In a world where the dooming climate crisis increasingly turns into a planetary crisis, the development of a sustainable and clean ‘hydrogen economy’ is considered essential if the world wants to keep the hope alive to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Many countries strive for ‘carbon-neutral’ societies and economies – Germany, for example, has set this aim for 2045. Alongside (1) the phase-out of fossil fuels, (2) the development of renewable energy generation and (3) increased energy efficiency, the establishment of (4) a hydrogen infrastructure as an avenue to utilize green electricity in sectors and industries where fossils has been used in material processes up to now (e.g. reduction in steel production), where direct electrification is hardly possible (e.g. air and sea transport), and as a carbon-free energy source in high-temperature processes and for future reconversion to electricity during dark doldrums and as a storage medium is planned.
As of now, discussions surrounding hydrogen are mostly concerned with the technical aspects of scaling up global green hydrogen production quickly, vastly ignoring the potential social and ecological challenges coming with this (not so) new energy carrier. Yet, the establishment of a new global infrastructure and a completely new branch of the global energy sector in the form of a hydrogen rush, provides not only a global economic opportunity, but a significant risk of either sidelining developing countries, or repeating the negative economic, social and environmental experiences that were linked to extractive industries and the exploitation of fossil energy resources in the past. The risk of ‘green colonialism’ must be reflected and taken into account.