How can we achieve the international objectives of reducing greenhouse gases and avoid the further growth of social and economic inequalities? This is the ambition of the European project “Fair Energy Transition for All“(FETA) initiated and coordinated by the King Baudouin Foundation (1). With 1,000 citizens embarked, 200 experts and 90 discussion groups in 9 countries of the European Union (2), Pascale Taminiaux, coordinator of the project, reviews the objectives and the first results.
Missions Publiques. The method applied here is quite unusual (3). Engaging low-income populations in each country of the 9 EU participating countries on the one hand and then getting experts’ inputs who will set recommendations that will be put into discussion with disadvantaged citizens for the examination and finalisation of the recommendations…
Pascale Taminiaux. With this innovative method, we learn as we go. The first objective of the project is to listen to the most vulnerable and invisible people who are farthest from the current debates and who are not represented by existing structures. How can they be engaged and how can they be integrated into the policy development process? At the King Baudouin Foundation, we have tested a whole series of participatory methods with citizens’ conferences, among others, but which did not necessarily include this so-called invisible public. On the subject of the fair energy transition, we therefore set up a method to work as closely as possible with vulnerable people, by meeting them via local organizations that are in regular contact with them but that aren’t specifically fighting against poverty: neighborhood associations, social gatherings, medical centers, leisure clubs, self-help groups, etc.
The project includes different phases of dialogue: gathering the voices of those who are the most vulnerable to feed, later, the debate between experts who will develop a first series of recommendations. These recommendations will be presented to citizens during the “energy forums” held in 9 European countries. This is how we do things: integrate, validate, change, advance… A methodology that will undoubtably evolve.
Missions Publiques. What is the King Baudouin Foundation’s vision of citizen participation? Has the FETA project changed it?
Pascale Taminiaux. A few years ago, we set up a program that tested a series of participatory methods to integrate citizens into public and private decision-making processes. Our ambition at the Foundation is to improve the quality of life of citizens in Belgium, in Europe and in the world. This is why we work on themes with a high social value. And we know that in order to develop solutions and produce recommendations that are as close as possible to the needs of vulnerable people, we must first listen to them. This is the challenge: to succeed in capturing the needs of people who are most likely to be invisible in climate research.
We have been working on a project around the use of early childcare facilities which, as we know, despite their accessibility and free access, are not very popular with the most vulnerable families. We are using the same methodology to understand why and to ensure that these services can best adapt to their needs and ensure a sustainable use of these structures. Participation from citizens is a way for to achieve objectives and ensure that there is a better impact.
"There is a common will to act, but they feel their power to act is limited primarily by economic constraints.
Coordinator of the project for the King Baudouin Foundation
Missions Publiques. Do you think that an approach based on diversity more than statistical representativity was the right way forward? Did it put on the agenda topics that you and the experts did not expect about energy?
Pascale Taminiaux. We are indeed in a qualitative research work with a limited number of citizens to enlighten those who develop policies. So far, on the theme of energy, this allows us to confirm, illustrate and go a little deeper into the perception and understanding of these profiles, which, moreover, often have very good ideas. The evaluation is ongoing, but the first presentation of the results confirmed the interest and especially the understanding of the issues by this target audience.
On the scale of the nine countries, these people have a good understanding of global warming, but the concept of energy transition remains rather vague for them. There is a common will to act, but they feel their power to act is limited primarily by economic constraints. This hindrance leads to a lack of confidence in institutions. This is one of the key findings: the lack of confidence in the tools and institutions that are in place to ensure the energy transition. This is therefore an essential factor in developing a much fairer transition: a need for clear information, financial support such as the creation of a fund for the precarious public and a willingness to participate in the management of this tool.
Missions Publiques. These are only the first results, but are there similarities or divides among the 9 EU countries?
Pascale Taminiaux. The trend I have just described is valid in all countries. Of course, the desire to participate in the management of a support fund is more pronounced in some countries. There is also a desire for local and citizen-driven approaches, rather than binding measures. This is particularly the case in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, which in the past had more centralized approaches. At this stage, we cannot talk about “divides” but it is obvious that the context in which we met the citizens, i.e. the socio-economic situation, the level of poverty, played a role. Denmark is not Bulgaria, the level of trust in the institutions is not the same, and neither are the issues they care about. For example, in the Netherlands, the citizens that participated placed great emphasis on transport and mobility. In Bulgaria and Poland, the quality of housing and access to means of heating other than wood were predominant topics. But overall, I think there is a consensus on the findings.
Missions Publiques. You launched the process while France was going through the Yellow Vests movement, linked to energy issues. Today, the war in Ukraine has had repercussions on gas prices among other things. How have you integrated this new situation?
Pascale Taminiaux. We started to think about this topic two or three years ago with the aim of combining a pressing issue with people who are left behind. We wanted to make the link with the work we had done on fuel poverty, where we had noticed that a part of the population was not part of the decision-making process even though it was directly concerned by the problem and the solutions. Unfortunately, without wanting to, we hit the nail on the head. First, there was the confinement. People stayed at home, water and electricity consumption increased and this crisis reminded us of the importance of the quality of housing, especially for people in precarious situations. At their own level, all countries are facing the climate crisis. In Belgium, for example, we have experienced flooding and the most vulnerable people, living in temporary housing close to streams and rivers, have been particularly affected. And today, the war in Ukraine. The dialogues we have conducted with vulnerable citizens took place before the war in Ukraine; one of our partners, Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, will go back to some of the people we met in Poland, Germany and Bulgaria to understand if and how this conflict may have influenced their perceptions and fears about the energy transition.
All of these factors make the issue even more urgent and relevant. The challenge now is to move from the theory of policy outlines to action and implementation. This is just the beginning of a great adventure that should lead to key recommendations within a few months. The final results will then be published at national and European level. They will be presented to key decision-makers in order to raise awareness of the concerns and ideas of low-income populations and to promote their inclusion in the policy-making process.