Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez at the Glasgow Climate Summit on Tuesday ADRIAN DENNIS (AFP)
Argentina seeks not to be left behind in the challenges posed by climate change. At the world climate summit held in Glasgow, COP26, the Government of Alberto Fernández announced on Monday that the Australian company Fortescue Future Industries will invest 8.4 billion dollars in Argentine Patagonia, “the largest investment in clean energy” in the history of the South American country. The project plans to turn the southern province of Río Negro into a world pole for the export of this fuel, with a production of 2.2 million tons per year in 2030.
“Green hydrogen is one of the fuels of the future and it fills us with pride that Argentina is one of the countries that is at the forefront of the ecological transition,” Fernández said about the announcement. The project estimates the creation of 15,000 direct and 40,000 indirect jobs.
Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, the main material of stars, for example, and its advantage is that when used as fuel it only releases water and not carbon dioxide, like gasoline. However, on Earth it cannot be found in isolation, but in elements that contain it, including water, coal and natural gas, which forces large amounts of energy to be used to separate hydrogen molecules from others. and be able to use them.
Green hydrogen is obtained by applying electrical current from renewable energy to divide water into hydrogen and oxygen. For this reason, the Fortescue Future Industries project foresees the construction of a wind farm that will feed the hydrogen production plant from desalinated seawater and an export port near the Rio Negro town of Punta Colorada.
The governor of Río Negro, Arabela Carreras, stressed on Tuesday that the area was chosen by Fortescue due to its climatic conditions and its strategic position – with strong winds and access to the Atlantic Ocean – and its human resources.
With the announcement, made two weeks before the legislative elections, Argentina joins the countries that are committed to this fuel, but is far from Chile, which is ahead in the region, with two projects already under development within the framework of the National green hydrogen strategy presented in 2020. In Argentina, the Australian company will begin technical pre-feasibility studies next week, followed by public consultations. If the schedule is maintained, the pilot phase will start next year, with an estimated investment of 1,200 million dollars to produce some 35,000 tons of green hydrogen.
Debt due to climate action
At the Glasgow summit, several Latin American countries, including Argentina, demanded international financing and foreign debt swaps in exchange for environmental actions. No country in Latin America is among the ten most polluting in the world, but the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world suffers like few others from the consequences of climate change. “We need to design payment mechanisms for eco-systemic services and install the concept of environmental debt,” Fernández said at COP26.
The Argentine government has also published this week the bases for the energy transition between now and 2030. According to the official resolution, 90% of the increase in installed power between 2020 and 2030 must come from low-emission energy sources. “This path of decarbonisation would manifest itself in a reduction of close to 50% in the carbon intensity of the electricity matrix compared to today, reducing the subsector’s emissions by about half,” the document states.
“The world is going that way and trade barriers will begin to appear with more recurrence in the face of environmental inaction. We do it out of conviction and convenience ”, admitted the Minister of Production, Matías Kulfas, last July when presenting the Green Productive Plan to correspondents. Almost a decade ago, Argentina was confident that Vaca Muerta’s gigantic unconventional hydrocarbon formation would become one of the country’s economic engines. The hydrocarbon industry today has millionaire subsidies, but the Government has stopped seeing it as the lifeline.
Added to the global pressure is the growing citizen mobilization in Argentina. “If we grow economically but destroy forests and wetlands, that will have serious consequences and we are the first generation that will have to face the effects of climate change with great force,” says Gastón Tenembaum, one of the founders of the organization Jóvenes por el Climate. “You have to understand the environment as part of a whole,” he warns.