Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeVolumes and IssuesSpecial Issue 241. Understanding and reconciling ...Who’ll pay to save the planet?

1. Understanding and reconciling the issues

Who’ll pay to save the planet?

Pascale Taminiaux
p. 26-27

Full text

1“I live on benefits. What can I do about climate change?” The comment comes from Germany, but it was echoed across the continent during an unprecedented listening exercise commissioned by a philanthropic consortium led by the King Baudouin Foundation. The aim: to sound out Europe’s most disadvantaged citizens on the challenges of weaning our economies off coal, oil and gas to protect the planet and develop recommendations for fairer energy transition policies.

2The remark underscores the challenge facing governments that are committed to raising vast sums to move toward renewable energies while substantial sections of society can already barely afford to heat their homes or maintain mobility, not least since fuel price inflation has rocketed in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

  • 1 For the purposes of this project, the term ‘vulnerable people’ refers to those groups who are socia (...)

3More than 900 vulnerable people took part in focus groups across nine EU countries as part of the KBF-led project, Fair Energy Transition for All, or FETA.1

4Hearing directly of their hopes, fears and difficulties has provided the foundation for policy recommendations which aim to ensure that Europe’s drive to cut carbon secures broad social backing.

5The high-profile setback for the French government’s climate strategy prompted the search for a new approach. Indeed, the “Gilets Jaunes” (‘yellow vest’)protests erupted in France in 2018 over an increase in fuel duty. The tax was meant to help reduce emissions, but it caused hardship for people on tight budgets – and in the end the protesters forced the government to abandon it. Coming up with climate-saving measures that can avoid a grass-roots backlash as it happened in France is precisely the goal of FETA. The focus group findings pave the way for EU and national policy recommendations due this fall in November.2 The survey confirmed some expectations, but also highlighted vital nuances.

Demand for fairness

6The survey finds out very few profiles of ‘climate sceptics’ during the focus groups. Most vulnerable people believe that the climate is changing and that something needs to be done.

7The focus groups also revealed some willingness to take a little more economic pain, especially if it fairly benefits all – notably future generations. Many are already cutting energy use – albeit mainly for reasons of personal economy than global ecology.

8Yet, against a background of widening inequalities in Europe, participants from the Netherlands, to Spain, to Bulgaria, voiced a profound mistrust of politicians. Many felt their modest consumerism meant that others – big business or wealthier compatriots – should bear costs, not themselves: “Why should I, when all those big firms are polluting the environment without paying a penny?” said the German welfare claimant quoted above.

9The policy experts must take account of differences across groups and countries: habits of frugality among the old, for example, and enthusiasm for technological fixes among the young; or Poles’ post-communist determination to retain personal choice contrasted with a preference among the Danes for more collective measures.

10To be factored in, too, are obstacles to change such as rented accommodation, that limits incentives to insulate homes or a lack of alternatives in rural areas to private cars and heavy agricultural machinery. Taking aim at urbanites’ new embrace of the bicycle, one Spanish farmer fumed: “You can’t run a tractor on pedal-power.”

Unheard voices

  • 3 Names and quotes are created to represent a variety of responses.

At the initiative of the King Baudouin Foundation and with the support of five other philanthropic institutions - the Open Society European Policy Institute/OSF, the Mercator Stiftung, IKEA Foundation, the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt and the Fondazione Cariplo - focus groups were held over the past year in Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland.

FETA experts distilled focus group responders into six broad personae
3 :

Top of page


1 For the purposes of this project, the term ‘vulnerable people’ refers to those groups who are socially or economically disadvantaged and whose interests are often not sufficiently represented in political debates. This includes unemployed people, low income earners, single parents, young people or elderly citizens as well as workers threatened with the loss of their jobs due to increasing regulations on energy-intensive industries.These groups tend to suffer the negative effects of environmental policies far more than others and are excluded from most of the benefits.

2 To get more information, please consult:

3 Names and quotes are created to represent a variety of responses.

Top of page


Bibliographical reference

Pascale Taminiaux, “Who’ll pay to save the planet?”Field Actions Science Reports, Special Issue 24 | 2022, 26-27.

Electronic reference

Pascale Taminiaux, “Who’ll pay to save the planet?”Field Actions Science Reports [Online], Special Issue 24 | 2022, Online since 07 October 2022, connection on 02 October 2023. URL:

Top of page

About the author

Pascale Taminiaux

Senior Project Coordinator, King Baudouin Foundation

Pascale Taminiaux is Senior Project Coordinator at King Baudouin Foundation, based in Brussels, working on Social Justice and Poverty related issues such as Energy Poverty and Fair Energy Transition. Previously, she notably worked as a consultant in environment, health, safety and CSR issues for numerous Belgian and international companies. For over 45 years, the King Baudouin Foundation has been acting for the common good together with numerous partners, experts and donors. Its activities aim to foster sustainable and positive change in society, in Belgium, Europe and around the world. Thanks to the support it gives, the Foundation empowers organisations and citizens working to create a better society. It encourages philanthropy and supports individuals and organizations who want to commit to a better world.

Top of page



The text only may be used under licence CC-BY-4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search