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Environmentalists welcome the new hydrogen deal between Canada and Germany

Montreal Canada Environmental groups have cautiously welcomed the new agreement between the German and Canadian governments to begin shipping hydrogen across the Atlantic as early as 2025, as countries shift toward more renewable energy.

The Canadian-German Hydrogen Alliance, announced this week after meetings in Canada between German Chancellor Olaf Schulz and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, comes as Europe tries to dump Russian energy amid the war in Ukraine.

“The hydrogen alliance between Canada and Germany is a milestone as we accelerate the introduction of green hydrogen on the international market and pave the way for a new transatlantic cooperation,” German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said in a statement on Tuesday.

On the same day, Canadian green energy company EverWind said it had reached an agreement with Germany-based Uniper to export “green ammonia” derived from hydrogen from a partly wind-powered facility under construction in Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.

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“This alliance and the project agreement that came with it [Scholz’s] A visit sends a signal that there is another possible and desirable way to achieve energy security,” Caroline Brouillette, national policy director at Climate Action Network Canada, told Al Jazeera in an interview.

“That is to say, accelerating the transition to renewable energy-based energy.”

Pay for LNG

Schulz, the German chancellor, is trying to secure alternative energy sources amid threats from Moscow, angered by international sanctions over its offensive in Ukraine, that it will turn off the spigots of Russian gas flowing to Europe. The European Union got nearly 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia last year, and concerns are growing that the union could face energy shortages during the cold winter months.

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Almost since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Canada – the world’s fifth-largest natural gas producer – has faced calls from energy companies and pro-oil lawmakers to increase energy exports to help its allies in Europe. In March, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Ottawa would increase oil and gas production this year by up to 300,000 barrels per day to tackle the “energy security crisis.”

But Germany has also urged Canada to increase exports of liquefied natural gas specifically to Europe, something that Schultz reiterated this week amid green energy deals, saying he remains hopeful it will supply Ottawa with more. Trudeau threw cold water on the possibility on Monday, telling reporters that Canada needed a “feasibility study” for it due to infrastructure and financial hurdles.

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“Trudeau is wasting a generation’s opportunity, and says no to billions of dollars, no to more salaries for our people, no to energy security for us and our allies,” legislator Pierre Poilifri, front-runner in the race to be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, tweeted. “As Prime Minister, I will be repealing his anti-energy laws and championing Canadian energy.”

However, Canada does not have any operating facilities to export LNG, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a think-tank, recently said that because Europe needs supplies now, “this results in a fundamental mismatch. Canada cannot increase supplies before 2025, while Europe’s energy needs will be largely met by then.”

It is clear that the war in Ukraine will accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. Keith Stewart, chief energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada, who welcomed the announcements this week as “part of this transformation,” said Keith Stewart, energy security now means renewable energy.

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“It’s good to see that because we recognize that there is opportunity in this new economy and that we already have concrete proposals going forward,” Stewart told Al Jazeera. “There are no more greenpeace dreams. The German chancellor and prime minister are standing there, talking about how we can harness the wind to help provide the energy services we need.”

Focus on “Green Hydrogen”

But environmental activists also say the devil will be in the implementation of the hydrogen alliance between Germany and Canada.

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Canada and Germany do not currently share the same definition of “clean hydrogen” — the term used in the Canadian government’s statement outlining the deal, Brouillette explained. “The German definition and preference for green hydrogen, which consists mainly of energy produced from renewable energy sources,” she told Al Jazeera, while Canada talks about a mixture of green hydrogen and “blue hydrogen,” a term used for hydrogen produced from natural gas.

Because blue hydrogen production results in carbon emissions – which are then captured and stored – Brouillette said the Canadian position “sort of gives cover for continued fossil production – in this case, gas – production, rather than a transition to energy sources that we know through the life cycle.” less [damaging] to the climate.

Justin Trudeau and Olaf Schultz walk a trade show
Amid meetings with the German chancellor this week in Canada, Trudeau said Ottawa will need a “feasibility study” to boost LNG exports to Europe. [File: Andreas Rinke/Reuters]

The focus on green hydrogen is critical and urged Germany not to “give up here,” Sacha Muller-Kreiner, Federal Executive Director of the German Environmental Action Organisation, said in a statement. “Canada is keeping the door open to fossil hydrogen production…We can’t help but warn the Canadian government against relying on exporting highly climate-damaging energy sources for its future economic development,” Mueller-Kreiner said.

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Rights advocates have also stressed that any large project, including those that produce renewable energy, must respect the rights of indigenous peoples and be acceptable to local communities. “It’s important to make sure it’s done right,” Stewart said.

“I think seeing international cooperation to accelerate the energy transition is a big deal,” he added.

“[On] The global scale of things, that’s a small part of the solution, but we need a lot of these types of solutions all over the world. And the more we see them turn into reality, the more we can imagine this future.”

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