COP 28 Insight: Ana Muñoz’s Legal Impact on Hydrogen Revolution 

With Suzan Taha

In the realm of legal expertise intersecting with the pursuit of a sustainable, carbon-free future, Ana Muñoz (pictured) stands as a trailblazer at the helm of NEOM Green Hydrogen Company.  

As the Chief Legal Officer, Muñoz navigates the intricate legal landscapes that define the cutting edge of renewable energy initiatives. Against the backdrop of COP 28 and the 4th annual Hydrogen Transition Summit, Muñoz provides profound insights into how her role intertwines with the global hydrogen agenda, the urgency of transitioning toward clean energy, and the pivotal role of a hydrogen-based economy. 

Join LegalcommunityMENA as Muñoz shares her perspectives on legal considerations in sustainable energy projects, the evolving role of legal professionals in advancing clean energy initiatives, and the influence of key global events on shaping the future of hydrogen-based economies. 

As the Chief Legal Officer at NEOM Green Hydrogen Company, you’re at the forefront of developing a world-scale green hydrogen production facility. How does this align with the global hydrogen agenda, especially considering the objectives of COP 28 and the Hydrogen Transition Summit? 

One of the key actions taking place at COP28 will be the conclusion of the global stocktake. We now know that we are currently not on track to meet the goal in the Paris Climate Change Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 Degrees Celius. At COP28, the world will gather to align on what needs to be done to accelerate positive change. The Hydrogen Transition Summit aims to position clean hydrogen as a key driver in the energy transition by providing a forum for industry leaders to share learnings and brainstorm on the major technical, commercial and policy issues affecting the deployment of clean hydrogen projects. 

NEOM Green Hydrogen Company is proud to be a contributor to this important discussion, given our firsthand experience in achieving FID on a world-scale green hydrogen project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We are building a blueprint for others to follow, and we believe we will be opening doors to the market with the most cost-competitive green hydrogen when full production starts in 2026. It’s a rapidly growing market, and by 2050 global demand for green hydrogen is expected to reach over 530 million tons, equivalent to around 7% of global primary energy consumption. 

The demand is there, but we will need to move quickly to meet that demand. That is why the questions being discussed at the Hydrogen Transition Summit, such as how to de-risk investment in clean hydrogen and how policy frameworks can support the production of clean hydrogen at speed and scale, are so vital. NEOM Green Hydrogen Company can bring valuable insights into what it takes to mobilize finance for a major green hydrogen project, and the role played by supportive policy frameworks, such as those espoused by Saudi Vision 2030, in bringing the dream of a world-scale green hydrogen facility to life. 

COP 28 has a strong focus on driving clean energy initiatives. In your role, how do you see NEOM Green Hydrogen Company contributing to the goals set by COP 28 in addressing the urgent climate crisis? 

Green hydrogen is one of the most promising solutions in our fight against climate change, particularly in the reduction of carbon emissions in hard-to-abate sectors such as the steel industry and as a clean and versatile fuel for a range of applications – including transport such as heavy-duty trucks, buses, and trains. 

To give you an idea of the potential impact that green hydrogen can have in helping achieve the goals of COP28, NGHC’s green hydrogen is set to save the world up to 5 million tonnes of CO2 per year. 

As a developer of a green hydrogen project which is already under execution, NEOM Green Hydrogen Company is also a sign to the world that not only is positive change possible, it is happening now. We just need to keep going. 

The Hydrogen Transition Summit aims to expedite the transition toward a hydrogen-based economy. How does your legal expertise play a role in ensuring that NEOM Green Hydrogen Company is at the forefront of this transition? 

Lawyers have a reputation of being resistant to change. Given that, it’s paradoxical how important experienced lawyers will be in driving innovation by supporting the development of clean hydrogen as the vector to decarbonise hard to abate industries, commercial transport, and beyond. 

At NGHC, I’ve been given the chance to use my experience advising on major traditional energy projects on a truly change-making project. Understanding the complexities around developing industrial projects is an asset in anticipating and mitigating risks on innovative projects like commercial scale green hydrogen projects. This ability to understand and advise on risks, and to develop contractual frameworks that sufficiently de-risk green hydrogen projects to make them bankable is essential to helping the clean hydrogen industry really take off. 

Beyond the development phase, there is the need for sound legal advice to ensure that clean hydrogen projects deliver on the expectations of lenders and the general public. There is a great deal of scrutiny on projects labelled as green, to ensure that they are truly sustainable not only environmentally, but in social and governance aspects as well. One of the key roles I serve is ensuring that NGHC meets or exceeds international standards for sustainability, while remaining commercially viable. 

This role will not end with substantial completion, but will extend into the operations phase, when we will be delivering green hydrogen to our offtaker and shareholder, Air Products, one of the key sponsors of the Hydrogen Transition Summit. Air Products is actively involved in shaping the policy frameworks relating to the demand side for green hydrogen. As NGHC’s Chief Legal Officer, I remain in close contact with my counterparts at Air Products to ensure that NGHC is prepared to meet the regulatory requirements surrounding the green hydrogen we will sell. 

In short, the nascent green hydrogen industry is a new legal and regulatory frontier which is dynamic and still very much underdevelopment. Lawyers like me will need to use the foundation of knowledge built over our careers as the basis for helping our clients navigate these uncharted waters. 

Could you share insights into the legal considerations and strategies adopted by NEOM Green Hydrogen Company to navigate the evolving landscape of global hydrogen initiatives and sustainable energy projects? 

The strength of NGHC begins with the legal structure of the Company itself, which gives NGHC a uniquely strong foundation. We are an equal joint venture of three formidable organizations – ACWA Power, Air Products and NEOM. From the outset, NGHC has received incredible support from its shareholders, which is reflected in the contractual framework underlying of the project. 

For example, on the project finance side, ACWA Power has leveraged its considerable experience in developing energy and infrastructure projects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and beyond to help the JV craft bankable legal frameworks for the project that got us to FID. Building our financing structure on established precedents, with logical, innovative amendments as required to make them fit for purpose in this first of its kind project, was an important factor in successfully closing this deal. 

Beyond the project financing, NEOM has provided space in its one-of-a-kind project area, where NGHC can benefit not only from the sun and wind in the region to generate the energy which will power our green hydrogen facilities, but also from NEOM’s world-class investor support. Likewise, the importance of having Air Products as shareholder, EPC contractor and off-taker cannot be understated. 

This collaboration between the three shareholders was the foundation upon which our lenders felt confident to build this world-scale project. 

Given the emphasis on renewable energy and sustainability, what key legal frameworks and regulatory considerations are crucial for organizations involved in large-scale hydrogen production projects? 

In addition to some of the more frequently discussed areas such as certification requirements for RFNBOs in various jurisdictions and tax incentives and subsidies on the supply and demand side, I think one space for prospective large-scale hydrogen producers to watch relates to laws and regulations relating to environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities surrounding these projects, as well as the duty of project companies and investors to report on ESG matters. 

As a legal professional, what advice would you give to peers navigating the legal complexities associated with advancing clean energy initiatives, especially in regions like the MENA area? 

Embrace lifelong learning. The most exciting part of being involved in clean energy initiatives is of course the ability to leave behind a better world. But there is a definite bonus for those brave lawyers that are comfortable outside the comfort zone of working in an established industry and that is the ability to be part of shaping the legal and regulatory framework that will position the MENA region at center stage in the energy transition. The energy space is evolving on a daily basis and will need to continue to evolve to help the world meet the major climate challenges it is facing in time to avert the climate clock. The urgency to build global momentum in the fight against climate change should only continue to grow. 

Looking ahead, how do you see the legal landscape evolving in the context of sustainable energy, and what impact do you anticipate from events like COP 28 and the Hydrogen Transition Summit on shaping the future of hydrogen-based economies? 

In his recent interview with Time Magazine, H.E. Sultan Al Jaber articulated his vision of the impact of COP28, stating that ““There’s going to be a paradigm shift. […] The political process needs to be well complemented with private capital and a business mindset.” In order to achieve this vision, the discussions among business leaders at events like the Hydrogen Transition 

Summit must complement the discussions of the policymakers in the Blue Zone, to ensure that targets can be met. 

If this vision for COP28 holds true, what I see going forward is more proactive engagement between the public and private sectors to ensure policy supports the technical solutions that will lead to progress toward climate targets, while ensuring that private development remains sustainable. 

The fact that the world is not on track to meet Paris Agreement global warming targets is a climate emergency that requires all hands-on deck. Governments and businesses will need to work together to respond. 

About Ana Muñoz

Ana Muñoz serves as the Chief Legal Officer at NEOM Green Hydrogen Company (NGHC), stepping into the role in June 2022 with a wealth of 23 years in intricate legal practice, spanning both private practice and in-house positions. Her expertise flourished during nearly a decade in the Middle East, focusing on advising major infrastructure projects, particularly in the oil and gas sector. 

Prior to her role at NGHC, Muñoz played a pivotal role as the sole project counsel for the multi-billion-dollar North Field Expansion Project in Qatar. Her goal is to utilize her experiences collaborating with diverse teams of subject matter experts to offer practical, commercially sensible advice that positions the legal function as a valuable contributor to business success. 

Firmly believing in the role of corporate legal and compliance functions in advancing sustainability, Muñoz eagerly anticipates the opportunity to shape policies and procedures at NGHC. Her aim is to fulfil the company’s commitment as a leader in the global shift to a carbon-free future. 

Muñoz holds 2 BA degrees (Political Science ’96 and English with a Minor in Asian Studies ’12) from Florida International University in Miami, Florida and a Juris Doctor from New York University School of Law (’99). She is a member in good standing of the Florida Bar and admitted to practice in the United States District Courts for the Southern, Middle and Northern Districts of Florida, as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. 

Outside of work, Muñoz is passionate about the history of knowledge, literature and the arts, and is an avid collector of books on these and other subjects. She enjoys road trips, city walks and live music. Cuban-American by birth and a nomadic world citizen at heart, Muñoz is the proud mom of four kids that keep her curious. She also hopes to one day write a book of her own to add to her library. 

To view all COP 28 Insight Interviews Click Here