”The European billions for the climate transition must go to the right people, ” write Benjamin Clarysse (policy coordinator Bond Beter Leefmilieu), Vanya Verschoore (General Coordinator Reset.Flanders), Heidi Degerickx (General Coordinator Network Against Poverty), Dirk Masquillier (chairman SAAMO), Joeri Thijs (spokesperson Greenpeace), Peter Wouters (chairman Beweging.Net), Dirk Holemans (General Coordinator Oikos), Anton Gerits (General Coordinator REScoop Vlaanderen) and Leen Van Waes (General Coordinator Masereelfonds) in an opinion piece.
A lot of ink has already flowed about the costs for citizens due to the new European carbon price. But what our governments can do with the revenues, however, remains silent. If politicians are genuinely concerned about the social impact of the European Green Deal, they must now accelerate an ambitious policy to share the costs and benefits of the transition fairly. The substantial revenues can provide an important lever to tackle transport and energy poverty.
These are crucial weeks for climate policy. Domestically, the update of the National Energy and Climate Plans is on the agenda, which sets out the most important climate measures up to 2030. Crucial climate laws are now being voted on at the European level. In particular, the adoption of a new emissions trading system for buildings, transport and light industry caused turmoil. That system should help to put a brake on the CO2 emissions of those sectors, where emissions have fallen far too slowly in recent years.
The desirability of the emissions trading system has already been widely debated, and concerns about its social consequences are justified. There is a risk that fuel producers will pass on the costs to households, and that the lowest income groups will feel the effects of the new system the most. Fortunately, Europe recognizes these challenges and decided to create a social Climate Fund, which serves to protect vulnerable groups from energy and transport poverty. In order to be able to claim the money from the fund, each member state must submit a ‘social climate plan’ to Europe in 2025, after extensive consultation with the social partners and other civil society organisations.
Most of the revenue from the new emissions trading system will be transferred directly to member states, which are obliged to use that money for climate policy. Taken together, our country would receive almost 1 billion euros of revenue per year. The new emissions trading system thus gives our governments important levers to limit the social impact of the system.
That income must be well spent. We need to make sure that the money goes to the right people, starting with the low-income people who need support the most. Currently, many households do not have sufficient resources to invest in renovations, heat pumps or sustainable transport themselves. That is why there must be a low-threshold and solid offer for the citizen, and the Flemish government must remove the financial thresholds for less capital-intensive households, for example by pre-financing renovations.
We will then have to tackle other investments collectively. Think of energy-efficient social housing, Sustainable Neighbourhood renovations, cycle paths or affordable public transport. The revenues from emissions trading will help us to make those investments feasible and affordable. If we do it right, climate policy can help us to finally upgrade our building stock, which is among the most energy-consuming in Europe, or to tackle the traffic jams and the numerous problems with our public transport. In short, we must work on structural solutions against energy and transport poverty.
Engage the citizen
The task for our policymakers is clear: make agreements as soon as possible on the distribution of income from emissions trading, start preparing the social climate plans, link them to an acceleration of our own climate policy, and structurally involve citizens and civil society. Given the enormous amount of resources available and the importance of coherence between the National Energy and Climate Plan and the social climate plans, it would be illogical to wait until 2025. That is not only a question of social justice, but also crucial to achieve the objectives.