Climate takes back seat in Italy’s election campaign despite extreme events

From drought to a glacier collapse and this week's deadly storms, Italy has suffered numerous climate events this year - yet politicians are hardly mentioning the issue ahead of elections.

Climate takes back seat in Italy's election campaign despite extreme events
A flooded street following an overnight storm in Pianello di Ostra, Ancona province, that killed at least 10 on September 16, 2022. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP

Desperate to see some firm commitments ahead of elections on September 25th, climate activists staged a sit-in at the Rome offices of frontrunner Giorgia Meloni earlier this month.

They demanded a public meeting with the far-right leader, but police removed them from the premises. 

They say concern over the spiralling cost of living has drowned out the debate in Italy over how to tackle the devastation caused by global warming.

But after flash floods killed ten people and caused devastation across towns in central Italy this week, campaigners say this must change.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi made an explicit link on Friday between the flooding and global warming, saying: “We see it concretely in what happened today how the fight against climate change is fundamental.”

IN PHOTOS: Devastation after deadly flash floods hit central Italy

Michele Giuli, a member of the Last Generation movement that stormed Meloni’s office, said the floods had to refocus thinking.

“People have died,” he told AFP. “This must make us reflect. What do we want to do with our lives, while the Italian state does nothing to reduce emissions and avoid tens of thousands of similar deaths in the next few years?”

Five times the number of storms, hurricanes and floods lashed the country this summer compared to a decade ago, according to agricultural association Coldiretti.

In August, Italian scientists wrote an open letter to politicians urging them to put the emergency first, and polls show the issue is one of the biggest concerns among Italy’s voters.

But an analysis published this week by Greenpeace found that less than 0.5 percent of political leaders’ statements on the main TV news programmes covered the climate crisis.

READ ALSO: Deadly floods force Italy’s politicians to face climate crisis

This summer in Italy “will be sadly remembered for the frequency and the violence of climate events… yet this dramatic emergency does not seem to affect many of the political leaders seeking to lead the country,” said Giuseppe Onufrio, executive director of Greenpeace Italy.

People clean a flooded street in Pianello di Ostra, Ancona. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Some see things improving, however. Election experts at Luiss university in Rome note that some parties never used to mention the environment at all.

The widespread inclusion of green policies is actually “one of the novelties of this electoral campaign”, the CISE electoral studies unit said in a commentary last week.

This reflects the growing interest among the public, with 80 percent of respondents they surveyed agreeing that the fight against climate change should be a priority for Italy.

Manifestos ‘weak on detail’

“At least climate change is addressed, or at least mentioned, in all of (the manifestos), though many are weak on detail,” said Piera Patrizio, senior researcher at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London.

Italy had vowed to close its coal-fired plants by 2025, a goal it intends to keep despite the short-term measures to tackle the shortage of gas this winter.

Meloni’s right-wing alliance is pushing for nuclear energy, though Italians rejected it in two referenda in 1987 and 2011.

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

The coalition also pledges to invest in renewable energies and waste-to-energy plants, as well as domestic production of natural gas, and the installation of regasification plants.

The outgoing government plans to install two such plants off Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, despite local protests.

Enrico Letta’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which presents the main challenge to Meloni, backs the plants as a temporary fix.

The PD rejects nuclear power as too slow and expensive a solution and wants instead to sharply increase the share of renewables produced in Italy.

“There’s next to nothing (in the policies) on equity… on how some households, some parts of the country are going to be more affected than others,” Patrizio said.

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

The EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, from which Italy expects to benefit almost €200 billion, is heavily tilted towards projects that ease the so-called “ecological transition”.

But Patrizio added: “Italy doesn’t have a net zero strategy right now… it doesn’t even know where to begin.”

Marzio Galeotti, environmental science and policy professor at Milan University, said it was “difficult to convince” the public that “environmental sustainability and emissions reduction can be combined with economic growth”.

But, he noted sadly, this is true of many countries: “We are seeing a kind of temporary amnesia that is not unique to Italy.”

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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.