeconomic and health outcomes
  • transparent decision making to ensure accountability to citizens and consumers

The UN High Level Champions and Marrakech Partnership are ready to receive additional input and reflections on the principles. These principles and underlying research may be updated in future years to reflect additional research, analysis, and experience as it emerges.

See here for the full set of principles and background detail.

Expression of support from Marrakech Partnership stakeholders:

“The Marrakech Partnership Principles for Climate-Aligned Hydrogen are an essential guide to policy- and decision-makers’ thinking about hydrogen. These principles cut through much of the confusion surrounding hydrogen to acknowledge the critical role that clean hydrogen will play. Clean hydrogen must be scaled as rapidly as possible with targeted use in key sectors. These principles should act as guardrails for any hydrogen strategy.” Lord Adair Turner, Chair, Energy Transitions Commission

Hydrogen can play a valuable role in addressing global climate change by helping us tackle the most challenging sectors of our economy. But an overeager rush into hydrogen that ignores its serious risks could turn a possible climate solution into another climate problem. We can’t let that happen. The new principles make an important contribution—they articulate critical guardrails to ensure that hydrogen deployment occurs only in a manner that is climate-safe and protects our health and communities. This is a valuable playbook to policymakers.Manish Bapna, President and CEO of NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)

“IEA participated in the development of the Principles for the Hydrogen Economy as a member of the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, and we are pleased to join our knowledge, expertise and perspectives with that of others, in order to accelerate the deployment of clean hydrogen, a key component for global transitions to net zero emissions. We recognise the value of the Marrakech Partnership as an open platform to exchange diverse views on how to ensure that development and deployment of clean hydrogen is fully aligned with achieving a 1.5 degree objective.”  The International Energy Agency

“The new Guiding Principles for Climate-Aligned Hydrogen Deployment offer much-needed clarity for policymakers and stakeholders on what constitutes climate-friendly use of hydrogen in a time of confusion around hydrogen options. By critically laying out that renewable hydrogen is the only option compatible with climate goals, and should be used only where renewables cannot directly make decarbonization contributions, the guidance helps to limit unintended stranded assets and emissions, and realize a 1.5C-aligned pathway.” Joojin Kim, Managing Director of Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC)

“Hydrogen has an important role in preventing catastrophic warming of more than 1.5℃ provided that it is produced cleanly and used smartly to decarbonize functions that can’t be directly electrified. The UN Climate Champions’ guiding principles provide a valuable roadmap for ensuring that investments in hydrogen are fully aligned with the Race to Zero—a race we can win if we avoid detours.” Dan Lashof, Director World Resources Institute — United States