Yesterday at COP26, I took a little wander around the “pavilions”. It’s a maze of mini exhibitions run by the various country delegations, including renowned climate champions like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. If you’ve ever been to a Students’ Union freshers' fair, it’s a bit like that but instead of being offered free pizza to join the rowing club, it’s countries trying to show off their green credentials to passers-by.
As I stumbled through the various stands, slightly dizzy from all the “net-zero", “carbon footprint" and “sustainability" ringing in my ears, I came across the European Union’s pavilion. A looped film was extolling the steps the EU is taking to tackle the climate crisis, including reducing the use of fossil fuels.
Intrigued, I wanted more information. The pavilions are also where each delegation hosts their side events and so I looked up the programme of events being hosted by the EU. On Friday, the pavilion will host 12 back-to-back hours, including 17 events, under the theme of “Energy Transition”. Brilliant, I thought. Surely an energy transition will mean moving away from climate-wrecking fossil fuels to renewable forms like wind and solar.
But encouragement quickly turned to shock when I had a closer look at those events. 10am: "Global Guarantees of Origin for Clean Hydrogen”. Although the title itself isn’t the most clear, I certainly recognised the named organiser – Hydrogen Europe. Hydrogen Europe are one of the most influential hydrogen lobby groups in Europe and their members include the likes of Shell, Total and Equinor. Yup, the very same Shell who made a point of saying they won’t be at COP26.
A recent report from Global Witness exposed how Hydrogen Europe have been pushing the European Commission for loopholes in an EU law that would allow energy companies to use copious amounts of fossil fuel-powered electricity to produce hydrogen, and still have it labelled as renewable. So this is a lobby group, whose members include some of the world's biggest polluters, who are fighting to water down key EU laws. And the EU thinks it's appropriate to hand them the mic to organise important events on key topics at their official pavilion.
But it does not stop there. 11am: “The Market State of Biomethane and Hydrogen” organised by Gas for Climate and no less than THIRTEEN European gas companies, including Italy’s Snam, France’s GRTGaz and Spain’s Enagas. Gas for Climate is also a gas industry lobby group that argues for blue hydrogen – or, to call it what it really is, fossil hydrogen. This is hydrogen produced using fossil gas. Not clean, not low-carbon, and damaging to the climate.
Two further events on the day have the French gas firm Engie as organisers, discussing hydrogen and decarbonisation. Hydrogen is one of the very many buzzwords you can’t help but hear at COP26 and it’s no surprise that the fossil fuel industry is intent on polluting that debate. It serves as a cover for those companies to continue extracting and burning fossil gas, whilst appearing to be climate-friendly. Or what we call greenwashing.
We know this is a key strategy of the fossil fuel industry but it’s appalling that the European Union is giving those companies and lobbyists the platform to do so. Even worse that it’s probably during the most important climate talks the world has ever seen.
Of course, it’s not just the EU who are guilty of this. Across the hundreds of side events and discussions the hand of corporate polluters will be present. I’d urge anyone attending those events to challenge the industry spin, put corporate spokespeople on the spot and point the finger at those delegations who are willingly handing the mic to those whose presence at COP is to protect their profits, rather than people and planet.