The Promise of Green Hydrogen for Africa and the World

24 Jan 2023

The Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) is an annual event hosted by Masdar. It has been taking place since 2013, providing a global forum for politics, business and technology in order to exchange ideas and knowledge that contribute to achieving climate goals, such as net zero.


Panels reviewed:

  • Hydrogen and the Global South: Focus on Africa
  • The Role of Government: Creating a Green Hydrogen Ecosystem in the MENA Region
  • The Promise and Potential of Hydrogen
  • Making the Green Hydrogen Industry a Reality

The panels can be watched after registering for free here.


The United Arab Emirates is a small and wealthy country in the Middle East, which, due to its geographic location and climate, requires enormous energy and water consumption to create a livable habitat. In fact, according to a 2018 study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, its most famous Emirate Dubai was featured in the world’s top 20 cities with the largest per capita carbon footprint by 2050. At the same time, the UAE has been at the forefront of hosting dialogues and initiatives in pursuit of advancing sustainability. While the world was discussing the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals at the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, at a reception honoring then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, the UAE announced the launch of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), which would provide a global platform for dialogue around sustainable development.

ADSW 2023 just rounded up its week of discussions on climate action, energy transition, green hydrogen, and net-zero ambitions, among others. One of the topics that caught our attention was that of energy transition and in particular the role of Africa in this context. Africa has been the continent most disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of climate change, and at the same time, it possesses some of the most important resources required for energy transition. One such resource, which has been hailed as a vector for decarbonization in the industry is hydrogen. ADSW 2023 had an entire series of discussions under the overarching title of ‘Green Hydrogen Summit’ that examined different socioeconomic and environmental impacts of generating hydrogen from renewable sources. In fact, 2023 was dubbed as ‘A Year for Hydrogen Acceleration,’ and the various panels reflected the views and experiences of public and private sector representatives.

According to McKinsey, hydrogen can serve as a vector to decarbonize industries, including those that contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions, such as steel, shipping, aviation and petrochemicals industries. Africa is an important source of clean hydrogen (sourced from renewables) because the continent has the requisite ingredients, including land, wind, and solar potential as well as ports and infrastructure that enable the energy produced to be exported to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and beyond. Importantly, clean hydrogen can be generated at a relatively low cost, which makes African hydrogen competitive in the international market and a desirable product.

Early on in the discussions, a panelist made an important distinction explaining that Africa is not in an energy transition phase but rather in an energy availability phase. This means that the focus currently is on developing renewable energy in Africa at competitive prices, which is a good opportunity for countries that are developing hydrogen. As another panel member mentioned, there are three export hubs in Africa: Morocco and Mauritania to the Northwest, Egypt to the East, and South Africa and Namibia to the South. This, of course, raises the question of whether investments in hydrogen might lead to inequitable development on the continent, whereby those countries that are rich in necessary resources for a global transition to renewable energy leave the rest behind.

The question of equitability and the potential for Africans to benefit from clean hydrogen was raised on some panels. Developers and companies involved in the green hydrogen transition generally sounded optimistic about the positive impact that hydrogen and its development in Africa would have on the continent. As some panelists mentioned, the use of hydrogen as a source of energy would not only enable Africa itself in transitioning out of reliance on fossil fuels but also help the continent in providing access to electricity to millions of Africans. In fact, private sector developers and governments seemed to agree that green hydrogen and its development would have the potential to help Africa’s economic development through the sourcing of renewable energy. Based on one study that was mentioned, Africa could contribute to 10% of the global green hydrogen market while creating 3.7 million jobs and adding US$120 billion to Africa’s GDP. However, one nagging question was how feasible it would be to transport large amounts of hydrogen from Africa to Europe and other regions, considering maritime shipping’s own carbon footprint as well as its additional cost, which could hamper Africa’s competitiveness in producing green hydrogen.


Main Outcomes & Take-aways

  • Green hydrogen will play an important role for the decarbonization of various industries.
  • Africa is a promising global source of green hydrogen due to its geography, resources and climate and could contribute to 10% of the global green hydrogen market.
  • For Africa, the development of hydrogen could help the continent to become greener and have positive effects on the access to electricity for millions of Africans.
  • Investments in hydrogen could lead to inequitable developments on the continent since it would be concentrated on the major export hubs.
  • Exporting large amounts of hydrogen from Africa poses a challenge.
  • Public-private partnerships could accelerate hydrogen capacity building on the African continent.


Despite the various challenges discussed, the participants of the Green Hydrogen Summit were overwhelmingly positive about the potential of green hydrogen. Not only could it contribute to meeting global climate targets but also assist companies to reduce their CO2 emissions. Public-private partnerships were touted as catalysts to accelerate capacity building in Africa, thereby not only supporting the transition to renewable energy globally but also benefiting the people of Africa. And if there is one message that emanated from the panel discussions, it was that international cooperation is necessary in resolving today’s global challenges. Global Neighbours could not agree more.