Fighting Energy Poverty with social policies only: the leaky bucket and how to stop it

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EAPN and EPSU call for making the right to Affordable, Clean Energy for all a reality across Europe.



EAPN is the the European Anti-Poverty Network who fight against poverty and social exclusion.

EPSU is the European Public Service Unions 

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Last week, EAPN (the European Anti-Poverty Network) and EPSU (the European Public Service Unions), together with hundreds of organisations, grassroots activists and policymakers gathered at the Right to Energy Forum, the biggest annual event on energy poverty in Europe. During the opening session of this forum, EPSU and EAPN presented their new joint briefing on the Right to Affordable, Clean Energy for All Europeans.

This Briefing clearly demonstrates how energy poverty cannot be solved by ‘letting the market play its game’ and alleviate the worse consequences with social policies. It’s like filling a leaky bucket with water, a never-ending story of vicious cycles.. Energy poverty is already affecting over 50 million Europeans, and this number is growing frighteningly fast. To guarantee the right to affordable clean energy, structural inequalities need to be addressed. Structural inequalities that span across our economic, social, employment, energy, climate, taxation, welfare, housing, gender and health policies.

“While social policy provides some last resort measures to alleviate it [energy poverty], other policies, especially distributive and redistributive ones, do contribute to its increase. Thus, the main driver of energy poverty are public policiesinconsistencies. The European Pillar of Social Rights will have decorative functions without anchoring the right to energy in different types of policies and involving citizens in the decision-making mechanisms at national and EU level.” (Maria Jeliazkova, EAPN Bulgaria).

The necessary EU Framework does exist, but to make the ‘Green Deal leaving no one behind’ and the ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’ more than promising rhetoric, we need concrete action on short and long term, putting human rights in the centre of all actions.

Not only access to affordable energy, but also to clean energy should be considered as a human right in the context of the EU transition towards climate neutrality and the European Pillar of Social Rights. Carbon inequalities are increasing in the last decades: the poorest half of Europeans have cut emissions by almost a quarter, while emissions from the wealthiest 10% continue to rise. Since the poorest emit much less, and are facing a high risk of getting locked in the fossil fuel infrastructure it would be deeply unjust if they were the ones to pay the cost of decarbonisation. Carbon inequality must be addressed in a structural way, as market mechanisms are fundamentally incapable of solving this issue. 

“The current spike in energy prices shows that governments, by liberalising the energy system, lost the capacity to shield their own citizens. The liberalisation has not served users, workers or the planet. In its place, we need a public and democratic energy system to bring about the radical changes we need to decarbonise our economies and guarantee a right to clean, affordable energy for all.” – Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary EPSU
A democratic public energy system guaranteeing access to affordable clean energy for all would not only benefit people affected by (energy) poverty, but would benefit our societies as a whole: The clean energy transition is fundamental, and it can and must go hand in hand with social justice.

Full participation in a low-carbon economy entails an important shift in the job market from carbon-intensive sectors to carbon-neutral jobs or green jobs. A true just transition, including large-scale upskilling and reskilling programmes, adequate minimum income, fair wages and working conditions in the new jobs is essential to ensure a socially-just green transition in the job marketRenovation is a potentially strong tool to combat energy poverty, and it has a massive (quality) job creation potential. These are all great opportunities, benefiting people, the planet and our economies.

The energy (poverty) crisis is deep and broad, but not inevitable: it’s a matter of political will to tackle the root causes. Short-term emergency measures should be accompanied by long-term solutions, such as adequate income and social protection, fair energy prices, quality jobs, fully subsidised renovation and energy efficiency programmes, and large investment in renewable programmes for those that need them most. Hopefully our briefing can be a source of inspiration for concrete action, to stop the leaky bucket and take control over our energy!

Right to Energy_EPSU EAPN_EN.pdf


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