The most vulnerable populations and low-income households in Europe have been continuously suffering from the great challenge of energy poverty, which is the impossibility of families having enough funds to pay for basic energy needs.
Energy poverty is a burden that affects Central and Eastern European countries in particular, and the causes of energy poverty can be related to poor quality construction of homes, lack of access to energy provision, privatization of the energy market, etc.
To overcome this pressing issue, energy subsidies and energy efficiency policies need to be integrated with social policies, and the big question is how governments can provide policies which are well-designed, effective in the long run, and do not cause prices to increase in the energy market?
A group of EU representatives and policymakers discuss how to ensure that this policy mix is effectively implemented on different levels of governance, what are some existing good practices in Europe that can be used as inspiration, and how to engage citizen participation in the process to fight energy poverty.
Moderator: Mariangiola Fabbri – Head of Research at BPIE
- Kadri Simson – European Commissioner for DG-Energy
- Karlis Goldstein – Member of Cabinet with the Commissioner for Energy
- Anna Júlia Donáth – Member of the European Parliament, Hungary
- Andrzej Rajkiewicz – Vice-President of the Board, National Energy Conservation Agency, Poland
- Elena Szolgayova – Architect and urban planner and Co-chair of the Housing 2030 initiative, former Director General of DG Housing Policy and Urban Development at the Ministry of Transport and Construction of Slovakia
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The topic of energy and social issues often go hand in hand. Even up to now, they are sometimes dealt with separately.
Approximately seven million households, or nearly 30 million people, still struggle to pay their utility bills. This is 30 million too many.
Those who cannot afford enough energy often have to suffer from other disadvantages. They may live in poorer conditions and lack the financial means to change this. External support is needed to break the cycle of energy poverty in order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
It requires a multidisciplinary point of view to not only understand the issues but also find the best solutions. It’s also important to highlight to politicians why we must deal with these problems and the support that is required from them.
The issue of housing traditionally falls under the member states. However, we have seen in the previous years that the European Union needs to come together to tackle complex problems such as climate change, health, and poverty. Affordable housing and energy poverty should be no different.
The European Green Deal
The European Green Deal will be a part of the solution to reduce the number of people suffering from energy poverty. It’s a political understanding that living within an unsustainable society powered by fossil fuels is not a viable option for the planet, local ecosystems, or the economy. The Green Deal is also about harnessing the resources Europe has to offer.
We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing energy efficiency and boosting renewables. These two pillars are the foundations of the European energy policies. The objectives within it are supported by the EPBD (energy performance of buildings directive), the energy efficiency and renewables directives, and the social climate fund proposals.
The goal is to reach an agreement with the council and European parliament by the end of 2022 and roll out affordable housing policies shortly after. The idea is to start with the worst-performing structures and ensure they catch up with the average energy performance of the building stock by mid-2030.
Investing in buildings improves standards of living and lower energy bills. Great opportunity lies ahead to do something that is good for the environment, the people, and the planet.
Housing 2030 Initiative
This program is an international project and is a partnership between UNEC, UN Economic Commission for European countries, as well as North America, Canada, Russian Federation, and Central Asia countries. Ideas are exchanged on how the issues of housing can be tackled in an efficient way. There are also more than 46,000 providers of affordable housing who contribute under an umbrella organization.
One of the reports the Housing 2030 Initiative produced covered affordable housing issues from different angles and offered multiple solutions as to how it can be improved. In some instances, housing wasn’t in the title. It was referred to as an asset. For those suffering from energy poverty, there are social aspects that must also be addressed to solve the problem.
Approximately 35% of households suffering from energy poverty live in multi-approach apartment buildings. It equates to around one million houses. Homeowner associations and cooperatives are undertaking thermal modernization measures, as these people actually profit from the energy cost reduction.
The Polish scheme has not been designed to reduce the energy poverty issue. It’s to improve the conditions of multiple apartment buildings and reduce the heating costs for the occupants.
There is also a 70% grant for the cost of energy-efficient renovations of single-family houses. It’s not provided to the residents. It’s sent to those who manage the property. These run in parallel with social programs which are targeted at low-income households and include funds to cover energy bills.
The European Union’s role in tackling energy poverty
Poverty knows no boundaries.
Energy poverty and housing are national challenges that most countries must rise to. In many ways, they have already become part of the wider, most publicized discussions around pollution and climate change.
Energy poverty and climate change have never been more important. It becomes a question of how to work together and bring strong examples of what countries are doing. Data is also required around the state of the housing stock and the barriers that people are coming up against.
Some of these can be resolved through funds or private equity loans. But it also requires public support and suitable materials to support the building infrastructure.
At the individual level, people simply want a comfortable, decent living environment. They won’t take issue with just how lower energy bills will be delivered to them. It’s up to public policy managers, stakeholders, and unifiers to work out how to offer the best platform for them.
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