In September, International Rivers accompanied civil society partners and community leaders from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to meet with European policymakers and civil society organizations, to discuss Germany and the EU’s green hydrogen development and extraction plans concerning the DRC, including raising concerns for potential investment in the planned Grand Inga Dam project.
The plans for Grand Inga are set within the context of heightened interest and hype around green hydrogen as a solution for countries with high carbon emissions and polluting industries. Many in Europe see green hydrogen as a significant way to decarbonise their industries and reduce emissions, but it is unlikely that the large quantities of hydrogen that will be needed for the energy transition can be produced within Europe. This means that the EU will continue to import much of its energy from abroad, in particular from the global south.
Currently, policymakers and civil society organizations (CSOs) in Germany are discussing their green hydrogen import strategy and investors have also taken notice of these development plans. In response, CSOs in Europe and multiple countries in Africa, including the DRC and Namibia, are raising concerns that Europe is again looking to Africa for resource extraction and investing in destructive development projects like the DRC’s Grand Inga Dam proposal, while a majority of the populations of these countries have limited or no access to electricity.
“We are here in Europe to speak with civil society organisations and also with European institutions to make them aware about the urgency to consider human rights when drafting or defining policy related to the import of green hydrogen. Action on climate change and an energy transition must be just. We are fighting against any sort of green hydrogen that will come from large hydropower and doesn’t take into account human rights considerations and the community’s rights. That is why we are here, to make sure that any sustainability standard or policy that is developed for the imports of green hydrogen does not come from large hydropower that violates the human rights of the community.” – Erick Kassongo, Lawyer and Executive Director- Le Centre Congolais pour le Droit du Développement Durable (CODED)
The Grand Inga Dam
The Grand Inga scheme proposes a series of six phases of hydropower dams, starting with Inga III to Inga VIII. Since 2020, the Australian company Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) has been a negotiating partner of the Congolese government and is the latest investor in the project.
The Grand Inga scheme would be the world’s largest dam project, unseating the Three Gorges Dam in China. International Rivers and partners have made Inga an increased area of focus since 2013 as the Inga “zombie” dam project has gone through many changes to its project design, funders, and developers throughout the years. We have consistently raised concerns about the project’s human rights violations, poor environmental and social standards, loss of biodiversity, interference with the natural flow of the Congo River, climate impacts, and likely disruption of the Atlantic Congo Plume carbon sink, as well as dubious development benefits, displacement of tens of thousands of people, and a severe lack of transparency surrounding the project.
“We’re here in Berlin and Brussels to speak with European politicians and decision-makers about the big Inga dam project and the fact that how this project is proposed will bring a lot of problems in the DRC. Problems that will impact the local community, including environmental issues as well as economical issues and could potentially displace more than 40,000 people.
We want to ask questions and understand their green hydrogen strategies and ensure a just transition approach, especially towards a country like the DRC where only 9% of people have access to energy.” -Emmanuel Musuyu, Permanent Secretary – Coalition des Organisations de la Société Civile pour le Suivi des Réformes et de l’Action Publique (CORAP)
As the latest investor in the Grand Inga Dam scheme, FFIwhich is a subsidiary of Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), a publicly traded Australian company and one of the world’s largest iron mining companies with operations in Australia, claims to be transitioning to a green energy and resources company with specialization in the production of green hydrogen and ammonia. The company proposes to develop Grand Inga, Matadi, and Mpioka projects for the production of green hydrogen from the dams’ hydropower output, for domestic use and international export.
FFI signed a “Deed of Agreement on the development of substantial green industries in the DRC” with the DRC government in September 2020; granting the company exclusive rights to develop the site. International Rivers and the DRC’s civil society raised concerns about this deal when it was announced, as it bypasses key procedural requirements to ensure that projects are awarded transparently.
This project is intended to establish industries in Kongo Central province, predicated on the development of the Inga site for a hydroelectric complex for the production of green hydrogen, and green ammonia, and the processing of green metals for export to European and other markets in the Global North. FFI plans to produce 70 GW of hydropower and geothermal resources for the production of green hydrogen. This comprises 15 GW from the Mpioka dam, 15 GW from the Matadi dam, and 40 GW from Grand Inga.
What is Green Hydrogen?
Also called renewable hydrogen, green hydrogen is produced by splitting water by electrolysis. In this process, an electric current is passed through water to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen. The hydrogen can be used as fuel, and the oxygen is released into the atmosphere.
For hydrogen fuel to be truly green, it must be produced through renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Today, hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water accounts for only 4% of total hydrogen production. This is because it is extremely energy-intensive and much more expensive than producing hydrogen through conventional processes using fossil fuels. Currently, most hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels and is called grey hydrogen.
Even as wind and solar power become more affordable, green hydrogen remains inefficient and costly compared to simply using electricity at its source. This is because hydrogen is very expensive and difficult to store and transport. It has the lowest density of all gasses, so it takes up a lot of space to store, and requires high pressures, low temperatures, or chemical processes to be stored compactly. Hydrogen is also highly flammable when mixed with the smallest amount of air. For these reasons, up to two-thirds of its energy is lost in the process of producing, converting, and transporting it. For green hydrogen to be used widely, major investments will be needed to improve ways of producing, transporting, and storing it.
Virtually all hydrogen produced today is used in industrial processes. Scaling up green hydrogen production for widespread use would require major incentives and investments both to further decrease the costs, as well as to expand the infrastructure needed for hydrogen production, transport, storage, and use. This includes developing sufficient electrolyzer capacity, transforming port infrastructure, repurposing existing gas pipelines or constructing dedicated new pipelines, building new rail containers and ships and port facilities, and creating safe storage capacity.
In 2022, International Rivers produced a factsheet on green hydrogen, “Seeing Green: Hydropower to Hydrogen, the Latest False Climate Solution” (English and French) and hosted a webinar on green hydrogen with partners from Australia, the DRC and the United States raising the concerns that hydro-to-hydrogen is not clean or “green” and will be used for export to foreign markets, and bailing out existing dirty industries, rather than supporting local energy access and a sustainable and just energy transformation.
What is Hydro-to-Hydrogen?
Hydro-to-hydrogen schemes use hydropower to convert water to hydrogen through electrolysis. The electricity produced by dams in off-peak times or during strong river flows is stored in the form of hydrogen. Later, when the peak energy is needed, the hydrogen is converted to electricity. Producing hydrogen through electrolysis requires large quantities of water, which can be accessible at some hydropower dam sites.
Despite the expense and inefficiency of hydrogen, corporations, and industry lobby groups like the International Hydropower Association (IHA) are promoting hydropower as a key fuel source for hydrogen production, promising a new era of “clean”, and “renewable energy”. Hydropower industry proponents call these projects “hydro-to-hydrogen.”
Hydro-to-hydrogen schemes give dam builders a chance to rebrand hydropower as “green energy” or “zero carbon,” when it is a biodiversity and climate crime, and presents a false solution to the climate crisis.
To make matters worse, hydro-to-hydrogen schemes are not designed to provide energy to local people. The Inga project, as a case in point, would do nothing to serve the 90% of Congolese who lack electricity. Rather, the energy produced would be exclusively for export to foreign markets.
DRC Delegation to Europe
International Rivers’ Siziwe Mota, the Africa Program Director, and Bonnie Barclay, the Communications Manager, supported by GegenStrömung in Germany and Food & Water Action Europe and the European Environmental Bureau in Brussels, accompanied a delegation from the DRC which comprised:
Emmanuel Musuyu, Permanent Secretary – Coalition des Organisations de la Société Civile pour le Suivi des Réformes et de l’Action Publique(CORAP);
Salome Elolo, Executive Director of Femme Solidaires (FESO);
Angelique Mvuezolo, Community campaigner for Solidarité des Femmes sur le Fleuve Congo (SOFFLECO);
Erick Kassongo, Lawyer and Executive Director- Le Centre Congolais pour le Droit du Développement Durable (CODED),
The delegation traveled to Berlin and Brussels to engage European civil society, build alliances, and share their concerns on the proposal for green hydrogen from the Inga Dam. There were three coalition meetings with CSOs working on climate, hydropower, energy, and hydrogen and a public meeting in Germany.
The delegation also met with decision-makers, including members of the German Parliament from various parties, and German government ministries to communicate their opposition to any plans for green hydrogen imports from Inga Dam raising human rights and environmental concerns.
As expected, views were wide-ranging from those who supported our position to those who saw possibilities for importing green hydrogen from hydropower into Europe to decarbonise their economy and meet their climate commitments.
Meetings and events
During the 10-day trip, the following activities were held:
Meetings were held with several German Ministers of Parliament (MPs) including the Green Party with Kathrin Henneberger, Katrin Uhlig + other Greens, the Christian Democratic Union with MdB Volkmar Klein, the Liberals with Till Mansmann, MP, the Parliamentary Group Central Africa with Jürgen Cosse, Christoph Hoffmann, Olaf Gutting. A meeting with representatives of two Ministries; the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) – with Tony Baumann and Karim Azaiz and the Ministry of Environment with Ulrich Nicklas, Janine Muzau. The delegation also met with financiers including KfW Development Bank with Alexander Hablik (Sector economist/renewable energies), Sebastien Cognet (Technical Expert/environmental and social impact assessment), Anton Bösl (General Manager for federal affairs) and Markus Schlömann (Country Manager DRC).
“I’m here to speak especially about the community of Inga. We work with the women of Inga and we’re there to bring them information and awareness on what’s going on with the Grand Inga. Many don’t about the project.
Salome Elolo speaks with Ulrich Nicklas at the meeting with the Ministry of Environment
Only 9% of the Congolese population has access to electricity, so coming to build the Grand Inga and export the green hydrogen out of the country is something that we cannot accept. One reason is due to the fact that the previously built hydropower dams, Inga 1 and Inga 2, never gave people access to electricity. There are also no studies we have seen that show the negative impact or what is going to happen to the environment or social impact studies. We can’t live in poverty and then have energy exported again so people continue to suffer. We ask civil society for their solidarity and to join us on this campaign.” – Salome Elolo, Executive Director of Femme Solidaires (FESO).
CSO meeting in BerlinCSO meeting and presentation in BerlinCSO meeting and presentation in BerlinCSO meeting and presentation in BrusselsCSO meeting and presentation in BrusselsCSO meeting and presentation in Brussels
Public Event in Berlin
The public event was moderated by German CSO, Gegenstroemung and included panelists from our delegation, Loyle Campbell of the German Council on Foreign Relations and Christiane Averbeck from the Klima-Allianz Deutschland and the National Hydrogen Council. The public participated in an engaging Q&A. Watch the event video here. Learn more about the event.
Watch the recording of the event:
Germany and Green Hydrogen
Globally green hydrogen has been identified as having a potential future in replacing fossil fuels in a broad range of industrial and stationary power applications to decarbonize these sectors.
Germany is a leading country that aims to scale up the hydrogen market to achieve climate neutrality by 2045 and strengthen the security of energy supplies of which 50%-70% of which will be imported.In July, Germany began updating its national green hydrogen strategy which is close to completion. The import strategy was separated and will be finished in December this year.
An important prerequisite for the development of a hydrogen economy in Germany is the development of a renewable energy port for the importation of green hydrogen. This is being developed in Northern Germany at the Wilhelmshaven Green Energy Hub. FFI has committed to a €130 million ($229m) investment in this facility, which the company says could be operational by 2026.
The proposed construction of large hydropower projects, such as Grand Inga is being centered as key to a new trillion-dollar market in green products. This means FFI and others involved are seeking billions of dollars in government subsidies and incentives to finance it.
The delegation discussed Germany’s commitment to sustainability and climate action, which is the driving force behind the ramped-up green hydrogen plans. They also raised their main concerns regarding German investments in projects that potentially violate human rights and international protection standards and harm the environment as the scaling up imports from Africa places Africans at risk when local energy needs and human rights concerns are not addressed.
Europe’s green hydrogen plans have resulted in developing nations, particularly in Africa, rushing to export green hydrogen at the risk of their own energy needs. Germany’s entire “hydrogen import strategy” must take into account the Global North’s history of resource extraction, unsustainable development, colonization, capture of project sites, lack of transparency, the violation of public procurement processes, displacements of thousands of people from their lands and livelihoods and human rights violations. The priority for foreign partnerships with countries like the DRC should first be on local energy access before export.
The delegation delivered a clear message to all they met, that the import of Inga Dam-produced hydrogen will leave devastating impacts for the DRC. It would entail significant irreversible social and environmental impacts from biodiversity loss to displacement and impoverishment of people and communities.
Wrong climate for damming rivers
The delegation emphasized that projects like this are a false climate and energy access solution and a distraction from real solutions. In a climate-changing world, with extreme weather increasing, droughts are making hydropower unreliable and flooding is leading to a collapse of dam walls.
In many cases, large hydropower dams don’t deliver on their promised energy. For example, Inga 1 and 2, built in 1972 and 1982 in the DRC, respectively, have operated below capacity due to ongoing repairs and maintenance. These dam projects also displaced communities and never fulfilled the promise of providing energy to the local and displaced populations, instead, the energy was transmitted to power the mining sector in Katanga province. The two dams, combined with the Inga-Kolwezi line, contributed heavily to the country’s spiraling debt crisis.
Dam construction does not only lead to human rights and environmental issues, but governance corporate land grabs, corruption, and huge debt. Throughout the world, aging dam infrastructure is posing a threat. A 2021 study shows by 2050, most people on Earth will live downstream of tens of thousands of large dams already operating at or beyond their design life.
Perhaps the greatest danger of the hype around green hydrogen is that it is being used to promote a return to large-scale hydropower after a period of prolonged decline. Extending a lifeline to disastrous mega-dam projects such as the Grand Inga dam, while diverting resources away from proven solutions for local energy access and climate sustainability.
Large hydropower and hydro-to-hydrogen schemes are not clean energy or climate solutions. Hydropower dams can produce significant methane emissions and some hydropower plants produce more greenhouse gasses than coal-fired power plants.
Green hydrogen schemes with hydropower proposals like Grand Inga, are a false solution.
Exporting energy to foreign markets and bailing out existing dirty industries is not a solution for our future, when what we need is to invest in and support local energy access and a sustainable and just energy transformation.