The European Union and member states must invest heavily in housing, transport and energy infrastructure and overhaul tax and benefit systems to put social justice and well-being at the heart of their economic strategies if they are to avoid risking a popular backlash against green energy policies and succeed in their efforts to slow global warming and end dependence on fossil fuels.
These are the findings of the Fair Energy Transition for All project, or FETA, published on Tuesday, 8 November, following two years of listening to Europe’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. Almost 100 focus groups across nine countries heard those struggling to make ends meet say they are aware change is needed and are willing to do their bit. But as the Ukraine war has inflated energy bills and a cost-of-living crisis bites across the continent, their deep mistrust of politicians and wealthy elites threatens to derail governments’ green agendas if voters feel they are having to bear an unfair burden.
Led by the King Baudouin Foundation and supported by a consortium of five other philanthropic institutions, FETA is launching a series of recommendations to EU authorities and national governments to avoid hasty, across-the-board measures that risk deepening disparities and provoking protest. Targeted and coordinated strategies can ensure that the benefits of the move to renewable energies, efficient buildings, and sustainable mobility – such as in jobs, competitiveness, public health and living standards – are used to reduce inequality. That can build support for sweeping change, notably in transport and housing, among those on lower incomes.
“Ultimately, the green energy transition will be put at stake if it lacks broad support. For those people who feel unheard, additional burdens have the potential to feed disenchantment and distrust” says Pascale Taminiaux, senior project coordinator for FETA at the King Baudouin Foundation. “At the same time, the energy transition offers positive opportunities. With planning, coordination and monitoring, this can be the moment to begin a new, sustainable and equitable chapter for European society.”
Targeted and easily accessible financial support should help the least well-off adapt homes and travel while tax systems should be further adapted to drive clean energy efficiency and deter carbon emissions, the report finds. Those whose wealth might otherwise let them avoid changing behaviour should face particular measures to curb conspicuous energy consumption on luxury goods and transport.
The report calls for more flexible EU fiscal rules and for EU loans to member states like those pioneered during the pandemic – in both cases to help governments invest quickly and heavily in green infrastructure. It also offers examples of how all levels of government, civil society and business can coordinate to lift millions out of energy poverty and share successful models for transforming communities that can range from urban renewable energy cooperatives to on-demand public transport in rural areas, leaving no one behind.
Among examples of existing good practice recommended for wider implementation throughout Europe, FETA’s EU policy experts cited:
•the integration of different forms of transport network, timetabling and ticketing in Catalonia, as way of, among other things, improving car-free access to cities and jobs for low-income rural residents;
•tenant electricity structures in Germany, which let flat-dwellers benefit from solar power generated on roof of their building;
•Scotland’s Just Transition Commission, a small panel including business, unions, young people and scientists, to advise ministers on the complex array of social and economic issues raised by the overhaul of energy systems.
FETA also publishes national recommendations for the nine countries where focus groups were held: Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland. Among these :
•French experts propose offering low-income households a Personal Energy Transition Account, similar to an already popular scheme that funds training and which could be used to help pay for making homes more energy efficient or switching to electric vehicles;
•Italy should introduce personal trainers to help people, especially the more vulnerable, reduce costs through better use of energy;
•in the Netherlands, FETA experts suggest that free training be targeted at the unemployed and those waiting for residence permits to help them fill the large numbers of vacancies opening up for specialists in giving energy advice or in installing new equipment.
The EU recommendations paper can be downloaded on fair-energy-transition.eu
About the ‘Fair Energy Transition for All’ project
At the initiative of the King Baudouin Foundation and with the support of five other philanthropic institutions - the Open Society European Policy Institute / Open Society Foundations, the Mercator Stiftung, IKEA Foundation, the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt and the Fondazione Cariplo - focus groups involving some 900 people from socially and economically disadvantaged groups were held in 2020 and 2021 in nine European countries. These led to the series of national reports and the EU-level recommendations drawn up by 150 policy experts. The expert conclusions were submitted to focus group participants in 2022 and revised before publication to ensure that the proposals reflect the concerns of Europeans who face the greatest hardships and whose views often go unheard.