Housing’s role in Europe’s green transition

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

By Khakimullin Aleksandr

What investment could be wiser than one that protects the most vulnerable and contributes to climate change mitigation by decreasing our energy consumption? The Just Transition Fund must recognise housing as a cornerstone of the green transition, argue two leading MEPs and civil society leaders.

Mounir Satouri is the Employment committee’s rapporteur on the Just Transition Fund; Manuel Pizarro is the Socialist and Democrat group shadow on the Just Transition Fund; Freek Spinnewijn is the director of FEANTSA; Rick Hathaway is a vice-president of Habitat for Humanity International; Manuel Domergue is the director of studies at the Fondation Abbé Pierre.

The European Commission proposal for a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU, reveals a bold European ambition to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, revive the European project and embrace the green and digital transitions, towards a “restoration of the social fabric.”

We argue that for this ambition to become a reality, housing must be a cornerstone of the recovery. To this end, the Just Transition Fund and the forthcoming Renovation Wave must be shaped so as to tackle poor living conditions and poverty through carefully calibrated and targeted renovation that combines social and climate change mitigation objectives.

The strengthening of the Just Transition Fund, through an additional €32.5 billion funding from the recovery package as well as an additional €10 billion from the budget 2021-27 and €10 billion in loans from the European Investment Bank, is aiming to make at least €150 billion available for investments in the just transition.

This proposed increase is not only a necessity but also presents an opportunity: public investments in the recovery must go beyond investment in “territories” to reach out to people’s living conditions.

As existing buildings and housing stock make up about 35% of CO2 emissions in the EU, climate change mitigation requires that housing be a central element of the green transition.

But for the “green recovery” to truly leave no one behind, it will require explicitly recognising and addressing, beyond the covid-19 impact, the social risks constituted by the green transition, particularly in the context of housing.

Low-income households, those who are inadequately housed, and those who live in energy poverty are particularly vulnerable in the context of the transition. They are more exposed to the impact of increasing energy or rent prices and often less likely to tap into existing social support mechanisms to address energy poverty.

Furthermore, they are often the ones at risk of losing a job related to fossil fuel. The Just Transition Fund must directly support them by providing financial support to improve living conditions, through energy-efficient retrofit, particularly for low-income groups, both in social housing and low-income privately owned dwellings.

This would also contribute to the creation of new training and employment opportunities locally.

The recovery strategy proposes that investments be guided by the European Semester. Knowing that several member states received country-specific recommendations mentioning the lack of (affordable) housing, investment in housing is a piece of evidence, starting with the rehabilitation of inadequate housing as a basis for improved living conditions of the 50 million people experiencing energy poverty.

To face the risk of being left behind in the climate transition is not only about the risk of losing one’s job, but also about the risk of being denied the social, economic, and health benefits of the cleaner and more affordable energy of energy-efficient and adequate housing.

Without the kinds of specific, targeted interventions that the Just Transition Fund could allow for, many people in the target regions who live in poor housing conditions and experience energy poverty will be increasingly left behind.

The Just Transition, both as a concept and as a funding instrument, must fully embrace this broader and more inclusive vision of what constitutes climate justice.

Large scale investments are needed to relaunch the European economies. Let’s make sure this borrowing towards the future generation is worth it and wisely invested. What investment could be wiser than one that will protect our most vulnerable and contribute to climate change mitigation through the decrease of our energy consumption?

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