13 Jun 2024, 13:30
Ferdinando Cotugno

G7 summit chance for Meloni to make international climate push

Photo shows Italy's prime minister Giorgia Meloni in front of G7 Italia 2024 logo. Photo: G7 Italia 2024.
The Italy summit could help prime minister Giorgia Meloni boost her leadership credibility if she strengthens the G7 climate agenda, says researcher Bergamaschi. Photo: G7 Italia 2024.

This year's G7 leaders' summit in Italy, to be held in a secluded luxury resort in the Puglia region on 13-15 June, has been largely sidelined in the country's public discourse as the focus is firmly on the campaign for the EU elections taking place a week earlier. Still, for prime minister Giorgia Meloni, Italy's main international event of 2024 could provide the perfect backdrop to boost her leadership credibility by strengthening the G7 climate agenda, says policy analyst Luca Bergamaschi. Climate, for now, appears to have dropped down the list of priorities as geopolitics push issues such as the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza to the forefront. The results of G7 ministerial meetings have been mixed on climate so far, with the headline achievement being an agreed coal power phase-out by the mid-2030s. [Update adds summit programme]

Italy is set to host leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) major democratic economies in a secluded luxury resort in the southeastern Puglia region from 13-15 June. The summit is losing its fight for attention against the EU elections happening only days before, but researchers say it presents prime minister Giorgia Meloni with an opportunity to show leadership on climate.

The official agenda of the summit is largely shaped by geopolitics and technological developments. Conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, China's growing rivalry with the United States, and artificial intelligence are likely to dominate discussions. Climate is not at the top of the agenda, but instead part of several sessions among leaders. Even Pope Francis, who is usually very vocal on this issue, has been invited to attend a session on AI.

Luca Bergamaschi, founder of the climate and energy think tank Ecco, says Meloni may still push for a more-ambitious-than-expected final G7 statement on climate. "She has invested a lot into international politics to enhance her leadership credibility," he told Clean Energy Wire. "At COP28 she brought unexpected financial commitments that were seen and appreciated. In Dubai she realised that a climate agenda is a must-have on the international stage and that being ambitious on climate brings her clout, something she craves," says the researcher. 

"I expect her to strengthen the G7 climate agenda, to consolidate and reinvigorate the results of the ministerial meetings, maybe even correcting their shortcomings."

The secluded location of the summit means most accredited journalists will come no closer than 70 kilometres from the leaders' meetings. The media centre will be at the Fiera del Levante convention centre in Bari, the region's main city. The summit itself will take place in Borgo Egnazia, a 90-minute drive from there. For Italy's most important international event of the year,  Meloni personally chose this resort built from scratch between 2005 and 2010 in the Itria Valley, between the countryside of Puglia and the Adriatic Sea. It is a celebrity hotspot (Madonna and Justin Timberlake are among A-list celebrities to have visited). Silvio Berlusconi's family, as well as Meloni's, also chose it for their vacations.

Climate decisions from G7 ministerial meetings in the run-up to the summit have been mixed. The topic played only a small role at the Stresa finance minister meeting (24-25 May). The most important outcome of the environment ministers' meeting in Turin (28-30 April) was an agreed phase-out of coal power by the mid-2030s.

"A valuable G7 outcome would be confirmation of the G7 countries' commitment to submit NDCs [national climate plans] between 9 and 12 months before COP30," says Bergamaschi. "It would be crucial for Meloni to lead the G7 countries to be the first movers, especially at a time of great uncertainty in the European Union about how the parliament will be composed after the elections and what choices the new Commission will make on the new European NDC."

A high-profile event out of the spotlight

Argentina's president Javier Milei, with whom Meloni has established a fairly close relationship; Brazil's Lula da Silva, the Emirates' Mohamed bin Zayed, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Pope Francis are among the international guests expected to join the G7 circle. Several African leaders, with whom the Italian government has recently been trying to build a better relationship, based on development cooperation and energy partnerships, are also likely to appear.

With the summit less than a week away, the public’s attention has mainly been focused on the EU elections just a few days earlier. Most parties in Italy see these elections as something like «midterm national elections», a political poll to gauge Meloni's popularity almost two years into her tenure, as well as the chance of an opposition's revival. The public conversation is much more «Do we still like Giorgia?» than «What kind of European Union do we want?». The polls of her party, Fratelli d'Italia, are on a downward trend, and Meloni has chosen to make the electoral campaign all about her: she is the only European prime minister personally running for the European parliament (a seat she is expected to discard and leave to someone else in her party).

On 25 May, Meloni shared a video on social media in which she recounts the successes of her presidency as part of a series called Giorgia's Notes. Meloni goes into detail about the government’s agenda and policies, but there is not a single mention of the G7 in Puglia or the results of this year's G7 ministerial meetings.

It is an especially politically tense moment for Italy and a small episode that went viral on social media provides the perfect entry point to understand where Italian politics is right now: Meloni met with Campania president Vincenzo De Luca, who belongs to Meloni's rival, the Democratic Party. When De Luca welcomed Meloni in the small town of Caivano for an official event, Meloni simply said:  «I am what you once called a bitch, how are you?». (De Luca had used the insult against Meloni a few months ago).

Mattei Plan is new dress for old projects, but Italy could use summit for credibility with Africa

Africa has been the main focus of Italy's international policy under Meloni so far. Strengthening this cooperation is one of the goals of her G7 presidency.

The Italian government's main tool for dialogue with Africa is the so-called Mattei Plan, which encapsulates the Italian strategy and policies for Africa's development. In recent months, starting with a summit alongside African countries in Rome in January, the Mattei Plan has taken shape, showing its potential and weaknesses. There are five fields for action: education, health, agriculture, water and energy.

"The Mattei Plan is just the rebranding of cooperation funds and projects that already existed, over which the government wants to have more control and coordination," says Andrea Spinelli, co-founder of Slow News and one of the most experienced journalists on Italy-Africa relations. Funds under the plan are not new or additional, he says, with 5.5 billion euros - including 3 billion from the Italian climate fund and 2.5 billion from the cooperation fund – included in the plan.

The first countries in which pilot projects under the Mattei Plan are being launched are Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. The first Mattei Plan operations include a contribution of 75 million euros to finance Eni's biofuels supply chain in Kenya.

"The Mattei Plan is very much linked to the activities of Eni, which is a major player in Africa, and its gas extraction development projects," Spinelli told Clean Energy Wire. "It is one of the reasons why African governments are still very sceptical about this plan. They feel it serves Italy's interests much more than theirs."

Ecco's Bergamaschi insists the G7 summit can be the stage from which Italy revives its role as a useful interface for African countries with the global north. "To be credible with African countries, Italy needs to be ambitious on climate, particularly on financial commitments, which have been ignored by G7 ministers so far," he says. "If Meloni wants to choose this path, the G7 meeting in June is the ideal place to do it."

Italy's own energy policies: mixed feelings on renewables energies, bad on sustainable mobility

"It's complicated."

That is how Gianni Silvestrini, scientific director of Kyoto Club, an Italian NGO which makes advocacy for energy efficiency and renewables, defines Italy's own energy transition in the year of its G7 presidency. "Growth of renewables is steadier than ever but still not fast enough - we are just catching up with the past decade," he says. "The weak point is electric mobility. Italy is one of the slowest countries in the European Union for EV growth."

In 2023, 5.7 GW of renewables were installed, of which 5.2 GW were PV. This is remarkable progress. In 2021 it was 1.3 GW, and in 2022 the figure was 3 GW. The trend is promising but, according to a report by Politecnico di Milano, it still won't be enough to meet the 2030 decarbonization targets because utility scale installations are missing from the picture. "In addition to that, the new law against solar panels on farmland will cause renewables to lose this momentum," Silvestrini says.

This new agriculture law is so restrictive on solar installation on farmland that, according to the Alliance for Photovoltaics in Italy, it will stop 80 percent of already planned projects. The government's law was designed to protect agricultural production against the use of the same lands for renewable energy. PV companies claim that solar panels need to be installed on 80,000 hectares out of a total 16.5 million hectares of farmland - just 0.5 percent - in order to reach the 2030 goals.

While renewable energy expansion is picking up, electric vehicle development is stuck. In the first quarter of 2024, the share of EV sales in Italy was 3.3 percent, one of Europe's slowest EV markets. Some majority parties, such as Matteo Salvini's Lega, have made opposing electric cars an electoral campaign talking point. Salvini is currently minister of infrastructures, so he is also the person in charge of sustainable mobility development.

The government has just launched a new consumer subsidies plan for low-emission cars. The scheme starts on 3 June. It is a 1-billion-euro programme, and encourages the purchase of efficient gasoline, plug-in, hybrid and electric cars. "The problem with this scheme is that it is too little, too late, and it is not even targeted at electric cars, but still includes conventional ones, so it risks not being effective where it would be most needed," says Silvestrini.

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.
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