Driving a just hydrogen transition in the Baltic Sea Region

Hydrogen is a key driver of the green energy transition, as it enables the wide-spread storage, transport, distribution, and usage of green energy, and can decarbonize hard-to-abate industries. However, it is crucial that this significant socio-technical transition shift not only addresses environmental concerns but also incorporates principles of justice to ensure that the benefits and burdens of the transition are equitably distributed. BalticSeaH2 is committed to facilitating a just and inclusive H2 transit, by actively engaging with the public and local communities.

The green hydrogen transition presents a monumental socio-technical transition. The establishment of local, national, and regional hydrogen valleys will inevitably require substantial investments and infrastructural development: new wind and solar farms, nuclear power plants, hydrogen facilities, transmission pipelines and routes, and large-scale storage facilities.

At the same time, local opposition towards green energy infrastructure has increased in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR). For instance, wind power, solar power, green steel mills, and hydrogen initiatives have faced opposition from local communities, stemming from concerns over biodiversity, safety and security, place identity, noise and visual disturbance, and perceived threats to other industries [1-4]. Research also indicates fluctuating public awareness of hydrogen technologies, lack of meaningful engagement and benefit-sharing mechanisms, as well as gendered and racist barriers that hinder diverse participation in the development of the clean energy sector [5-7]. The rapid development of hydrogen valleys, coupled with the potential geographical division of benefits (e.g. job creation, economic growth, decarbonization) and burdens (e.g. infrastructural impacts, resource exploitation) nationally and in the BSR, risks further exacerbating these issues.

Where hydrogen infrastructure is situated, how potential land use conflicts are mitigated, how the public is informed, and how local communities are engaged, can become critical justice questions for the hydrogen transition in the BSR.

Justice considerations are not only social issues but also critical aspects of risk management

If left ignored, justice questions can become significant barriers for the hydrogen transition. For instance, in 2019, all wind power approval processes halted, due to nation-wide opposition from municipalities towards the Norwegian national wind power framework [8]. In addition, the Norwegian Supreme Court recently ruled that two wind farms in the Norwegian Sápmi region were constructed illegally, despite early resistance from the Sámi community [9]. As a settlement, one of the operators (Roan) will pay compensation and share the energy produced with the local Sámi community, and the Sámi will have veto rights for any wind power plants in the area until 2045 [9]. This case demonstrates that justice considerations are not only social issues but also critical aspects of risk management.

How can we promote social justice in the hydrogen transition in the Baltic Sea Region?

Several strategies can help facilitate a just transition. For instance, co-ownership and co-financing of energy strategies (e.g. Denmark), early and continuous engagement of local communities (e.g. Windlab), neighborhood benefit programs (e.g. Tilt Renewables), and national coordination of hydrogen development strategies (e.g. Scottish H2 action plan), are examples of best practices for ensuring that the benefits and burdens of energy initiatives and transitions are shared in an equitable manner [10].

BalticSeaH2 consortium

On June 4th, the Baltic Sea H2 consortium brainstormed best practices to share the benefits of the project with the BSR societies. The consortium underlined the importance of active dialogue with municipalities and local communities, transparent and extensive information sharing, economic benefit-sharing, inclusive spatial planning of the hydrogen infrastructure (e.g., preferring pre-existing industrial sites), and harmonizing safety management practices. By incorporating these best practices, the Baltic Sea H2 aims to foster a just and inclusive hydrogen transition.

Simply ‘greening’ or ‘cleaning’ innovations and industries will not automatically make them fair, inclusive, or just

Historically, we have struggled to implement transitions in a sustainable manner. Rather, previous energy systems have further enforced existing inequalities, while also creating new ones. Simply ‘greening’ or ‘cleaning’ innovations and industries will not automatically make them fairer, inclusive, or just [10]; What is needed is a systematic integration of justice considerations in the planning and establishment of hydrogen valleys, to ensure a successful, sustainable and just hydrogen transition.

Author: Essi Laitinen, Research Scientist & BalticSeaH2 Gender Dimension Manager, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland

The author works as a social scientist in the Baltic Sea H2 and JustH2Transit. In her work, she tackles and studies social justice and conflict dimensions in the green hydrogen transition.

Further information: essi.laitinen@vtt.fi