Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed a crowd of 25,000 people gathered in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo for the ‘Fridays for Future’ march today.
It was her last stop on the Italian leg of her European tour. Thunberg, the face of the worldwide ‘School strike for climate’ movement, arrived in Rome by train on Wednesday to meet the pope and deliver a speech at the Italian senate.
In her address, which was applauded by senate speaker Elisabetta Casellati and others, Thunberg said that young people don’t take the streets “to take selfies, but because we want you to act,” in a jab at political figures who, she said, praise young climate activists yet take no action.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Pope Francis also encouraged 16-year-old Thunberg, who has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and listed among Time’s ‘Most Influential People of 2019’, to “carry on” with her fight.
But the Italian media had mixed reactions to the activist's arrival. Libero, a right-wing newspaper infamous for its shocking headlines, headlined its front page ‘La rompiballe va dal Papa’ (“The pain in the ass goes to the Pope”) and called the teenager an “eco-Taliban” terrorist, attacking her and her family.
This is not the first time that the Italian press, politicians or personalities have attacked Thunberg. Maria Giovanna Maglie, a TV journalist, ‘jokingly’ said that “she would have run [Thunberg] over with her car”, while Rita Pavone, a famous 1960s singer, called the climate activist “weird” and said she looked like a “horror-film character”.
Daniela Santanchè, a senator for the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, said that a mass climate strike on March 15th – joined by 1.6 million people across 2,000 cities – was “a farce” and “an excuse to skip school”. Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister and deputy prime minister, attacked protesters for criticizing his League party and creating chaos in the streets.
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
The Italian government’s record towards climate change is not exactly stellar. In 2016, Salvini – at the time a member of the European Parliament – voted against the ratification of the Paris Agreement.
Since its formation in May 2018, Italy's coalition government between the League and the Five Star Movement (M5S) has put the environment at the centre of its agenda on paper, but in reality little has been done.
The Integrated National Plan for Energy and Climate or PNIEC, which set outs Italy's official climate strategy from 2020 to 2030, is one of the most blatant examples of the government’s ineffectiveness in tackling climate change.
According to an analysis by Greenpeace Italy, the PNIEC ignores renewables and leaves Italy relying heavily on natural gas. It fails to set targets for reining in carbon emissions and does not outline a plan for the decades to 2050 – the year when the Paris accord state that Italy, along with the rest of Europe, is supposed to be carbon neutral.
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On a regional level too, Italy continues to approve policies that seem to go against the government's supposed commitment to the environment. Liguria, for instance, recently approved a law cutting 540 acres from natural parks, sparking outrage from green associations including Fridays for Future and WWF.
And Italy’s failure to effectively fight climate change has already proven disastrous.
Liguria was one of the regions worst hit by tornadoes and storms that swept Italy last year. Floods in Sicily and droughts in central and southern parts of the country are just a few more examples of the extreme weather incidents that have ravaged the country in recent years.
Floods in Sicily in November 2018, which killed at least nine people. Photo: Alessandro Fucarini/AFP
Air pollution is a serious problem in areas including the Po Valley and Taranto, where the air is so polluted by a steel plant that cancer rates are 30 per cent higher than the national average. Meanwhile almost half of the hundreds of water samples taken from Italy's coastline were found to be polluted last year, and researchers say the problem is getting worse.
If Italy wants to avoid an environmental catastrophe, its government should look up to climate change activists like Thunberg, instead of deriding them, and heed their warning as an opportunity to change its policies.
Ilaria Grasso Macola is a journalist and student who lives between Milan and London. Find her on Twitter @Ilaria_GM.