(29 July 2022) European Union energy ministers agreed to commit to cut national gas consumption in an extraordinary council session held on Tuesday, 26 July.
The commitment to a coordinated reduction of consumption of natural gas comes as Russia cuts gas supplies in response to European support of Ukraine. However, Europe’s energy crisis is not new. Citizens have been feeling the strain of rising energy costs for some time – and recent price increases are hitting vulnerable households the hardest.
While corporations are making record unexpected profits (so-called windfall profits), vulnerable families in Europe struggle to pay bills. Many are already rationing their energy consumption and have little room for further reduction of energy consumption. Instead, they need urgent support measures. EPSU has long called for a ‘right to energy’ - a right that entails amongst others a ban on disconnections and regulation or caps on energy prices. These could be financed by taxes on windfall profits. Now more than ever these are vital measures to protect people living in energy poverty. At the same time, there must be massive investments in energy efficiency, renewables and low-carbon energy production. Strong just transition measures and reskilling of workers are also crucial.
Emergency measures that utilise more carbon intensive means of energy production should only be short term - they must not endanger the objective of climate neutrality by 2050. EPSU fully supports Europe’s climate targets as set out in the Paris Agreement. Frontline workers experience the catastrophic impacts of climate change first hand – droughts, forest fires and other extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity, often putting the lives and wellbeing of public service workers at risk.
We also need to question the effect that austerity and liberalisation has had on our capacity to respond to crises. Fragmented and privatised energy markets are not in the interest of users, workers or the planet. The re-nationalisation of EDF and the purchase of 30% of shares of Uniper by the German state shows that governments are increasingly recognising the importance of public ownership as a tool to respond to crises and steer the energy transition.
To protect citizens and workers, it’s clear that more action is needed. Member States must now work to achieve gas savings in a just and equitable manner – first and foremost protecting those that are most vulnerable to energy poverty and in fairness with those workers who work to keep the lights on.