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Right to Energy Coalition: Breaking the cycle of energy poverty in Europe

In Europe today 50 million people cannot afford to heat their home adequately, 120 million people cannot keep their home cool in the summer, 50 million people are late in paying utility bills and 7 million households receive disconnection.

Energy poverty relates to the inability to properly light, heat or cool one’s home due to a combination of high energy prices, low incomes and inadequate housing. This has been worsened by incomes increasing slower than energy prices and by the financial crisis: with a 70% energy prices increase since 2004 arrears in utility bills have dramatically increased in many European countries between 2008 and 2016. Utility bills represent a heavier burden for European households, especially when coupled with energy waste due to inefficient houses and heating. With only 3% of buildings is in the A category, the vast majority of homes in Europe waste energy, inflate energy bills and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. This leads vulnerable households to renounce heating, or alternatively to consume large amounts of energy to stay warm or cool.

Access to energy is a precondition to participation in society and a dignified life and is increasingly recognised as a human right: Principles 19 and 20 of the European Pillar of Social Rights identify good quality shelter and affordable energy services as basic human rights and SDG 7 is about ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. In Europe most of the legislative proposals of the 2030 EU Energy package included Energy poverty and in 2017 the European Energy Poverty Observatory (EPOV) is set  to improve the measuring, monitoring and sharing of knowledge and best practice on energy poverty.

The Right to Energy Coalition was formed in 2017 by European civil society organisations including COFACE Families Europe with the objective of collaborating on the issue of energy poverty. It proposes measures to alleviate it in the 2030 EU Energy Package including the Electricity Market Directive which is now in the final stages of its political negotiations. Here is what the Coalition is calling for:

  1. Define energy poverty. A proposed definition of energy poverty is included in recitals (Recital 40) – it must be moved to Article 29 to give full recognition to the nature of energy poverty.
  2. Define criteria to measure energy poverty (Article 29). Around a third of Member States have yet to recognise energy poverty officially. Defining criteria to measure energy poverty will ensure recognition and monitoring of the issue, a precondition to action.
  3. National action plans (Article 29) requiring Member States to set in motion both long-term and short-term measures to alleviate energy poverty.
  4. Support local energy communities: Local community energy projects have been shown to alleviate energy poverty by empowering citizens to save energy, and through solidarity initiatives that use revenue generated from renewable energy to support vulnerable and low-income households. Electricity market rules must support community energy.
  5. Ban disconnections to protect the right to energy for all. Energy is widely recognized as a human right: banning disconnections would effectively protect this right. At the moment, proposals on the table only stipulate that Member States can choose to ban disconnections at “critical times” to protect vulnerable consumers. The lack of definition of critical times further weakens this option: it should either be defined, or taken out of the text.

By including these points the new directive will improve the quality of life of vulnerable families that cannot afford proper heating in winter and cooling in summer and will represent a concrete step forward in the European action for the right to energy. If you wish to get involved in the negotiations at Member State level we invite you to contact Irene Bertana, Policy and Advocacy Officer ibertana@coface-eu.org or follow the work of the coalition on twitter.