Deadly floods force Italy’s politicians to face climate crisis

Severe storms in central Italy that left ten dead on Friday have forced politicians to raise the topic of the climate crisis ahead of the elections, with the left-wing leader saying it must be ‘the first priority’.

Deadly floods force Italy's politicians to face climate crisis
Flash flooding killed at least ten people and caused significant damage overnight on Thursday in the Italian province of Ancona, Marche. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

At least ten people have died and four are missing after flash flooding hit Italy’s central Marche region overnight on Thursday, pushing the the climate crisis up the political agenda ahead of elections on September 25th.

Hard-right Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni, widely expected to become Italy’s next prime minister, sent her “full solidarity” to those affected by the flooding in Marche, where her party runs the local government.

UPDATE: Death toll rises to 10 in flash floods in central Italy

Enrico Letta, leader of the opposing centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said he was suspending campaigning, adding that he was left “stunned and speechless” by the tragedy.

“How can you think that the fight against climate change is not the first priority?” he said.

The EU’s economy commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, a former Italian premier, on Friday said: “Italy and Europe must take climate change seriously”.

Residents clear up and assess the damage after flash flooding in the Italian province of Ancona, Marche. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP.

But the subject has been largely absent from political debate ahead of the elections so far – despite polls finding more 80 percent of Italian voters think climate issues should be a top political priority.

A petition launched by Italian climate scientists in August urging politicians to focus on the environment in the coming election was signed by more than 120,000 people.

READ ALSO: Where do Italy’s main parties stand on environmental issues?

Parties have had little to say on the topic in debates and on social media, however, according to a recent study by Greenpeace, and many of the main parties’ election manifestos have failed to prioritise climate issues – though they all contain environment and energy-related pledges for the first time.

A detailed assessment by scientists of parties’ climate action pledges found manifestos from the PD, Europa Verde (Green Europe), and Sinistra Italiana (Italian Left) had given the issue the most attention, while the joint manifesto published by the right-wing coalition of Brothers of Italy, the League and Forza Italia, was found to be most lacking.

The storms on Thursday pushed the number of extreme weather events in Italy this summer up to 1,642 – five times the number recorded a decade ago – according to data published by farmers’ association Coldiretti.

“We are seeing the clear consequences of climate change, as exceptional weather events are now the norm in Italy,” Coldiretti stated.

This summer’s drought, the worst in 70 years, drained the Po River, Italy’s largest water reservoir, while exceptional heat fuelled forest fires and caused a spike in heat-related deaths

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: Italy records ‘five times’ more extreme weather events in ten years

The baking heat has in recent weeks been followed by storms, the water flooding land rendered hard as concrete.

In July, 11 people were killed when a section of Italy’s biggest Alpine glacier collapsed, in a disaster officials blamed on climate change.

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‘Winter is starting’: Italy braces for snow and storms as cold snap arrives

Northern Italy woke to freezing temperatures on Friday while Vesuvius was dusted with snow as long-delayed winter weather arrived in Italy.

‘Winter is starting’: Italy braces for snow and storms as cold snap arrives

A cold front arriving from northern Europe brought temperatures as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius in the eastern Alps in the early hours of Friday, while minus 14 was recorded in Garfagnana, and minus 5 in Milan, Turin and inland Sicily.

Snow also fell at higher altitudes in the south overnight, with local residents capturing images of Vesuvius covered in a dusting of snow.

“Winter is starting,” Claudio Cassardo, climatologist at the University of Turin, told newspaper La Repubblica on Friday.

“We will return to normal seasonal temperatures. However, we’re no longer used to the cold and snow”.

While the north in particular shivers in freezing temperatures and snow was forecast for many areas, including at lower altitudes, central and southern regions were warned to expect heavy rain and stormy conditions from Friday and into the weekend.

Italy’s Department for Civil Protection issued a lower-level alert for storms on Friday in parts of five southern Italian regions, including Basilicata and Calabria, and a medium-level amber alert for Campania, where the agency warned of a risk of hailstones and flash floods.

Showers, strong winds and thunderstorms are expected to spread further across the centre-south and to the Adriatic coast by Saturday, when temperatures are again forecast to drop below zero in inland parts of the centre and north.

Weather website Meteo3B predicted temperatures would drop to 0-1 C across much of the north overnight and in the early morning on Saturday.

Forecasts showed the mildest temperatures in the coming days would be in the southeastern region of Puglia and along the southern coasts of Sicily and Calabria, where a steady 8-10 degrees Celsius is expected over the weekend.