‘Peace or air conditioning?’ Italy vows to follow EU on Russian gas embargo

As the EU weighs new sanctions on Russia following atrocities in Ukraine, Italy's government said it will support measures including a possible gas embargo.

'Peace or air conditioning?' Italy vows to follow EU on Russian gas embargo
Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Italy will “go with the EU” on proposals for further sanctions against Russia. Photo by Aris Oikonomou / AFP.

Italy will “follow the decisions of the European Union” on new sanctions against Russia, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said at a press conference on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Italy announces plan to end reliance on Russian gas by 2025

“Today the gas embargo is not yet… on the table,” Draghi told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

“It is not a possibility being discussed at the moment, but the situation is constantly evolving.”

“If we are offered a gas embargo, we will follow the EU down this path, we want the most effective instrument to achieve peace,” he said.

Italy is highly dependent on Russian gas, importing 95 percent of the gas it consumes, of which around 40 percent comes from Russia.

The growing number of “massacres” in Ukraine “is prompting us to adopt even tougher sanctions,” he said. “All the allied countries are wondering what can be done to stop Russia… We are following what the European Union decides.”

Draghi said “I believe the question is between peace and having working radiators, or air conditioning in summer. I think this is the question we must ask ourselves.”

He pledged that “if gas supplies were to stop today, we would be covered until the end of October with our reserves, there would be no consequences”.

READ ALSO: Italy rejects Russian demand for gas payment in rubles

Draghi, a former ECB chief, also called for a ceiling on gas prices.

“I have been asking for some time to put a ceiling on the price of gas, that would be the most rational thing at the collective, European level.”

“The EU has extraordinary power in the market, it is in fact the only buyer,” he said.

This power “can be exercised through the establishment of a price that is remunerative but not extravagant like the one we have now.”

He said the EU would make a proposal on a price cap “in a few days, but we can also proceed with national measures.”

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Drought hits Italy’s hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis

Hydroelectric power production in Italy has plunged this year thanks to a severe drought that has also sparked water restrictions and fears for agriculture, industry sources said on Friday.

Drought hits Italy's hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis

Hydropower facilities, mostly located in the mountains in the country’s north, usually cover almost one fifth of Italy’s energy demands.

But the ongoing lack of rain is causing problems at a time when Rome is desperately trying to wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Italy’s heatwave to last another week and get even hotter, say forecasts

“From January to May 2022, hydro production fell by about 40 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2021,” a spokesman for Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, told AFP.

“Hydro production has been steadily decreasing since July 2021,” he said, blaming “the severe shortage of water even at high levels”.

An industry source told AFP that while the situation was constantly changing, estimates for the first six months of 2022 suggest nationwide hydroelectric generation will be almost half the equivalent period of 2021.

One small plant near Piacenza, southeast of Milan, was shut indefinitely on June 21st due to low levels on the River Po that feeds it, the Enel energy company said.

READ ALSO: How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

“Considering the current drought situation, other hydro plants are not operating at full capacity,” a spokesman added, without giving further details.

The Po River, which stretches across the north of the country, is Italy’s largest reservoir of fresh water. Much of it used by farmers, but the area is suffering its worst drought for 70 years.

Italy’s largest agricultural association, Coldiretti, said the drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the Po Valley at risk.

Local authorities say the situation in the area has been “extremely delicate” since last week, with four regions asking the national government to declare a state of emergency and hundreds of towns now rationing water.

In the northwest region of Piedmont, water is being rationed in more than 200 municipalities according to the ANSA news agency.

Drought in Italy: What water use restrictions are in place and where?

The Maggiore and Garda lakes are both far lower than usual for this time of year, while further south, the level of the Arno, Aniene and Tiber rivers have also dropped.

Arid conditions are set to worsen as the heatwave currently gripping Italy is expected to last until the end of June, with temperatures around the country of “up to 40°C in the shade” forecast early next week.

In Milan and Turin, a massive increase in electricity usage for cooling day and night has pushed the electricity grid beyond its limits over the past week, leading to blackouts.

With many parts of Europe experiencing unusually high temperatures for this time of year, experts have repeatedly warned that longer, earlier heatwaves are a consequence of global heating.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push temperatures towards 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, she added.