Version 3.2_September 2016

Research In Action Special Session: Energy poverty in a degrowth context: an unavoidable struggle?

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Austerity-driven, unsustainable degrowth has resulted in a surge of energy poverty in EU and beyond. Understood as the inability of households to secure a materially- and socially-necessitated level of energy services in the home, energy poverty has become a widespread societal concern that demands structural responses.

Tensions are foreseen between energy poverty alleviation and degrowth. On the one hand there is a strong case for energy prices to reflect the impact of its provision (internalisation of externalities). Cheap energy also leads to wasting energy, as the experience from former Eastern block shows. On the other hand, rising cost of energy constitutes a problem for vulnerable populations, limiting the chances for social inclusion and decent life. This struggle leads to several important questions. How should we address energy poverty in the context of degrowth? How to match the environmental and social needs? How to define energy poverty to trigger structural response?

The purpose of this special session is to examine the driving factors of energy poverty and the existing policy responses in the context of degrowth thinking. It intends to draw attention to the multiple links between domestic energy deprivation and degrowth, which is largely missing.

The four contributions will address the outlined questions. They will set up the context of energy poverty and challenges of defining it, outline the specifics of energy poverty in Central and South-East Europe and show that practical measures are important, but face limitations if the structural conditions remain unchanged. Finally, they will discuss how to reconcile the environmental and social needs.