Energy poverty on the rise in Europe, statistics show

The energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine is taking its toll on EU citizens, with 9.3% of the population unable to keep their homes adequately warm in 2022, a jump from 6.9% the year before, according to Eurostat.

Energy poverty in Europe is on the rise amidst surging energy prices, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) highlighted during its third annual conference on the topic, held on Wednesday (July 19).

Measures put in place during the crisis have failed to tackle the issue, which was exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine, said the EESC, an EU body bringing together civil society organisations, employer groups, and trade unions.

“We need a new deal, a new agreement supported by strong political will where all levels of governance push in the same direction,” said Baiba Miltoviča, president of the EESC’s section for transport, energy, infrastructure, and the information society.

The European Commission’s REPowerEU plan, presented in May last year, was meant to protect households from energy shortages and was successful in reducing Europe’s dependence on cheap Russian gas.

But challenges remain in bringing prices down, said Adela Tesarova, a senior official at the European Commission’s energy department who spoke at the EESC event.

More measures for energy efficiency and consumer empowerment are needed, added Tesarova who heads a special unit dealing with energy consumers and just transition matters.

Good insulation is key to keep houses warm during winter and protect consumers from rising energy bills, but the renovation rate in Europe is currently too low to make a difference.

The European consumer organisation BEUC says raising the renovation rate must be upheld as a key objective in the ongoing revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, with high ambitions for minimum energy performance standards.

Better communication to raise awareness for the benefits of renovation are also necessary, said Massimiliano Mascherini from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), an EU agency.

Sustainable housing is essential to meet the EU’s climate targets, but measures taken at the EU and national level should avoid amplifying inequalities, he pointed out.

Kieran Pradeep, coordinator for the Right to Energy Coalition, warned that “energy poverty is a structural, systemic problem that requires political decisions”.

Vulnerable populations

Low-income households, single-parent families, immigrants and people with disabilities face a higher risk of suffering from energy poverty, the EESC highlighted. Youth and women are also more exposed to it than the general population, it said.

“You have to look at energy poverty from an intersectional perspective,” said campaigner Katharina Habersbrunner, highlighting that women are disproportionately affected by energy poverty.

Energy poverty has consequences on physical and mental health, and can limit opportunities in professional life, explained Habersbrunner who works for an NGO called Women Engage for a Common Future.

Transport poverty – the lack of access to affordable public or private transportation – is also emerging as a side effect of the energy crisis, according to speakers at the EESC conference. The issue made headlines in 2018 during the ‘Yellow Vests’ protests in France, which were triggered by rising fuel prices.

Lack of access to affordable public transport can worsen quality of life, said Mari Martiskainen, a professor at the University of Sussex Business School.

Andrés Barceló Delgado, president of the EESC’s permanent group on energy, stressed that “decision-makers should take into account the fact that energy is a public service, and the upcoming redesign of the electricity market must guarantee, on the one hand, a sustainable and reliable supply and, on the other, the right to energy for citizens”.


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