A fossil fuel-backed lobby group has covertly taken charge of an EU flagship proposal to reduce carbon emissions. Launched over the summer by three EU commissioners, the so-called European Clean Hydrogen Alliance came with promises of openness and transparency.
But although not stated anywhere on the alliance's website, EUobserver has since learned that the Brussels-based Hydrogen Europe, a fossil fuel-supported lobbying umbrella group, is now acting as its secretariat. Asked to comment, Hydrogen Europe says it had not received any explicit request to take on the role.
"Whilst Hydrogen Europe has not received explicitly any request, since the launching of the alliance, HE [Hydrogen Europe] has mobilised members and non-members and other associations to take part in the initiative," it said, in an email.
This includes dedicating staff to handle logistics like setting up a website, preparing meetings with the industry, and disseminating the result of those meetings to the wider public.
The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance has yet to become fully operational. But Hydrogen Europe's role sends a signal the industry may press fossil-fuel solutions on hydrogen - an energy source the EU is pushing to help reduce carbon emissions.
At the July launch of the event, commission vice-president Frans Timmermans described hydrogen as "the rock star of energy." An EU commission official, who asked not to be named, broadly echoed Hydrogen Europe's new position. "It has the technical knowledge to organise the operational work on hydrogen," said the source, noting a code of conduct is currently being finalised. It remains unclear why no selection procedures were used to admit and promote Hydrogen Europe's leadership bid into the alliance.
Asked to explain, the commission said the group had "demonstrated a clear commitment (signed by more than 90 CEOs) to enable the large-scale production and deployment of renewable hydrogen." The alliance is currently composed of some 200 companies plus dozens of other organisations. But civil society and green NGOs working on climate change remain sceptical.
So far only three have joined - including a Ukraine-based group that provides no detail on who is behind it.
"How Hydrogen Europe could become the secretariat - I find that mind boggling," said Tara Connolly of Friends of the Earth Europe, an NGO. "We are talking about EU subsidies or state aid, preferential regulatory treatment. There is nothing stopping from someone going off and doing whatever they want," she said of the alliance.
She noted that when the alliance was initially conceived, it had a governing board. That board has since been replaced by "CEO roundtables". "It isn't very clear and is seriously lacking in transparency," Connolly said, adding that Friends of the Earth Europe has no intention of joining. There is also big money involved. Estimates suggest some €430bn will be needed by 2030 to scale up hydrogen demand, infrastructure, and production.
And the European Commission says unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be needed to transition into cleaner energy.
Such statements are likely enticements for a fossil fuel industry that has spent some €250m lobbying the EU institutions over the past decade. In July, Hydrogen Europe's secretary general Jorgo Chatzimarkakis spelled out his vision for the alliance. "Many people are asking why is it industry-led, and why do you have CEOs foreseen for that? Because we need fast decisions," he asked, rhetorically.
Chatzimarkakis noted some one-third of the €430bn would be public money, with the rest pooled from private investments. He also claimed a major portion would go into renewables like solar and wind.
"We are happy that we see the high-level backing of the European Commission, but in fact we also see there are fields in which we need to invest where there is no legislation," he said.