Social Justice Ireland view
Ireland’s Energy Poverty Action Plan incorporates some of the actions recommended by the European Commission. We can address both the financial and environmental costs by making our homes more energy efficient. Energy efficient homes help reduce our carbon footprint as they require less fuel to heat. Despite Government strategies specifically aimed at tackling energy poverty, barriers persist to accessing grants for low income households. These are the households who are most likely to use solid fuels such as coal and peat; the very households that policy should be targeting. The upfront costs associated with accessing sustainable energy grants can act as a barrier for those on low incomes. Too often subsidies are only taken up by those who can afford to make the necessary investments. Retrofitting is a prime example. As those who need them most often cannot avail of them due to cost, these subsidies are functioning as wealth transfers to those households on higher incomes while the costs (for example carbon taxes) are regressively socialised among all users.
An upgrade of the national grid must be a key element of infrastructure investment so that communities, cooperatives, farms and individuals can produce renewable energy and sell what they do not use back into the national grid thus becoming self-sustaining and contributing to our national targets.
Incentives and tax structure must look at short and long term costs of different population segments and eliminating energy poverty and protecting people from energy poverty should be a key pillar of any Just Transition platform, A state led retrofitting scheme is required to ensure that people living in social housing and poor quality housing have access. This would increase energy efficiency, reduce bills, improve health outcomes, and assist us in meeting our climate-related targets.
Research by the ESRI has shown that an increase in the carbon tax, as it is currently designed, would hit low income households harder. Therefore, unless there is greater investment in income support, public transport and energy efficiency schemes, low income households will have to absorb these costs as they are unable to afford the switch to climate friendly alternatives. To do this, we need to include all partners in the discussion.
The Citizen’s Assembly when considering ‘How the State can Make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change’ made a series of recommendations on tackling climate change and proposed some innovative solutions for addressing emissions from the Agriculture, Energy and Transport sectors. Social Justice Ireland supports the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly which is an example of positive stakeholder engagement and involvement in addressing a major public policy challenge.
In order to develop a sustainable society, services and infrastructure must be well-planned and capable of adapting to the changing needs of the population over time. This means that policy planning and design should, from the very beginning, include potential future changes, and as far as possible should be designed with these in mind.