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Enhancing social justice in framing EU climate and energy policies

European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen gave her annual state of the Union speech last week.

As one of the reactions, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), one of the most influential advocacy NGOs at the EU level, provided its thoughts on how to speed up the enforcement of the EU Green Deal (driving the EU’s climate and energy actions) in a socially just manner.

EEB’s reactions addressing social justice are the followings: 

  • A fundamental commitment to social justice: in facing fuel prices, inflation and the cost of living, and in the energy and ecological transition. Support for heat pumps, home insulation, and affordable public transport are key to avoiding fuel and transport poverty. These can be partly financed by taxes on windfall profits. There will be temptations to subsidize fuel prices to solve the problem. With limited energy supplies, subsidies risk being costly and in very many cases futile. Where subsidies are implemented, they must be temporary to avoid entrenching fossil fuel use. Supporting a well-funded and well-governed Social Climate Fund in the trilogues between the Commission, Council and Parliament will also be essential.  
  • Energy transition – commit to full independence from Russian fossil fuels and accelerate the move to a net zero economy with a 100% renewable future and deep energy efficiency in businesses and homes. Put in place measures to facilitate a shift to nature-positive renewables. Specific focus should be on community-based renewables that support citizens’ agency and empowerment and help regenerate the social fabric of society. Renewables can help ensure sustainable and affordable energy for Europe. 
  • The REPowerEU package is welcome, but we should resist the temptation to roll back needed environmental protections and public consultations. There are plenty of go-to areas to invest in nature-positive renewables without weakening our laws and citizen buy-in is essential. The commitment to hydrogen is welcome, but given conversion losses and leakage of the smallest molecule in the world, its use should be limited to industries in which direct electrification is currently not possible and some areas of transport. The temptation to update the gas grid to a hydrogen grid and replace fossil gas with hydrogen in our homes should be resisted – direct electrification, renewables and energy savings can reach our objectives more economically.”

In case these recommendations are being listened to, energy poverty through enhancing residential energy efficiency could be also mitigated. 

The New European Bauhaus initiative (the NEB initiative) connects the European Green Deal to our daily lives and living spaces. It calls on all Europeans to imagine and build together a sustainable and inclusive future that is beautiful for our eyes, minds, and souls.

We are very excited to announce that we have become partners to the NEB initiative, and cannot wait to provide our know-how and ideas for the betterment of everyone's future in the question of energy poverty.

The New European Bauhaus is a new movement in the making!

But what is it exactly?

By creating connections, cutting across subjects and building on participation at all levels of society, the New European Bauhaus facilitates a movement to steer the transformation of our societies along three value systems:

The New European Bauhaus brings citizens, experts, businesses, and institutions together to reimagine sustainable living in Europe and beyond. Additionally, by creating a platform for experimentation and connection, the initiative supports change by also providing access to EU funding for a variety of sustainable, inclusive and most of all green projects, that can transform whole areas.

The partnership

Perhaps the most important part of keeping the NEB going are partnerships. The NEB's members act as sounding boards and key actors, whose actions within their respective communities address core values and dimensions of the NEB.

The partners usually have a large capacity for outreach, with the ability to:

The work of a partner

Nonetheless, being a partner is more than just a title, as it should be fully committed to making the NEB a reality.

Through the organization of trans-disciplinary conferences, workshops, by identifying or starting projects that enact NEB principles in real life, as well as by co-creating new sustainable living situations with communities and institutions, the New European Bauhaus can become a real experience.

Habitat for Humanity International will be committed to engaging in mutually beneficial exchanges and inputs of the initiative, sharing information, as well as managing our projects in line with NEBs values and ideas, including improving the sustainability of the residential building stock in the region, aesthetics by making buildings look nicer and more comfortable for the life of its inhabitants, taking into account the specific and complex social structures of the inhabitants living in these buildings.

With our projects, we represent Central and Eastern part of Europe, where not all countries are EU Member States, however, their historical context and building stock does not differ that much. We seek conversation between the EU and non-EU members to learn from each other and ensure the knowledge transfer to better identify the missing pieces in the process of renovating this building stock and making sure it is changed. For our work, connecting the NEB initiative to non-EU countries is essential and can be a key convening aspect for relevance of our work.

 

 

 

Between January 24-28, 2022, the annual Right to Energy Forum took place, an event organized by the Right to Energy Coalition.

This year's event took place online, which meant that it was very accessible and reached a lot of interested parties.  The focus was on the issues of energy poverty, from the present state of affairs, with people paying disproportionally high sums for energy, to the green prospects of the future, the main message being that clean and affordable energy is a human right.

What is the Right to Energy Coalition?

Right to Energy Coalition unites relevant stakeholders such as social housing providers, NGOs, environmental campaigners, energy cooperatives and others across Europe. They campaign to tackle energy poverty at an EU, national and local level.

The Coalition aims for an energy system that puts people and planet first. The Coalition was formed in 2017 to advocate for energy poverty in the 2030 EU Clean Energy package. Since then, coalition members have successfully campaigned to ban disconnections, implement free of charge renovations for energy poor households and include the energy poor as key players in the EU Green Deal

Current work includes working with the EU Green Deal and other energy efficiency legislation, as well as advocacy in member states, like local community campaigns to secure the right to energy for energy poor households during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right to Energy Forum

The Forum took place during five days, each day dealing with a different aspect of how energy related issues should be tackled. We could here from number of speakers from all sorts of institutions, not just the members of The Coalition, but also from MEPs from the European Parliament, national decision-makers, European Commission representatives and others, showcasing how relevant both the event and the discussions taking place within it were.

We would like to highlight some sessions that really pushed the envelope.

End indecent housing: how to deliver renovations to energy poor households

Clotilde Clark-Foulquier from FEANTSA, hosted this panel with Julien Dijol from Housing Europe, Social housing sector, Eva Suba representing ENPOR, Energy poor households in the private rented sector, Louise Sunderland speaking on behalf of the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), Mincho Benov from our national office Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria, Sarah Coupechoux of the Abbe Pierre Foundation, and lastly Martha Myers from Friends of the Earth Europe.

This session dealt with the specific definitions of energy poverty and indecent housing, highlighting the best practices as well as new ideas in tackling energy poverty and indecent housing, such as FEANTSA’s publications50 out of the box solutionsandStaying on top of the wave”, both of which feature the REELIH project as a good example.

There were many ideas also on how to renovate the housing stock. The Regulatory Assistance Project for example, recommends renovating the worst performing buildings first.

Mincho Benov from Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria argued that the main issues in Bulgaria, highly corresponding with those of whole region of Central and Eastern Europe, are the high numbers of prefabricated multi-apartment buildings, extreme energy poverty and low incomes. The challenges have solutions in combining access to interest-free microfinancing for home improvements with life-skills training deliveries, tech advice and housing mediation and community support, advocacy work and campaigning to raise the awareness of the need of differentiated support focused on the poor households and secure the proper design of the residential energy efficiency programs, among others.

Discussion of Members of the European Parliament: Is Fit for 55 fit to tackle energy poverty?

This panel dealt with a policy package that has been thoroughly discussed across Europe, Fit for 55, which is a part of the EU Green Deal.

This session was moderated by Clotidle Clark-Foulquier (FEANTSA) with 3 distinguished Members of the European Parliament, namely Michael Bloss (Greens, Germany) Radan Kanev (EPP, Bulgaria) and Cornelia Ernst (The Left, Germany), who brought their breadth of experience and idea onto the table.

Some of the key takeaways:

The European Commission's commitments: from words to action for Europe's energy poor

As always, it is important to know what direction the EU wants to go when it comes to policy-making, which is why this particular session was relevant.

This session was moderated by Colin Roche from Friends of the Earth Europe, a partner to the Right to Energy Coalition. Present was the EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, who welcomed all attendees and said that the green transition should be fair for all.

Present were also the president of the Transport, Energy and infrastructure of the European Economic and Cocial Committee, Baiba Miltovica, Jeppe Jansen from the Energy Poverty Advsory Hub, and representing DG ENER, one of the top EU DGs that directly deals with energy related issues, Serena Pontoglio, a team leader of the Renovation Wave implementation from DG ENER and Nikolaos Kontinakis, a policy officer at DG ENER dealing with energy efficiency, bringing their accrued experience and ideas to the panel.

The key topic discussed in this panel was how energy poverty is no longer an issue concerning only the poorest ones as even the average consumers suffer a lot in paying bills for energy heating, fuel and more.

The European Green Deal is not only about economic but also about social and environmental impact. We need to figure out how to use these tools for the people to really live better, by committing to improving isolation of their homes, finding alternative sources of energy, and becoming less dependent on fossil fuels.

Many tools within the legislative framework of Fit for 55 (such as Social Climate Fund) can really help the consumers. Many of these funds are not close to the citizens, and do not reflect the fact how difficult it is to renovate for example the multi-apartment buildings. At the same time, you must go through many formalities which slow down the process of opening up the market, understanding its importance and technical aspects for renovation of multi-apartment buildings.

Local level actions tailored to the citizens are the most important when it comes to tackling energy poverty.

Why energy poverty and overall affordability in energy and housing matter

Energy poverty is more than just a buzzword, it is a reality for many people living in Europe and around the world, a reality which should not be tolerated in the developed world.

This reality has now been heavily acknowledged by the European Union, and it, together with partners, is trying to tackle energy poverty head-on with new policy packages and initiatives.

However, it is all easier said than done. As written before, there are still many dimensions of the new policies, and further technical difficulties that need concentrated effort to solve them, especially within the context of multi-family apartment buildings and their renovations.

 

 

Since the environmental challenges are these days on top of the agenda of the European Union (EU), new strategies to incorporate green topics into various spheres, including the building sector, started to emerge more and more often. The EU's Renovation Wave Strategy, which is consolidated into the EU Green Deal, aims to support the improvement of buildings in order to make them more sustainable and energy-efficient.

To maximize the potential of the Renovation Wave Strategy for people who are likely to face energy poverty, a collaboration between Habitat for Humanity Hungary (HFHH) and the Center for the Study of Democracy, Romania (CSD) arose

to raise their concerns toward the EU to consider the need for more region-specific recommendations how to tackle energy poverty.

As stated in the report, more than 50 million people in the EU are unable to secure an adequate level of energy for their living. The most affected regions are located in Central and Eastern (CEE) and Southeastern Europe (SEE). Both of these areas are marked by the era of socialism and a high level of marginalized communities.

While there is no official and general definition of energy poverty, we talk about it when:

Not only is the current state of many dwellings in the CEE/SEE region energy inefficient, but it is also one of the biggest air pollutants in most of the region. Usage of outdated heating systems and solid fuels, such as wood and coal, as the main heating products, caused Hungary to ascribe over 80% of PM2.5 emissions to these combustibles.

Therefore, HFHH and CSD call for EU policies and funding schemes to support the renovation of buildings while taking specific needs and circumstances of the CEE/SEE region into account. As a result, they came up with 13 detailed recommendations within three major topic areas:

      • stronger focus on energy poverty - an obligation of EU member states to target energy-poor households while making sure the funds are designated to address energy poverty of those living in the rural areas, urban areas and the marginalized and segregated communities
      • appropriate funding instruments - mainly through tailor-made financial solutions, implementation of a buy-back program, low-rate loans, financial behaviour consultations and education in energy efficiency, and support of upgrade of the most inefficient and polluting devices
      • the need for EU policies to address energy poverty - complement the EU legislation by suitable funds and measures which would target the housing issue, improvement of data collection, make sure that national governments go beyond their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECP), and direct support of the implementation of renewable energy sources.

 


Read the whole report with 13 recommendations here.

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