The heatwaves currently experienced in Europe should be a wake-up call to stop ignoring summer domestic energy poverty, writes Yamina Saheb.

Dr Yamina Saheb is senior energy policy analyst at OpenExp, a Paris-based global network of independent experts working on solutions for sustainable development.

Domestic energy poverty, and its implications on health and well-being of the occupants, has historically been considered in Europe a winter issue.

However, excessive temperatures reached in summer, especially during heatwaves like those we are currently experiencing, are also harmful to peoples’ health, and can lead to the death of the most vulnerable ones. During the record-breaking heatwave in 2003, one should not forget that excess deaths were above 30,000 in Europe due to hot temperatures in buildings including in hospitals and care facilities.

The lack of interest in overheated dwellings and their impact on human health could be explained by the scarcity of data to support clear policy action. Since 2005 Eurostat provides on a yearly basis, the percentage of the population who is not able to keep their homes adequately warm in winter. Winter statistics and political actions to protect the more vulnerable citizens are becoming a standard in the policy realm of most European governments.

Unfortunately, we have little information regarding the percentage of the population living in homes who are not comfortably cooled in summer or who lack the means to keep their inhabitant healthy in high summer heat. In fact, summer information is provided only for 2012 in Eurostat (see map below).

The way statistics related to summer domestic energy poverty are considered seems highly problematic. Measurements of winter domestic energy poverty are considered among the main indicators to monitor domestic energy poverty in the EU Energy Poverty Observatory (EPOV). While measurements of summer domestic energy poverty are considered as secondary indicators in EPOV. This hierarchisation of domestic energy poverty indicators participates in undermining potential actions on summer domestic energy poverty in policy making. Similarly, excess mortality data are available only for winter time in the EU Building Stock Observatory, and very few Member States gather data on excess summer deaths.

Policy makers, especially in Southern and South-Eastern European countries, should be worried about the ever-growing evidence regarding the impact of global warming on increasing the frequency of extreme heat-related events and their effects on health and well-being of vulnerable citizens. In some countries, the shares of the population facing summer related domestic energy poverty are already extremely high and alarming (see map below).

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