31 May 2024, 14:00
|
Italy

CLEW Guide – Italy moves on green transition, but fossil ties remain tight

Italy has taken significant steps in its green transition over the past decade, but the current government under prime minister Giorgia Meloni is also focused on making the country a "gas hub" in the Mediterranean Sea, demonstrating its ongoing deep ties to fossil fuels. The year 2024 has started with the Italy-Africa Summit and the country's G7 presidency, both focusing on energy cooperation and addressing immigration issues through the so-called "Mattei Plan". Researchers and NGOs have criticised the country's new draft energy and climate plan (NECP) for being vague about key topics such as phasing out oil, coal and gas, and expanding alternative energy sources like wind or solar power – issues that make meeting the EU's climate and renewables targets all the harder. This regularly-updated factsheet provides an overview of how far Italy has come in its move to climate neutrality. [UPDATE: Greenhouse gas emissions have decreased 21 percent since 1990.]
Photo shows aerial view of Italy on the border of Lazio and Umbria, with lake, river Tiber and fields, and mountains in the background. Photo: CLEW/Wettengel.
The border region of Lazio and Umbria in Italy. Photo: CLEW/Wettengel.

With its “CLEW Guide” series, the Clean Energy Wire newsroom and contributors from across Europe are providing journalists with a bird's-eye view of the climate-friendly transition from key countries and the bloc as a whole. You can also sign up to the weekly newsletter here to receive our "Dispatch from..." – weekly updates from Germany, France, Italy, Croatia, Poland and the EU on the need-to-know about the continent’s move to climate neutrality.

 

Content:

  1. Key background
  2. Major transition stories
  3. Sector overview

Key background

  • Italy is the second largest manufacturer in Europe. Besides agricultural goods production, it ranks 2nd in Europe in the number of enterprises in the microelectronics industry, a key sector for the technological and ecological transformation. It also has a large car industry sector.
  • Italy is becoming a strategic gateway to North Africa and the Middle East, especially after the changes in Europe’s energy supply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Algeria now is Italy’s main gas supplier, followed by Azerbaijan, and northern European countries the Netherlands and Norway.
  • Most of the country’s fossil energy is imported (78 percent in 2021).
  • Greenhouse gas emissions have decreased 21 percent since 1990. Italy aims to become climate neutral by 2050. The country has remained consistently within its allocated emission allowances in the EU effort-sharing scheme and estimates that its planned measures will result in it slightly exceeding the 2030 target.

  • Due to the heightened concern about climate change, the European Green Deal and the national energy transition plans should have solid public backing. However, people have a strong distrust of politics, the institutions and the media.
  • Analysts say that since the energy crisis 2022, the entire political spectrum in Italy sees renewables expansion as a no-regret measure. At the same time, the three-party government coalition set up in 2022 of Fratelli d’Italia, Lega and Forza Italia is focussing on becoming a “gas hub” in the Mediterranean Sea in order to secure energy supplies and diversify sources. Experts say this could delay efforts to decarbonise the energy system and put climate targets at risk.
  • The debate on nuclear energy has flared up again in Italy, driven by the current government coalition, which sees nuclear as an energy source that can accelerate decarbonisation. The country closed its last nuclear power plant in the 1980s. Environment and energy security minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin reaffirmed the interest in exploring new nuclear energy sources as a complementary component of the energy mix, providing the necessary continuity that renewables alone may not deliver. He announced the ministry's endorsement of the European Industrial Alliance for SMRs, small modular reactors.
  • Europa Verde, (Green Europe) a political party with a focus on climate-friendly transformation, had no representation in Italy’s parliament for 14 years. In the 2022 election, it re-entered, but won only a couple of seats.
  • The country’s steps toward climate neutrality laid out in the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) remain vague, according to think tank analysts and climate activists. Italy has submitted a draft update of the plan to the EU.
  • By summer 2023, Italy emerged from both the pandemic and the energy crisis relatively unscathed. As in the rest of Europe, mild temperatures, savings, energy efficiency and the quest for alternative energy sources– especially from North Africa - have prevented shortages, and the state supported businesses and citizens grappling with rising prices and high energy bills.
  • The energy crisis and the widespread droughts in recent years had caused a contraction of the share of renewables in electricity production, mainly due to the sharp drop in hydroelectricity generation. However, hydroelectric production has returned to historical levels thanks to an increase in precipitation which, in 2023, exceeded the historical average, following over 16 months of severe drought (2021-2022).
Graph shows Italy's greenhouse gas emissions by sector from 1990-2021. Graph: CLEW/Narawad.
Graph: CLEW/Narawad.

Major transition stories

  • Mattei plan – Italy's government has presented a plan focused on energy and migration cooperation with Africa, the so-called “Mattei plan” (Piano Mattei), named after the founder of Italian energy group Eni, Enrico Mattei. The plan is part of the efforts to turn Italy into a major energy hub, distributing gas from North Africa and the Mediterranean to the rest of Europe. The official launch of the plan occurred on 28 – 29 January during the Italy-Africa Summit. It encompasses five main policy pillars: education and training; agriculture; health; water; and energy. Italy said it would set aside 5.5 billion euros, including 3 billion euros from the climate fund established in 2021 to support international environmental projects. Observers criticise that the plan has been "crafted to advance the traditional goal of access to fossil fuels”.
  • Climate protests – Following the large success of youth protests in 2018, more and more activists are trying to enter politics in city councils and other institutions. Before the 2023 elections, Fridays for Future Italy proposed to political parties a Climate Agenda – a plan to address the transition in energy, mobility and certain other fields. Road blocking crime has been included in the 'Security package,' aimed at targeting climate activists. Now, there is a risk of up to two years of imprisonment for those who block a road in an organized manner. The new regulation by the government appears explicitly designed to punish and discourage roadblocks by climate activists.
  • Just transition – In Italy, there is a fierce debate about how not to leave anyone behind in the transition to climate neutrality. Certain political leaders, among them the former minister for ecological transition Roberto Cingolani, said they preferred a slower transformation to a "bloodbath" for some people. Buying an electric car, renovating buildings in order to make them more climate friendly, or dealing with higher fuel costs affects everyone, but low-income households as well as workers in the traditional industrial sectors might need support to cope with the changes.
  • Climate neutral products and companies – Numerous companies are trying to convert to innovative and climate-friendly production. However, they have costs, bureaucracy, and a shortage of skilled workers to deal with. In Florence, - as an example - workers at the GKN auto parts plant staged a long factory occupation to demand a new industrial model, which combines workers’ rights and new skills that are useful in a just transition.
  • Lawsuits against fossil fuels –Greenpeace Italy, ReCommon and 12 Italian citizens are suing ENI, the economy and finance ministry, and the Italian development bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, as shareholders for damage – past, present and future – caused by climate change “to which society has significantly contributed by its conduct over the past decades, while being aware of it”. The NGOs have declined ENI's mediation request concerning a possible defamation lawsuit which the company aims to bring against Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon. A second climate lawsuit, against the Italian State, was dismissed in March 2024 when the judge said there was no legal ground for an NGO (A Sud) to ask the State to cut emissions.
  • Climate foreign policy – Under the former government led by Mario Draghi, Italy positioned itself as a credible partner in international climate talks, despite shortcomings at home. It hosted the 2021 G20 summit in Rome, with one focus on climate. Now it plays a more marginal role, often criticising the European measures. Its focus has shifted to securing gas deliveries from Algeria, Egypt and other countries in North Africa. It remains to be seen how this will affect the Italian G7 presidency in 2024, or its positioning during the UN climate change conference COP28.
  • Adaptation –Italy’s first climate adaptation strategy was published in 2018, but it was officially adopted only at the end of 2023, after a long process of approval and review that showed how climate adaptation is undervalued in the country. The final text was widely criticized by the scientific community, which said it lacked a clear list of priorities, as well as enough funding to be implemented.
  • Carbon removal – Forests and wet peatland are among the natural carbon sinks that exist today. The National Recovery and Resilience Plan foresaw the planting of six million trees. However, several cities, such as Milan or Rome, have failed to implement a strategy to achieve this goal. Regarding technological carbon removal and storage solutions, Italy is slowly making efforts. It carries out tests and publishes studies: Eni, whose shareholders include the government, has a project to store CO2 in depleted gas fields off Ravenna with the aim of decarbonising the country's industrial areas.
  • Raw materials and recycling – The energy crisis fuelled by Russia’s war against Ukraine and the need for fossil-free energy have pushed the dependence on imports of key raw materials back to the top of the debate in Italy and Europe. The government is working on a circular economy strategy and a China strategy. The EU is working on a raw materials act. Italy ranks first among the top 5 EU economies in terms of waste recycling – both urban and special - with 83.2 percent (2020), above the EU27 average (39.2 percent). In 2023, an estimated 11 million tonnes of packaging will be sent for recycling.
  • Seabed drilling – In Italy, seabed drilling is a controversial issue. The seabed stocks more than 90 billion cubic metres of methane and the extraction reportedly costs 5 cents per cubic metre, while importing it would cost 50-70 cents. The public, especially fishermen and farmers, are concerned about the drilling’s impact on the seascape and the associated emissions.
  • Subsidies on renewables. After the approval by the European Commission of incentive systems for agrivoltaics and renewable energy communities (RECs), it is estimated that approximately 7.4 billion euros will be unlocked, with a potential new installed energy capacity of over 6 GW.
  • Eni, the state-controlled oil and gas company, has unveiled its 2024-2027 investment plan. Oil and gas production will increase: 39% of capital expenditure will go to gas, 21% to oil. Eni plans to get to 8GW of renewable energy in 2027 (from 3GW of 2023). According to the energy and climate think tank Ecco: "The company's decarbonization presents a long-term target-zero net emissions by 2050 that rests too heavily on expensive technologies with uncertain applicability, such as CO2 capture and storage and biofuels, and does not demonstrate a willingness to change the current asset portfolio, which is heavily tied to the upstream sector."

Sector overview

Graph shows Italy's energy consumption by source 1990-2022. Graph: CLEW/Narawad.
Graph: CLEW/Narawad.

Energy

Industry

Buildings

Mobility

Agriculture

Land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF)

  • Taken together, forests, peatland, meadows and other land in Italy are net carbon sinks (-27.5 million tonnes CO2 equivalent in 2021).
  • Climate law projections: minus 36 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030, minus 37 million tonnes by 2040.
  • In 2023:  forest area has increased by 23 percent since 1990, wetlands by 2 percent, with positive consequences on the emission trends and carbon storage. However, human settlements have also increased 42 percent.
  • Environment agency (ISPRA) says the upward trend in emissions is worrying and it is very important to stick with the Paris Agreement target; recent years have seen an increase in net carbon storage in forests.
  • 2030 target: minus 35,8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Find an interviewee

Find an interviewee from Italy in the CLEW expert database. The list includes researchers, politicians, government agencies, NGOs and businesses with expertise in various areas of the transition to climate neutrality from across Europe.

Get in touch

As a Berlin-based energy and climate news service, we at CLEW have an almost ten-year track record of supporting high-quality journalism on Germany’s energy transition and Europe’s move to climate neutrality. For support on your next story, get in touch with our team of journalists.

Tips and tricks

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.

Ask CLEW

Researching a story? Drop CLEW a line or give us a call for background material and contacts.

Get support

+49 30 62858 497

Journalism for the energy transition

Get our Newsletter
Join our Network
Find an interviewee