Designing building decarbonisation policies for a socially just energy transition

This briefing analyses the social justice implications of building decarbonisation policies by screening four legislative proposals (EPBD, EED, ETS2, SCF), and makes a number of recommendations, including how to improve provisions in the files, and on the narrative and approach to these issues. All measures analysed have both positive and negative social implications that must be considered.

The prevailing narrative influencing policymaking at EU level on energy and climate is that this transition will naturally lead to negative social impacts, which need to be managed and mitigated. However, this can be and should be questioned. Is it true that the energy transition and, more specifically, building decarbonisation policies have, by default, negative social impacts? Is it true that the only strategy or solution is to mitigate them?

Alternative narratives, which highlight that there are both negative and positive implications from building decarbonisation measures, should be considered. It should be the goal of good policy design to ensure that positive impacts prevail, and ultimately it is the responsibility of policymakers to achieve this objective. Energy and climate policies, notably in the buildings sector, should aim at maximising positive social impacts and preventing negative ones, then minimising any negative impacts that are unavoidable. This discussion is crucial now, as the EU is reassessing and redesigning the architecture of its energy and climate policy framework, in a context of high energy prices and volatile markets – a context which needs special attention to respond to social impacts.

The key question is: What are ‘social (justice) implications’ of building decarbonisation policies?

This briefing focuses on people-centred issues, looking at the implications of EU energy policies on low-to-middleincome, vulnerable and energy-poor households.

Specifically, it sheds light on accessibility of:

I. Decarbonisation measures: Are these measures available to all segments of the population and what is their impact on them?
II. Funds: Does public spending target those segments of the population enough (in terms of quantity and quality) and are renovation and decarbonisation projects made affordable?
III. Information: Are tools supporting the transition towards climate-neutral buildings available to those segments of the population, and are they tailored to their needs?

Beyond shifting the narrative, some detailed policy recommendations are already on the negotiation table to deeply renovate and fully decarbonise the building stock in a socially just way. These cover the following:

  • A vision for a socially just transition, by comprehensively defining energy poverty (EED) and drafting building renovation plans for strategic action on the building stock with the alleviation of energy poverty as one of the key objectives;
  • Measures with the explicit aim to completely lift households out of energy poverty, such as phasing out the worst-performing buildings through minimum energy performance standards (EPBD) and targeting support measures at households in energy poverty through energy efficiency obligation schemes;
  • Financial support targeted at deep renovation of worst-performing buildings (EPBD, SCF) and to mitigate the impact of carbon pricing on heating fuels (ETS2)
  • Informing and advising homeowners, through EPCs, tailored renovation passports and one-stop-shops, to make the transition understandable and attractive.

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