Europeans are demanding the right to clean, affordable energy | View

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Europeans are demanding the right to clean, affordable energy | View

Hundreds of organisations, grassroots activists and policymakers will gather next week at the Right to Energy Forum, the biggest annual event on energy poverty in Europe, to gather ideas, share experiences and come up with ways to eradicate one of the most pressing issues of this year.

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The urgency of the situation, exacerbated by the gas price crisis and a growing impatience with inadequate policies, has encouraged many people to rise up against an energy system that’s failing them.

Europe is facing a ‘winter of disconnections’: the worst ever recorded. But even before the energy price crisis started making headlines, more than 50 million Europeans were already forced to choose between heating and eating.

More than just price hikes

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Energy poverty is a structural inequality, founded on inefficient and unsafe housing and an unjust, profit-driven energy system. One of its root causes, inefficient housing, is linked to more than 100,000 premature deaths a year.

In France alone, 12 million people live in inefficient, unsafe housing. One in four households across Europe struggle to adequately light, heat or cool their homes.

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This winter’s gas price crisis has put energy poverty in the spotlight, but EU leaders have been unable to agree on a response and have so far only offered temporary income support for the most vulnerable households.

While they’re scrambling for short-term solutions, for decades now, grassroots organisations have been organising and providing relief.

Looking around Europe, very few countries have implemented adequate safeguards to prevent the buildup of energy debts and to limit disconnections, putting millions at risk as energy prices continue to skyrocket.

A case study from Catalonia

Cristina, who lives near Barcelona with her three daughters, saw her electricity bill more than double in a matter of months. The basic income she receives from the Catalan government would never be sufficient to absorb such an increase.

She had already experienced energy poverty during the 2008 crisis, when she lost her job and saw her energy debt exceed €1,000. So she decided to join the Alliance Against Energy Poverty (APE), a grassroots organisation challenging the dominant energy system and addressing the root causes of energy poverty.

APE’s work has been incredibly successful and led to substantial political change in 2015 when the Catalonian parliament banned electricity disconnections for vulnerable households.

In 2021, APE led a successful campaign that freed 35,000 families of their energy debts. Their mobilisation also prompted the city of Barcelona to establish advice centres and launch a public campaign informing people of their rights.

Catalonia exemplifies how we can collectively ensure that the right to energy becomes a human right across Europe, and challenge energy companies who still manage to generate bumper profits in the midst of a human crisis.

Time to redress the balance

Research by Global Witness reveals how the biggest gas producers are raking in profits, while millions of people struggle to warm their homes and cook their food, stuck in a toxic combination of fossil fuel reliance and corporate greed that is failing everyone except fossil the fuel giants and their backers.

The contrast between our ‘winter of disconnections’ and the record profits being generating off the back of Europe’s volatile prices clearly shows the need for an energy system that puts people and planet before profit.

Movements and solidarity initiatives are sprouting up in different forms, from trade unions demanding an end to the failed market model to emerging renewable energy communities.

This year could be a tremendous one for energy efficiency and moving away from fossil fuels, to provide deep renovation and renewable programmes that will allow energy poor households to cut their energy bills and carbon emissions. The EU promised a Green Deal that left no one behind but it’s failing to deliver anywhere near its promised rhetoric.

As movements mobilise and build momentum during Europe’s biggest energy crisis to date, the Right to Energy Forum offers a space for grassroots organisers, campaigners, service providers and anyone interested in the topic to gather, share skills and experience, and explore opportunities to influence policy making.

It’s time to decarbonise Europe’s housing stock, free ourselves from fossil fuels, and win an energy transition for all.

Kieran Pradeep is an energy and climate justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe and coordinator of the Right to Energy Coalition.

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