21 June 2024, Canberra – As we prepare to scale up green hydrogen production, addressing environmental and social dimensions is crucial to gaining and maintaining public acceptance. This was the central theme of the recent Australia-EU Green Hydrogen Dialogue on Social Licence, Community Acceptance and Environmental Impacts, which brought together experts from Europe and Australia to discuss the critical factors influencing the social licence to build and operate hydrogen and hydrogen derivative projects.

Social licence refers to the ongoing approval and acceptance of a project by local communities and stakeholders. It goes beyond regulatory approvals, requiring active engagement, transparency, and benefit-sharing with affected communities. For green hydrogen projects, securing social licence is essential from both a production and market perspective to ensure the hydrogen produced is sustainable and meets necessary criteria.

The dialogue underscored the importance of understanding and addressing the factors that drive or hinder public acceptance. A just transition ensures that the benefits and burdens of new technologies are equitably distributed. This requires a comprehensive approach to assessing social, environmental, and economic impacts on diverse communities. Our dialogue emphasised the importance of including all relevant perspectives, particularly those of marginalised groups, in the decision-making process.

Community concerns about the safety of hydrogen production, use, and transportation are significant. Addressing these concerns through stringent regulations, community education, and transparent safety measures is crucial.
Additionally, the dialogue also highlighted environmental concerns around land and water use, acknowledging the significant impact hydrogen production can have on local ecosystems and resources. Water security is a critical issue, especially in regions facing climate change pressures. Early engagement with communities and collaboration with trusted partners like water utilities can help develop sustainable water solutions for hydrogen production.

Implementing national standards and certification processes ensures that renewable energy projects meet community expectations and environmental criteria. Clear guidelines on end-of-life waste management and recycling are essential for maintaining community trust throughout the project lifecycle. Reliable legal and regulatory frameworks, along with financial incentives, are also vital for the viability and attractiveness of hydrogen projects.

Furthermore, effective collaboration across all levels of government is necessary to overcome organisational silos and ensure cohesive project development. Local governments should be actively involved in decision-making processes, given their direct connection to affected communities. Initiatives like Queensland’s Gas Commission could serve as models for similar efforts in the hydrogen sector.

During the dialogue, successful models from Germany and Texas were highlighted to demonstrate the importance of community participation and benefit-sharing. In Australia, coordinated efforts at the state level and educational initiatives are key to building long-term support for hydrogen projects.

Having a social licence to operate green hydrogen projects takes a multifaceted approach that prioritises transparency, community engagement, and equitable benefit-sharing. Successful international models highlight the benefit of deep community involvement, addressing specific local concerns, we can pave the way for a just and sustainable energy transition.

This Dialogue session built upon earlier sessions on Scaling and Accelerating Green Hydrogen Production and Financing the Green Hydrogen Economy held in the frame of the EU Climate Dialogues (EUCDs) project. The conversations around social licence, community acceptance and environmental impacts will in turn sets the stage for forthcoming dialogues focused on coordination across the green hydrogen supply chain, and hydrogen as a feedstock for a secondary process to produce other power-fuels, chemicals and green commodities (P2X).

The EU Climate Dialogues (EUCDs) project aims to support the EU’s bilateral relations with external partners on climate related policies and to promote the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. Its objective is to foster ambitious climate policies and investment in economies outside the EU, and exchange practices on policy experience in the area of climate-related economic activity. Additionally, the project wants to reinforce climate related bilateral trade, investment, and innovation while enhancing public awareness, including the business community.

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