Planet Earth First poster by Greenpeace

World must target absolute zero emissions, says Australian iron ore mogul

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The world needs to focus on absolute zero emissions, rather than a net-zero target, and use clean hydrogen to get there rather than relying on unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage, according to Australian iron ore titan Andrew Forrest.

Forrest, who grew Fortescue Metals Group into the world's fourth-largest iron ore miner in less than two decades, has more recently turned his attention to developing green energy projects such as hydrogen around the world.

Australia's richest man said the idea of reaching net zero by 2050 - a pillar of the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow - is a "smokescreen" that suggests climate change could be solved by burying or offsetting carbon emissions.

"It's not going to happen," said Forrest, speaking on a panel at the Reuters Impact conference. "The fossil-fuel industry has lobbied hard to get taxpayers to fund their attempt at a transition to 'clean' energy – on their timetable. But that's a highway to climate disaster."

Of the 60 million tonnes of hydrogen produced every year, 96 per cent is still made from fossil fuels, Forrest said: "Green hydrogen is the solution we need to get to absolute zero". Green hydrogen is made from water, using renewable electricity, while other sorts such as 'blue' hydrogen are produced from fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) this week backed a bigger role for hydrogen in future, saying governments needed to step up investment in hydrogen production and storage chains to help cut net emissions to zero.

The Australian government is pushing both hydrogen development and carbon capture and storage (CCS) to cut emissions, as it views CCS as essential to the future use of gas and coal, the country's second and third-largest export earners.

The 20 pilot CCS plants in existence worldwide capture only 0.4 per cent of the CO2 emitted globally by power stations and industrial processes, Forrest said.

To meet a net-zero emissions target by 2050, the IEA projects the world would need to capture and store 7.6 billion tonnes a year of carbon dioxide by 2050 - significantly up from the current CCS capacity of 40 million tonnes a year.

"Carbon capture and storage, despite having received billions of subsidies for decades, remains an unproven failure, far from commercial viability," said Forrest.

Last month, the mining billionaire launched GH2, a green hydrogen organisation, in a push to speed up development of the clean fuel to help curb global warming.

GH2's goal is to ensure that by 2050 a quarter of the world's energy comes from green hydrogen, which is extracted from water with electrolysis, an energy-intensive but carbon-free process if powered by renewable electricity.

Forrest has ambitious plans for the iron ore company he founded, Fortescue Metals Group, to diversify into renewable energy, betting on green hydrogen as a major new business.

"Green hydrogen is, in a way, the sleeping giant of the energy transition and I believe will have a bigger impact on tackling climate change than any other technology," Forrest said in the GH2 launch statement.

GH2, which will be chaired by former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, aims to bring together governments and development institutions to step up support for green hydrogen production and use in emerging markets.

It also aims to rope in the private sector and governments to publish demand forecasts, gather data on projects and set accreditation standards for the nascent industry to ensure that green hydrogen production involves close to zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortescue Future Industries aims to produce 15 million tonnes a year of green hydrogen by 2030, which it wants to use to help decarbonise heavy industry, such as steel making. GH2 is also focused on ensuring that governments don't promote grey hydrogen, which is extracted using natural gas, or blue hydrogen, which is produced from gas with the carbon dioxide emitted in the process captured and stored.

"Too many of the national hydrogen policies and hydrogen association overlook the fact that hydrogen produced from fossil fuels will generally result in more CO2 emissions, not less," Turnbull said.

GH2 will have an international secretariat spread across London, Perth, Sydney and Geneva, where its chief executive Jonas Moberg is based.

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