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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

March 2023 - This report was developed by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) to explore the ways social issues have been included in climate policies by the European Commission.

 How have social elements of the Fit for 55 package evolved in the context of the climate, energy, and cost-of-living crises?

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About the report 

The "Fit for 55 package" is a set of proposals from the European Commission aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, and it has significant social and economic implications. The policy study assesses how the inclusion of social issues in climate policies has evolved over a period of 12 months (July 2021 – July 2022), primarily focusing on the European Parliament negotiations on four files included in the package that are most likely to have substantial social impacts. The selected files are: the CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and new light commercial vehicles, the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), and the Emissions Trading System (ETS) for buildings and transport.

The research results, based on qualitative interviews and frequency counting of selected key terms relating to social considerations, indicate that the EU’s Fit for 55 package could drive a socially just transformation towards a climate neutral economy. However, there are two key areas where further progress is urgently needed: the development of clear definitions for crucial terms and explicit reference to the most severely affected social groups.

Our qualitative analysis illustrates the complexity of decision-making at the EU level, the effect of geopolitical factors on the capacity of MEPs to take decisive and ambitious action, and the influence of interest groups and industrial lobbies on how social issues are included in the Parliament's agreed position. The report also shows how certain issues that were discussed extensively during the Parliamentary process were ultimately left out of the Parliament's agreed position to ensure greater unity and a stronger negotiating position in the trilogues.

Key takeaways

The policy study highlights certain challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for policymakers concerning delivering a socially just Fit for 55 package:

  • While the inclusion of a clear definition for ‘energy poverty’ in the EED was welcome, the need to develop equally clear and unified definitions for numerous other social considerations is evident. The lack of a coherent and shared understanding of the social aspects of climate policies can jeopardise the effective implementation of the Fit for 55 package, leaving room for dissimilar interpretation of key terms and understanding of vulnerabilities.
  • In the context of the energy and cost-of-living crises, the need to reduce dependency on fossil fuel imports has made the benefits of accelerated deployment of renewable energy and enhanced efficiency more visible. However, it is important to ensure that large-scale renewable energy projects bring benefits, rather than disadvantages, to the communities where they are located.
  • There is a pressing need to ensure that the benefits from interventions such as subsidies to improve energy efficiency and to increase renewable energy deployment will accrue to households who need them most.

Social issues have increased in prominence during the parliamentary negotiations of the selected Fit for 55 package files, largely due to changing economic and geopolitical circumstances as well as the growing impacts of the climate crisis. The EU’s Fit for 55 package has the potential to drive a socially just transformation towards a climate-neutral economy. However, it is critical to strengthen solidarity among Member states and embed social considerations into the key climate policy files to deliver on this potential.

Ursula Woodburn, Head of EU relations, CISL said: "The Fit for 55 package is a ground-breaking and essential package of legislation, which aims to set the EU on the path towards climate neutrality and which will transform its economy.  This entails huge opportunities but also disruptions. And since the adoption of the Fit for 55 package in 2021 the landscape has dramatically changed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the linked energy and cost-of-living crises, compounded by inflation.  

It is now more important than ever to facilitate an economic transformation that is just and fair, improving the health, wellbeing and prosperity of all EU residents. For the policies to be effective, and for communities and people to be brought along, this means taking into account the effects that climate policies will have on households, communities, and society as a whole. This report offers some important insight into the European Parliament's decision-making on the inclusion of social aspects, and recommendations into ways forward."

László Andor, Secretary General, FEPS, & Former Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion said: “We need to strive to do better when it comes to integrating social considerations into climate-policy. Climate policy will only be up to the challenges we face in the context of protracted-war and cost-of-living crisis if it enables a socially just transition. This means looking deeper into the legislative process, and understanding the web of implications the Fit for 55 package has for citizens, notably regarding jobs, transport poverty, and energy poverty, to name just a few.

This newly launched policy study opens up the black-box of the European Parliament so we can all understand the progress that has been achieved, and what remains to be done to achieve a fair transformation of our societies.”

Citing this report

Markkanen, S., Zálnoky, K., Giannelli, F., (2022). The Path Towards a Socially Just Fit for 55 Package. Policy Study. Brussels: Foundation for European Progressive Studies, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

Published: March 2023

Authors and acknowledgements


Sanna Markkanen, Krisztina Zálnoky, Francesco Giannelli.


The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of workshop attendees and interviewees, including Ciarán Cuffe, Jutta Paulus, Lynn Rietdorf, Nicolás González Casares, Marc Angel and Mohammed Chahim. We also wish to acknowledge the helpful comments of Ursula Woodburn and Goksen Sahin from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Dr. Andreas Dimmelmeier and Kevin Le Merle from the Foundation for European Progressive Studies.


Copyright © 2023 by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.


lmer, Head of Media

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