By Stefan Bouzarovski
I recently gave a plenary talk on ‘Energy poverty in Eastern and Central Europe’ at the ‘Energy Action Fuel Poverty Conference 2013‘ in Dublin, Ireland. This was a two-day event organised by the Energy Action charity, which has hosted two such gatherings to date. Much of the discussion and papers in the conference highlighted the diverse and complex circumstances of domestic energy deprivation in the European context. Christine Liddell, for example, provided a comprehensive discussion of state-of-the-art research on the health aspects of fuel poverty, while Sharon Turner explored the legal dimensions of recent efforts to establish a common European legal and policy framework to address the issue. Ute Dubois gave us an excellent overview of France’s nascent ‘energy precariousness’ policy, which was followed by Sergio Tirado Herrero’s extremely detailed investigation of energy poverty – orientated retrofits in Hungarian context. I was particularly impressed the incisive and critical analysis of the key distributional aspects of the Green Deal in England, provided by Pedro Guertler from the Association for the Conservation of Energy.
The need for movement towards a common EU policy was one of the central themes of the conference. There seems to be an emergent consensus around the need for much more decisive and focused joint measures to address domestic energy deprivation at the European scale. Many speakers addressed the lack of clear EU-level action on the issue, and it was emphasized that formulating a clear definition of the terms ‘energy poverty’ or ‘fuel poverty’ (which were used interchangeably) might provide a useful first step in this context. But given the lack of comprehensive knowledge on the subject, I would be concerned that moving towards a common definition at this stage may marginalise some groups at the expense of others (the French case, where fuel poverty policies disproportionately target rural home-owners at the expenses of the urban and transient poor, is a good example of this).