Myth : It's up to the urban population to sort out climate change

Europe will not be able to reach its commitments to alleviating climate change without the full participation and involvement of rural communities. Not only does the rural population need to be able to make the right energy choices, but most of the renewable options, from wind farms, to solar, to micro-CHP, will require the willing participation of rural communities

About Free

Over 50% of European citizens live in rural areas. They occupy over 90% of Europe’s territory and contribute 43% of Europe’s gross value. And yet, despite their importance, rural communities are rarely considered by politicians and regulators when writing energy policy.

People living in the more remote parts of Europe rarely have access to the natural gas grid and the electricity supply can be unreliable and hugely inefficient. As a consequence they often have to rely on relatively high carbon solid and liquid fuels which are being used with aging technologies.

The Future of Rural Energy in Europe (FREE) initiative gives a voice to all those who believe that rural energy needs are important issues both for those who live in the countryside and for European society as a whole. We want to make sure that policy makers acknowledge that the following is true and plan accordingly.

Rural communities in Europe are important.

A large proportion of Europe’s population lives in rural communities. They provide a significant proportion of employment and a major contribution to the economy. The welfare of rural communities is a central government priority, particularly the creation of new jobs, new rural industry and the continued reverse of the trend towards urbanisation. Farmers and agriculture in general  also remain extremely important culturally, politically and economically. European rural communities are too important to be ignored on energy (and any other) issue.

Rural communities are disadvantaged when it comes to energy choice and energy policy.

Rural communities are at best ignored and at worst exploited, treated as either food factories or power stations. Rural communities have different energy needs and have a reduced and more costly choice than their urban equivalents. Rural individuals have a larger carbon footprint than urbanites and need greater access to cleaner energy choices. Energy legislation expects rural communities to do the heavy lifting as we move to cleaner, more efficient energy without considering their own needs for cleaner energy, better air quality, and greater, less expensive choice.

Engaging and supporting rural communities is essential if government energy and climate change policies are to be realized.

Europe is committed to reducing C02, moving to a lower carbon economy, securing energy supply, and both securing and improving the future of rural economies. These policies require regulation which meets the needs of rural communities and encourages them to champion energy efficiency at a domestic and commercial level. Current regulation needs to be reviewed and, if necessary, improved to achieve this.

The coming Second Energy Efficiency Action Plan outlining the next steps for saving energy in Europe will define the way forward for more energy-efficiency. The EU and its Member States have to introduce effective targets to ensure that energy savings will become reality.

A good example how European legislation can increase energy efficiency is the new version of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. The Directive is a first step in the right direction to support energy efficiency in rural buildings: houses, businesses and farms. Now the implementation by the Member States has to make this a success by supporting energy efficiency through standards and incentives to support rural communities in upgrading their buildings.

The FREE initiative is launched and funded by SHV Energy, an independent family-owned Dutch company and the largest distributer of LPG in the world. In Europe, SHV Gas fuels the homes, businesses and cars of tens of millions of customers, most of which live in rural, off-mains communities.

LPG is a naturally occurring product of the natural gas extraction and oil refining processes. It is a low carbon, low polluting fuel and can make a significant contribution to improving indoor and outdoor air quality as well as reduced carbon emissions.

FREE is supported by a wide variety of groups which are committed to improving the lot and realizing the potential of rural communities through greater energy choice.

More information about FREE Supporters and FREE Network can be found here