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Energy Citizenship: A Holistic Vision for Citizen Engagement in the European Energy Transition

By Karin Thalberg and Marko Hajdinjak

The European Union’s path towards climate-neutrality presents a unique opportunity to create a more socially just and democratic energy system. The energy price crisis (2021-2022) brought to the surface wider inequalities that characterise the prevailing energy system.1 As the transition speeds up in response to climate change, energy security and price concerns2 decision makers must ensure that policy choices do not entrench or aggravate current inequalities. EU responses to the climate crisis, social inequalities, and declining trust in political institutions3 must go hand in hand to ensure public support for the energy transition. Key aspects in this endeavour are what roles citizens (should and could) play, and how to balance responsibilities and rights of different stakeholders in the energy transition.

EnergyPROSPECTS has examined the potential of energy citizenship to contribute to a more sustainable, just, and democratic European energy transition. Energy citizenship pertains to civic involvement and engagement in the energy transition. It can be practised at different levels of action, through different constellations of actors, in the fields of energy production, distribution, and energy consumption, and in the governance of the energy/climate transition.

Today, energy transitions are going at different paces across the Union and citizen involvement and engagement are taking diverse forms4 that also vary according to the specific contexts of different Member States.5 EU policymakers are nonetheless becoming increasingly aware that public engagement will determine the success of energy and climate policy.6 The clean energy transition is becoming everyone’s business. What does this mean for citizens’ roles in the European energy transition?
Building on three years of research, this policy brief presents the scope and diversity of citizen engagement in the energy transition, identifies barriers and opportunities, and proposes targeted recommendations for supporting effective energy citizenship in the European Union.