On 28 November, the Industry committee of the European Parliament will deliver a crucial vote on the EU 2030 energy efficiency target. According to Clémence Hutin, who works for the Climate Justice and Energy Programme of Friends of the Earth Europe, there is cross-party support for an ambitious 40% target, but she warns that two key rapporteurs on the file are no friends of energy efficiency. Both, she says, have incorrectly argued that higher energy efficiency could increase energy poverty.
As extreme weather events become the new norm, a legislative package that will define the level of the EU’s climate action for the next 10 years is being negotiated in Brussels. Most Europeans have never heard of this political process – yet it will determine EU climate action in the last possible decade to prevent runaway climate change.
The package includes a new energy efficiency target for 2030. Progress on this file is crucial for the transition, to reduce emissions and enable a switch to renewables. Efficiency holds many other environmental benefits: it reduces gas dependency, avoids new fossil infrastructure, decreases air pollution. It also brings social benefits: an ambitious target would create millions of local jobs and tackle energy poverty — which still affects up to 125 million Europeans — by driving renovation efforts and cutting bills.
Numbers on the table today range from 30% — a figure which EU governments have agreed to after weakening the text — to 40%, a more ambitious figure considered by the Parliament, that would boost efforts beyond business as usual and could halve the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Misusing energy poverty in support of dirty energy
The good news is, the multiple benefits of efficiency have helped gain cross-party support for more ambition in the Parliament, which has already supported a 40% target in the past. The bad news is, two rapporteurs of the file from the biggest political groups are no friends of efficiency. Both have put forth misleading claims on the potential of efficiency, and both use energy poverty to justify their positions.
The S&D center-left group is a strong advocate for an ambitious and fair transition, linking climate action to social measures. It has led the way on the fight against energy poverty through its own campaign on the issue. However, from his first set of amendments, rapporteur Adam Gierek has proved no ally of efficiency, reducing the target to as low as 28% at one stage of negotiations. He has attempted to undermine the policy itself, presenting a reduction in demand as a form of austerity in disguise, labeling energy savings for consumers “pseudo” savings, and going so far as to say improvements in efficiency would increase energy poverty.
According to Gierek, energy poverty can only be fought by making power plants more efficient, de facto supporting so-called cleaner coal. This focus on primary energy disregards the opportunity to act on one of the root causes of energy poverty: leaky, inefficient homes that waste energy and drive up bills. Such a shift also risks exacerbating the problem of energy poverty, as Europeans would pay life-support for dirty power plants without reaping direct benefits of energy savings in terms of comfort and reduced bills.
With this framing, Gierek has placed himself at odds with political and grassroots efforts across Europe to eliminate energy waste and energy. Faced with increasing criticism from his group, Gierek has fortunately given assurances he will stick to the S&D’s position, though his previous assertions call for vigilance.
Warm homes “too expensive” for Europeans
Markus Pieper is another problematic figure on the file, from the European People’s Party (EPP), as he presents ambitious efficiency policy as costly and unaffordable for citizens, and decries the “increase in energy bills” increased renovation efforts would represent. These misleading claims come at a time when it is well established that saving energy is cheaper than buying it: on average five times cheaper. Savings in energy bills thanks to efficiency are well documented in different countries, in particular in the UK – and has also been recognized by EPP MEPs.
Pieper chooses to ignore growing interest in efficiency programmes on the part of investors: trillions of Euros are literally up for grabs. Innovative funding schemes are sprouting up across Europe to renovate homes, such as the Energiesprong, that funds retrofits through energy bills. The narrative on “expensive investments” is also in bad faith, insofar as more ambitious legislation would provide a favourable context for efficiency investments, lowering their cost. Finally, this frame disregards the potential of redirecting billions in public money annually wasted on fossil fuels that could be channelled to energy savings projects.
In both cases, concern about energy poverty is used to water down crucial legislation that would tackle one of its root causes: inefficient buildings. A recent study has shown that up to 97% of buildings in the EU must be renovated if we are to ensure a safer climate. Every percentage point improvement in energy efficiency lifts up to 7 million Europeans out of energy poverty.
With the Parliament’s lead Industry committee vote set for November 28, this is not the time to derail the discussion or question the well-established merits of energy efficiency to tackle energy poverty: now is the time to back the strong legislation we need.
Clémence Hutin is a campaigner in the Climate and Energy Programme in Friends of the Earth Europe, focusing on energy savings and energy poverty, and the links between climate and social justice.