The experts handed their recommendations to Brussels policymakers on Tuesday (4 May).
They warned that climate policies such as taxes or the EU's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) can lead to price hikes, which could have a disproportionate impact on low-income households. The negative social impact of such policies needs to be avoided or compensated for, for example by ensuring that energy remains affordable for all, they added.
The project, funded by the King Baudouin Foundation, brought together policymakers, scientists, business and civil society leaders from the fields of climate and social justice.
The EU particularly needs to step up its game in conducting social impact assessments of climate change mitigation policies, the expert group argued. A key problem with current practice is that impact assessments come too late in the process to make a difference, they said.
Speaking at the event, Ralf Jacob from the European Commission's employment department agreed that the value of impact assessments is "limited" as they currently tend to be used to justify policies that would have been adopted anyway.
"They need to be used to find the most effective policy option," the official stressed.
Agreeing a common EU definition of energy poverty and targets to reduce it also gained much support among the experts. NGOs have been pushing the EU to act on this issue, arguing that the problem is common to many member states but not all of them have clear national definitions in place (EurActiv 06/01/10).
Other key recommendations included increasing energy-efficiency subsidies for low-income households, increasing point-of-sale subsidies to make low-carbon products more accessible, and supporting community-owned renewable micro-generation schemes so that poorer people can afford solar panels, for example.
"We need to strengthen the human face of climate change," said László Andor, the EU's commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, after receiving the recommendations. "I think climate policies must be seen as long-term modern social policies," he added.
The commissioner stressed that while the EU is renewing its employment strategy to focus on green jobs, it is important to develop policies that combine education and training, allowing less-skilled people to get on the career ladder in the new jobs market.