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How can there be a just energy transition in Europe when so many voices remain unheard?

By Emma James on December 12, 2022

Miners at the Pniówek coal mine, 40 km south-west of Katowice, the capital of Silesia, Poland. 

This blog was written by Emma James and Dr Christopher Shaw, both part of Climate Outreach’s research team.

There is increasing interest in ensuring a fair or just transition to a clean energy system in Europe. Yet the socially marginalised and economically vulnerable citizens of Europe are largely absent from these discussions. Climate Outreach worked for two years with a consortium of European partners to create a set of six new communication recommendations for speaking with marginalised groups about building a fair and clean energy system.

Without understanding what a clean energy transition needs to deliver in order to meet the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, it will be difficult to create fair energy policies. Without listening to what a fair energy system looks like and feels like for those on the margins of European society, it will also be difficult to communicate the policies in a way that speaks to people’s concerns and builds support for the changes.

The Fair Energy Transition for All (FETA) project, delivered across nine European Union (EU) countries, amplified marginalised voices in the energy transition debate. Climate Outreach’s narrative workshop methodology was used to create a script that brought people from some of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities in Europe into a series of productive and positive conversations about what they need from a fair transition to a clean energy system. 

Climate Outreach led on the analysis of the workshop transcripts as a part of the final phase of FETA, delivering six communication recommendations for policymakers and climate communicators. These communication recommendations are designed to support communicators with talking about the energy transition – which  can be a very technical discussion – in terms of the values, hopes and fears of the people who are already struggling to power their homes and access affordable transport.

The evidence reveals that policies must be communicated in a way that builds trust, acknowledges the limited agency that many people have regarding how they use energy and shows understanding of what a fair transition means for these audiences. These recommendations are designed to help improve support for the policies.

Communication recommendations for the energy transition

1) Use a ‘trusted messenger’ to provide climate and energy information – where possible, make this a local person

Messengers need to understand the circumstances of marginalised groups to build trust, which would often fall to a local person. Participants in Denmark supported the idea of a ‘local citizens council’. Participants in Spain supported the idea of messengers using language that speaks to local experiences of fuel poverty and climate change impacts. 

2) Show that decisions are being made collaboratively by ‘passing the mic’ – give marginalised people a meaningful say in climate communications

People from different groups and backgrounds need to have a meaningful say in the decision-making and communications process. This will ensure people trust that collaborative decision-making has taken place. In Poland, it was suggested that cyclists need to be involved in decision-making and communications about cycle infrastructure policies.

3) Regularly disseminate local-specific information on policy recommendations in everyday language – where possible, engage in person

In Belgium, participants suggested the use of language that everyone, including ‘ordinary people’, can understand and that explains the reasons behind certain measures. Participants in Germany stressed the need for technical messages about the energy transition to be explained better, an issue seen across all nine countries. Similarly, participants in Bulgaria encouraged the use of relatable, local good practices to be shared in energy communications. French participants stressed the importance of communications happening at accessible community hubs. It should however be noted that digital skills support needs to be provided where in-person engagement is not possible.

4) Communicate how policy recommendations will be paid for, how they will help marginalised people, and why these decisions were made – in all communications, demonstrate mindfulness of the cost of living crisis, and acknowledge that some people are already doing all they can to save energy

In several countries, but especially in the Netherlands, participants expressed concerns about the lack of an adequate statutory approach to dealing with fuel poverty. Participants also faced confusion over the energy grants and incentives available to them and who will ultimately be footing the bill for the energy transition. 

5) Clearly communicate how energy policies apply to everyone and how the changes recommended are accessible for everyone – but avoid creating stigma towards marginalised groups in the process

Communicators must show how policy recommendations are accessible and therefore fair. Participants in Italy stressed the need for a domestic energy tutor, if one were to be employed, to be available to social housing residents. Communicators should avoid stigmatising marginalised groups by spotlighting disadvantages without permission. In Denmark, participants were concerned about the possibility of increasing stigma towards groups by describing them as ‘low-income’.

6) Develop messages on fairness on a case-by-case basis

There is no universal concept of climate ‘justice’, and different lifestyle needs will influence the kinds of energy policies people see as fair. Consider an archetypal persona (inspired by participants in France): a single parent who needs a car to combine the school run with her commute. Low-carbon energy policies seen as fair by this person will be affected by their specific circumstances.

Want to find out more?

Read the final FETA report synthesising the findings across this two-year project.

To find out more about the FETA methodology, as well as other methodologies used by Climate Outreach across other Europe focussed research, watch the webinar recording below.

For further recommendations and the do’s and don’ts of communicating net zero and fairness among other groups, take a look at our research with conservative-leaning audiences in Britain.

FETA is supported by a consortium of foundations spearheaded by the King Baudouin Foundation. The process and methodology was designed and implemented by ifok and the European Policy Centre with support by Climate Outreach, especially focusing on communication-related issues. National facilitators and policy experts implemented the project in participating countries. 

The sole responsibility for the content of this blog lies with the authors and the content may not necessarily reflect the positions of the Network of European Foundations (NEF), or the partner foundations.

Climate Outreach would like to thank NEF and The King Baudouin Foundation for supporting the writing of this blog.

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By Emma James

Emma joined Climate Outreach as a Researcher in December 2021. Helping to design social science research methods and collecting and analysing qualitative and quantitative data will be her focus. Emma is excited to combine research with public engagement as she loves learning from data and sharing climate change knowledge in a way that inspires action.

Emma completed an MSc International Environmental Studies degree at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Her thesis investigated the use of information as a policy instrument to encourage climate relevant behaviour. A BSc Physical Geography degree at Lancaster University and interning with the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation to research the SDGs are also part of her background. More recently, Emma worked on a climate change programme in local government.

Growing up exploring and volunteering in local woodlands sparked Emma’s interest in protecting our natural world. Learning from experts during her Master’s degree inspired a career in motivating climate action using sound research.

Outside of work, Emma enjoys playing national league basketball for the City of Birmingham Rockets and can often be found walking her dogs!

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