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The Social Climate Fund: Materialising Just Transition Principles?

Created on 22-05-2023 | Updated on 11-07-2023

The EU's Social Climate Fund (SCF) is a part of the Green Deal initiative and aims to mitigate the financial impact of increased energy costs and gasoline prices resulting from extending the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) to buildings and transport. The SCF will provide resources to assist vulnerable households, micro-enterprises, and transport users. It will operate from 2026 to 2032 and will be funded through revenues generated by the new ETS, with a maximum allocation of 65 billion euros, supplemented by national contributions. Many NGOs commend the SCF for incorporating a social dimension into EU climate policies and striving to ‘materialise’ the just transition. Nevertheless, concerns remain regarding the fund's size, tight timeframe, and limited stakeholder participation outlined in the proposed regulation.


Issued (year)

Application period (years)


Target group
European households at risk of energy and/or transport poverty

Housing tenure

Public policy

Object of study


The EU's Social Climate Fund (SCF) was officially approved by the European Parliament on 18 April 2023 as part of the broader Green Deal initiative, which seeks to expand the scope of the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) to encompass buildings, transport and other sectors. This extension of the ETS is expected to result in increased energy costs and gasoline prices for households and businesses. To assist vulnerable households, micro-enterprises, and transport users in mitigating the financial impact of these price increases, EU Member States may use resources from the SCF to finance various measures and investments. The SCF will primarily be funded through the revenues generated by the new emissions trading system, with a maximum allocation of €65 bn, which will be supplemented by national contributions. Temporarily established for the period of 2026-2032, the fund aims to provide support during this specified timeframe.

Preliminary Exploration of Merits and Limitations

The initiation of the SCF has received praise from various NGOs advocating for a just transition (WWF, 2022). Supporters highlight its significance in integrating a social dimension into EU climate policies, despite some remaining weaknesses. The SCF’s spending rules are commended for striking a suitable balance between financing structural investments and providing temporary direct income support to vulnerable households. Through the SCF, Member States can finance subsidies that will enable these households to renovate their homes, adopt energy-efficient technologies, and access renewable energy and sustainable transportation. Moreover, various NGOs welcome the requirement for government consultation with subnational administrations and civil society organizations. This could potentially facilitate greater engagement of the target groups in the legislative process. Notably, the SCF also introduces a definition of transport poverty, marking a first in EU policy, and aiding member states to identify those eligible for support (thereby improving recognitional justice).

Regarding the aforementioned weaknesses, there is a range of concerns. Firstly, the projected timeline may pose a limitation. Initiating green investments for vulnerable households only a year before the introduction of carbon pricing may not allow sufficient time for the desired impact. Projects related to energy renovation and improved public mobility infrastructure typically require several years to yield tangible results. Additionally, while Member States are required to include consultation with various stakeholders in their national ‘Social Climate Plans’ (SCPs), the level of participation outlined in the proposed regulation is minimalistic, raising concerns about ensuring procedural justice.

Perceived Importance of Targeting

The legislative text (EU, 2023) underscores the significance of consistent targeting, and Member States are required to furnish comprehensive information regarding the objective of the measure or investment and the specific individuals or groups it aims to address. Additionally, the European Commission expects an elucidation of how the measure or investment will effectively contribute to the accomplishment of the Fund's objectives and its potential to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Targeting is deemed particularly crucial with regard to direct income support, as universal energy support tends to generate inflationary pressures, encourage unsustainable behaviour, and yield regressive effects. The legislative text states that is crucial to perceive such support as a temporary measure accompanying the decarbonisation of the housing and transport sectors, rather than a permanent solution that fails to address the fundamental causes of energy poverty and transport poverty. Thus, this support should exclusively target the direct consequences of including greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and road transport under the purview of Directive 2003/87/EC, without encompassing electricity or heating costs related to power and heat production covered by the same directive. As stated, "recipients of direct income support should be targeted, as members of a general group of recipients, by measures and investments aimed at effectively lifting those recipients out of energy poverty and transport poverty" (EU, 2023: p.4).

The share of the SCF designated for renovation projects should also be specifically directed at the vulnerable households and transport users who are already receiving direct income support. SCPs are allowed to extend support to both public and private entities, including social housing providers and public-private cooperatives, in developing and providing affordable energy efficiency solutions and suitable funding mechanisms that align with the social objectives of the Fund. This support could include ‘financial assistance’ or even ‘fiscal incentives’, which poses the question of how lenient should the approach of the European Commission be towards the state support of social housing organisations, given the tensions that have emerged in the past (Gruis & Elsinga, 2014).

Ex Ante and Ex Post Assessment of Social Climate Plans

EU Member States are required to submit national Social Climate Plans (SCPs) no later than 30 June 2025, so that they can be given “careful and timely consideration”. The plans should encompass an investment component that promotes the long-term solution of reducing reliance on fossil fuels, potentially incorporating additional measures, such as temporary direct income support, to alleviate any immediate adverse effects on income.

The primary objectives of these plans must be twofold. Firstly, they should provide vulnerable households, vulnerable micro-enterprises, and vulnerable transport users with the necessary resources to enable them to finance and undertake investments in energy efficiency, the decarbonisation of heating and cooling systems, the adoption of zero- and low-emission vehicles, and sustainable mobility. This support may be provided through mechanisms such as vouchers, subsidies, or zero-interest loans. Secondly, the plans should mitigate the impact of rising fossil fuel costs on the most vulnerable segments of society, thus fighting energy poverty and transport poverty during the transitional phase until the aforementioned investments have been implemented.

The legislative text contains comprehensive information concerning the criteria utilised to assess the SCPs upon submission and evaluation after implementation. The set of ‘result indicators’ that are specifically relevant to the 'building sector' can be found in the table accompanying this case study. Time will tell whether this framework is sufficient to ensure that besides ‘recognitional justice’ and ‘procedural justice’, the SCF will make sure that the European Green Deal delivers ‘distributive justice’.

Alignment with project research areas

The SCF is particularly relevant in RE-DWELL’s research framework, as it addresses housing affordability within the energy transition, with a specific focus on vulnerable groups. The SCF aims to provide resources to finance investments in energy efficiency and the decarbonisation of heating and cooling systems. Through the fund, Member States can finance subsidies or guarantee low-interest loans to enable vulnerable households or their (social) landlords to renovate their homes and adopt energy-efficient technologies.

The SCF is primarily funded through revenues generated by the new emissions trading system, with a maximum allocation of €65 bn, which may be supplemented by national contributions. This demonstrates the interplay of governance, market mechanisms, and financing in implementing the fund. Additionally, the text mentions the importance of assessing SCPs both ex ante and ex post, indicating a focus on evaluating the effectiveness of governance structures and financing mechanisms in achieving the fund's objectives.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

Alignment with SDGs

Overall, the Social Climate Fund contributes to several SDGs, five of which are explained below.

SDG 1: No Poverty

The SCF highlights the objective of mitigating the impact of rising fossil fuel costs on vulnerable segments of society, fighting energy poverty and transport poverty. This aligns with the goal of eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions.

SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

The initiatives described in the text aim to promote energy efficiency, the decarbonisation of heating and cooling systems, and the adoption of zero- and low-emission vehicles. This contributes to the goal of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.

SDG 13: Climate Action

The EU's Social Climate Fund and the broader Green Deal initiative seek to address climate change by expanding the scope of the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) to various sectors, including buildings and transport. The aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy, and mitigate the financial impact on vulnerable groups. This aligns with the goal of taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

The emphasis on targeting vulnerable households, micro-enterprises, and transport users for support, as well as involving subnational administrations and civil society organizations in decision-making processes, aligns with the objective of reducing inequalities within and among countries.

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

The requirement for government consultation and collaboration with subnational administrations and civil society organizations in the development of SCPs demonstrates a commitment to partnerships and multi-stakeholder engagement in achieving the SDGs. It reflects the importance of collaborative efforts between governments, private entities, and civil society to address climate challenges.



EU. (2023). Regulation (EU) 2023/955 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 May 2023 establishing a Social Climate Fund and amending Regulation (EU) 2021/1060.

Gruis, V., & Elsinga, M. (2014). Tensions between social housing and EU market regulations. European State Aid Law Quarterly13(3), 463-469.

WWF. (2022). Openletter: NGOs urge Council to agree on a comprehensive, bold and transformative Social Climate Fund.


Related vocabulary

Housing Affordability

Just Transition

Area: Design, planning and building

Housing can be perceived as consisting of two inseparable components: the product and the process. The product refers to the building as a physical artefact, and the process encompasses the activities required to create and manage this artefact in the long term (Turner, 1972), as cited in (Brysch & Czischke, 2021). Affordability is understood as the capability to purchase and maintain something long-term while remaining convenient for the beneficiary's resources and needs (Bogdon & Can, 1997). Housing Affordability is commonly explained as the ratio between rent and household income (Hulchanski, 1995). However, Stone (2006, p.2) proposed a broader definition of housing affordability to associate it with households' social experience and financial stability as: "An expression of the social and material experiences of people, constituted as households, in relation to their individual housing situations", ….. "Affordability expresses the challenge each household faces in balancing the cost of its actual or potential housing, on the one hand, and its non-housing expenditures, on the other, within the constraints of its income." Housing costs signify initial and periodic payments such as rent or mortgages in the case of  homeowners, housing insurance, housing taxes, and so on. On the other hand, non-housing costs include utility charges resulting from household usage, such as energy and water, as well as schools, health, and transportation (AHC, 2019; Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). Therefore, housing affordability needs to reflect the household's capability to balance current and future costs to afford a house while maintaining other basic expenses without experiencing any financial hardship (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). Two close terminologies to housing affordability are  “affordable housing” and “affordability of housing”. Affordable housing is frequently mentioned in government support schemes to refer to the housing crisis and associated financial hardship. In England, affordable housing is still concerned with its financial attainability, as stated in the UK Government's official glossaries: "Housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market (including housing that provides a subsidised route to home ownership and/or is for essential local workers)", while also complying with other themes that maintain the affordability of housing prices in terms of rent or homeownership (Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, 2019). The affordability of housing, on the other hand, refers to a broader focus on the affordability of the entire housing market, whereas housing affordability specifically refers to the ability of individuals or households to afford housing. In the literature, however, the term “affordability of housing” is frequently used interchangeably with “housing affordability,” despite their differences (Robinson et al., 2006). The "affordability of housing" concerns housing as a sector in a particular region, market or residential area. It can correlate affordability with population satisfaction, accommodation types and household compositions to alert local authorities of issues such as homelessness (Kneebone & Wilkins, 2016; Emma Mulliner et al., 2013; OECD, 2021). That is why the OECD defined it as "the capacity of a country to deliver good quality housing at an accessible price for all" (OECD, n.d.). Short-term and long-term affordability are two concepts for policymakers to perceive housing affordability holistically. Short-term affordability is "concerned with financial access to a dwelling based on out-of-pocket expenses", and long-term affordability is " about the costs attributed to housing consumption" (Haffner & Heylen, 2011, p.607). The costs of housing consumption, also known as user costs, do not pertain to the monthly utility bills paid by users, but rather to the cost associated with consuming the dwelling as a housing service  (Haffner & Heylen, 2011). “Housing quality” and “housing sustainability” are crucial aspects of housing affordability, broadening its scope beyond the narrow economic perspective within the housing sector. Housing affordability needs to consider "a standard for housing quality" and "a standard of reasonableness for the price of housing consumption in relation to income" (p. 609) (Haffner & Heylen, 2011). In addition, housing affordability requires an inclusive aggregation and a transdisciplinary perspective of sustainability concerning its economic, social, and environmental facets (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019; Perera, 2017; Salama, 2011). Shared concerns extend across the domains of housing quality, sustainability, and affordability, exhibiting intricate interrelations among them that require examination. For instance, housing quality encompasses three levels of consideration: (1) the dwelling itself as a physically built environment, (2) the household attitudes and behaviours, and (3) the surroundings, encompassing the community, neighbourhood, region, nation, and extending to global circumstances (Keall et al., 2010). On the other hand, housing sustainability embraces the triad of economic, social, and environmental aspects. The shared problems among the three domains encompass critical aspects such as health and wellbeing, fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance  proximity to workplaces and amenities, as well as the impact of climate. Health and wellbeing Inequalities in health and wellbeing pose a significant risk to social sustainability, mainly in conditions where affordable dwellings are of poor quality. In contrast, such conditions extend the affordability problem posing increased risks to poor households harming their health, wellbeing and productivity (Garnham et al., 2022; Hick et al., 2022; Leviten-Reid et al., 2020). An illustrative example emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, where individuals residing in unsafe and poor-quality houses faced higher rates of virus transmission and mortality (Housing Europe, 2021; OECD, 2020). Hence, addressing housing affordability necessitates recognising it as a mutually dependent relationship between housing quality and individuals (Stone, 2006). Fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance Affordable houses of poor quality pose risks of fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance. This risk makes them economically unsustainable. For example, good quality entails the home being energy efficient to mitigate fuel poverty. However, it might become unaffordable to heat the dwelling after paying housing costs because of its poor quality (Stone et al., 2011). Thus, affordability needs to consider potential fluctuations in non-housing prices, such as energy bills (AHC, 2019; Smith, 2007). Poor quality also can emerge from decisions made during the design and construction stages. For example, housing providers may prioritise reducing construction costs by using low-quality and less expensive materials or equipment that may lead to costly recurring maintenance and running costs over time (Emekci, 2021). Proximity to work and amenities The proximity to workplaces and amenities influences housing quality and has an impact on economic and environmental sustainability. From a financial perspective, Disney (2006) defines affordable housing as "an adequate basic standard that provides reasonable access to work opportunities and community services, and that is available at a cost which does not cause substantial hardship to the occupants". Relocating to deprived areas far from work opportunities, essential amenities, and community services will not make housing affordable (Leviten-Reid et al., 2020). Commuting to a distant workplace also incurs environmental costs. Research shows that reduced commuting significantly decreases gas emissions (Sutton-Parker, 2021). Therefore, ensuring involves careful planning when selecting housing locations, considering their impact on economic and environmental sustainability (EK Mulliner & Maliene, 2012). Moreover, design practices can contribute by providing adaptability and flexibility, enabling dwellers to work from home and generate income (Shehayeb & Kellett, 2011). Climate change's mutual impact Climate change can pose risks to housing affordability and, conversely, housing affordability can impact climate change. A house cannot be considered "affordable" if its construction and operation result in adverse environmental impacts contributing to increased CO2 emissions or climate change (Haidar & Bahammam, 2021; Salama, 2011). For a house to be environmentally sustainable, it must be low-carbon, energy-efficient, water-efficient, and climate-resilient (Holmes et al., 2019). This entails adopting strategies such as incorporating eco-friendly materials, utilizing renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and implementing sustainable water management systems (Petrović et al., 2021). However, implementing these measures requires funding initiatives to support the upfront costs, leading to long-term household savings (Holmes et al., 2019). Principio del formulario Furthermore,  when houses lack quality and climate resilience, they become unaffordable. Households bear high energy costs, especially during extreme weather conditions such as heatwaves or cold spells (Holmes et al., 2019). Issues like cold homes and fuel poverty in the UK contribute to excess winter deaths (Lee et al., 2022). In this context, climate change can adversely affect families, impacting their financial well-being and health, thereby exacerbating housing affordability challenges beyond mere rent-to-income ratios.    

Created on 17-10-2023

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Area: Policy and financing

Justice theory is as old as philosophical thought itself, but the contemporary debate often departs from the Rawlsian understanding of justice (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, & Meyer, 1990). Rawls (1971) argued that societal harmony depends on the extent to which community members believe their political institutions treat them justly. His First Principle of ‘justice as fairness’ relates to equal provision of ‘basic liberties’ to the population. His Second Principle, later referred to as the ‘Difference Principle’, comprises unequal distribution of social and economic goods to the extent that it benefits “the least advantaged” (Rawls, 1971, p. 266).1[1] As this notion added an egalitarian perspective to Rawlsian justice theory, it turned out to be the most controversial element of his work (Estlund, 1996). The idea of a ‘just transition’ was built on these foundations by McCauley and Heffron (2018), who developed an integrated framework overarching the ‘environmental justice’, ‘climate justice’ and ‘energy justice’ scholarships. The term was first used by trade unions warning for mass redundancies in carbon-intensive industries due to climate policies (Hennebert & Bourque, 2011), but has acquired numerous interpretations since. This is because the major transition of the 21st century, the shift towards a low-carbon society, will be accompanied by large disturbances in the existing social order. In this context, a just transition would ensure equity and justice for those whose livelihoods are most affected (Newell & Mulvaney, 2013). A just transition implies that the ‘least advantaged’ in society are seen, heard, and compensated, which corresponds with three key dimensions conceptualised by Schlosberg (2004): distributive, recognitional, and procedural justice. Distributive justice corresponds with Rawls’ Difference Principle and comprehends the just allocation of burdens and benefits among stakeholders, ranging from money to risks to capabilities. Recognitional justice is both a condition of justice, as distributive injustice mainly emanates from lacking recognition of different starting positions, as well as a stand-alone component of justice, which includes culturally or symbolically rooted patterns of inequity in representation, interpretation, and communication (Young, 1990). Fraser (1997) stressed the distinction between three forms: cultural domination, nonrecognition (or ‘invisibility’), and disrespect (or ‘stereotyping’). Procedural justice emphasises the importance of engaging various stakeholders – especially the ‘least advantaged’ – in governance, as diversity of perspectives allows for equitable policymaking. Three elements are at the core of this procedural justice (Gillard, Snell, & Bevan, 2017): easily accessible processes, transparent decision-making with possibilities to contest and complete impartiality. A critique of the just transition discourse is that it preserves an underlying capitalist structure of power imbalance and inequality. Bouzarovski (2022) points to the extensive top- down nature of retrofit programmes such as the Green New Deal, and notes that this may collide with bottom-up forms of housing repair and material intervention. A consensus on the just transition mechanism without debate on its implementation could perpetuate the status quo, and thus neglect ‘diverse knowledges’, ‘plural pathways’ and the ‘inherently political nature of transformations’ (Scoones et al., 2020). However, as Healy and Barry (2017) note, understanding how just transition principles work in practice could benefit the act of ‘equality- proofing’ and ‘democracy-proofing’ decarbonisation decisions. Essentially, an ‘unjust transition’ in the context of affordable and sustainable housing would refer to low-income households in poorly insulated housing without the means or the autonomy to substantially improve energy efficiency. If fossil fuel prices – either by market forces or regulatory incentives – go up, it aggravates their already difficult financial situation and could even lead to severe health problems (Santamouris et al., 2014). At the same time, grants for renovations and home improvements are poorly targeted and often end up in the hands of higher income ‘free-riding’ households, having regressive distributional impacts across Europe (Schleich, 2019). But even when the strive towards a just transition is omnipresent, practice will come with dilemmas. Von Platten, Mangold, and Mjörnell (2020) argue for instance that while prioritising energy efficiency improvements among low-income households is a commendable policy objective, putting them on ‘the frontline’ of retrofit experiments may also burden them with start-up problems and economic risks. These challenges only accentuate that shaping a just transition is not an easy task. Therefore, both researchers and policymakers need to enhance their understanding of the social consequences that the transition towards low-carbon housing encompasses. Walker and Day (2012) applied Schlosberg’s dimensions to this context. They conclude that distributive injustice relates to inequality in terms of income, housing and pricing, recognitional justice to unidentified energy needs and vulnerabilities, and procedural injustice to inadequate access to policymaking. Ensuring that the European Renovation Wave is made into a just transition towards affordable and sustainable housing therefore requires an in-depth study into distributive, recognitional and procedural justice. Only then can those intertwining dimensions be addressed in policies.   [1] To illustrate his thesis, he introduces the ‘veil of ignorance’: what if we may redefine the social scheme, but without knowing our own place? Rawls believes that most people, whether from self-interest or not, would envision a society with political rights for all and limited economic and social inequality.  

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)


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Icon greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts

Greater than the sum of its parts

Posted on 21-07-2021

A few weeks into the RE-DWELL adventure, I find myself more optimistic regarding the challenges our societies face than I have been in a long time. Having to deal with both a climate crisis as well as a housing crisis at the same time can be quite daunting, especially when time is so short. But getting to know talented and dedicated peers, learning from their personal beliefs and disciplinary perspectives while thinking out loud about research opportunities really cheers you up!   The kick-off sessions helped us to draw connections between each other and between the research scopes we envision. I really liked how the break-out rooms enabled us to have discussions in smaller groups, as this gave the sessions a personal and informal setting. And one look at the Miro boards will tell you that even when the issues at stake may sometimes feel fragmented, the opposite is true. We are all focusing on different elements of Affordable & Sustainable Housing but if we collaborate well the pieces of the puzzle will all fall together nicely.   I genuinely believe the RE-DWELL community is in a unique position to contribute to a better understanding of the way forward, because messy and complex real-world problems call for a holistic approach. In that, I must give it to my old pal Aristotle, the whole could indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)



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