Italy has a tough job in the face of climate change
OF ALL appointments to the cabinet of Mario Draghi, probably the least expected was that of Roberto Cingolani, his minister of ecological transition. Physicist and former scientific director of the Italian Institute of Technology, Mr Cingolani entered government after taking a leadership role in the defense industry, a strange journey for an eco-warrior.
Mr Cingolani retorts that he has taught courses on sustainability but, anyway, his new dossier touches on so many different aspects of science that no one could be an expert in all of them. His ministry’s mandate is certainly broad: he is responsible for overseeing the allocation and spending of most of the 235 billion euros ($ 285 billion) Mr. Draghi plans to spend on post-pandemic recovery. , mainly comprising grants and loans from the EU, but with a significant supplement from Italy’s own resources. The Ministry of Ecological Transition is responsible for managing some 70 billion euros, or nearly 30% of it. And since Italy will get more than any other EU country of the European Commission, it should be able to play a decisive role in helping the EU achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 55% below 1990 levels by 2030.
So how do these eco-transition projects come to fruition? The committee will take at least a month to decide. But the verdict of the environmentalists has fallen and it is damning. Green Recovery Tracker, a project launched by two Germans NGOs evaluate EU members’ plans, estimates that just 16% of the overall amount Italy expects from the commission will help slow climate change – the smallest share of all major beneficiaries (although at least, unlike France and Germany, Italy does not offer plans that Germany NGOI think that will make matters worse).
On June 4, a group of more than 200 Italian individuals and associations, including some particularly moderate such as the Italian Meteorological Society, announced legal action against the government, claiming it was failing in its duty to future generations. Further pressure could come from the government coalition, the ecologically conscious Five Star Movement, now that it has settled an internal dispute that had prevented a former prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, from assuming the leadership of the party.
Mr. Draghi’s ministers had only 11 weeks to revise the previous government’s stimulus package. Mr Cingolani says his strategy has been to use the new plan to reap “the handy fruit of decarbonization”. By far the most important element of its program is the extension of a “superbonus” introduced by the previous government which allows 110% of the cost of home energy efficiency improvements to be charged to taxes. Letting the program run until the end of 2022 for private households and until mid-2023 for social housing associations will cost nearly 14 billion euros, or nearly a fifth of Italy’s allocation. to green projects.
Mr Cingolani says he would have personally favored less generous tax relief. But, he adds, “Italy has a lot of old buildings, so it makes sense to [augment the] energy efficiency of homes. In an April 30 statement, a group of major Italian environmental organizations denounced that the government’s proposals would do nothing to make factories more energy efficient. In 2018, homes and offices accounted for nearly a fifth of Italy’s greenhouse gas emissions, but industry accounted for more.
On the supply side, Mr. Cingolani says his approach is to “electrify anything that can be electrified.” Much of this is beyond its remit. Other ministers will, for example, oversee planned spending of € 13.2 billion for new high-speed rail links. But Mr Cingolani is largely responsible for changing driving habits in a country with proportionately more cars than anywhere else in the EU bar Luxembourg (663 per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to 574 in Germany and 482 in France). In Italy, only one in ten trips is made by public transport. Mr Cingolani wants to spend more than € 7 billion on new, cleaner public transport systems and to retire old diesel buses and trains. But he was accused of having spent barely a tenth of this sum to create a network of charging stations for electric cars. “It will take more, he concedes. “But we have to grow supply and demand together.”
If Italy is to reach its 2030 target, then it will need to have around 70 gigawatts of renewable electricity production capacity. It involves adding 8GW one year. The current rate is a tenth of that. Mr Draghi’s government has introduced legislation to simplify the bureaucracy that has trapped previous energy projects. But in doing so, he raised other concerns.
The first is that the simplification will remove the controls necessary to prevent corruption and mafia infiltration. Another is that, without careful consideration, projects could be approved that would scare the stunning Italian landscape, punching its horizons with wind farms and smothering its valleys with solar panels. Mr. Cingolani says he is determined to move what he can abroad. But he adds, “There is no free lunch. We have to find compromises. You can’t say “no” to everything. ■
For more information on climate change, sign up for The Climate Issue, our bimonthly newsletter, or visit our climate change hub
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “How Green Is My Draghi?”