The Italian Senate stands for climate realism. A motion passed on last Wednesday commits the Italian government to promote a sound discussion on climate policies with the European Union and the United Nations, with particular regard to the major changes that have occurred after the economic recession, the Climategate scandal, and the failure to reach a global deal in Copenhagen. In fact, the Senate asks both that the current commitments under the EU climate and energy package are re-negotiated, and that an independent investigation is started on the IPCC process.
The motion presented by Senators Antonio D’Alì (chairman of the Environment Committee) and Guido Possa (chairman of the University and Education Committee) as well as many other center-right colleagues, asks the government, among the other things:
• To call for an independent investigation into the IPCC methods used to review scientific literature on climate change, as well as on its governance and its officials;
• To set up a new governance for IPCC, in order to turn it into a truly scientific body, rather than a mostly political one;
• To review the consequences of the EU’s so-called “20-20-20” agenda, that calls for 20% emissions cuts, 20% more energy efficiency, and 20% renewables by 2020, as well as to obtain assurance that the targets will not be made more stringent (i.e., the emissions reduction target will not be raised up to 30% below 1990 levels);
• To prioritize the EU and UN policies with respect to more urgent environmental challenges, such as air and water pollution, waste management, etc.
The motion is unlikely to have practical consequences, however, because – under Italian law – the government may or may not take into account the message it received from the Senate. When asked about its opinion on the motion, the government said it had no opinion, so majority senators were left free to vote according to their own judgment. Regrettably, Environmental Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo didn’t participate the debate in the Senate: that gave a chance to Sen. Roberto Della Seta, who spoke on behalf of the Democratic Party and voted against the motion, to blame the executive’s behavior.
Despite the lack of practical consequences at EU and UN levels, the motion still makes a lot of political sense, especially if it is considered that last year a similar motion was also passed, calling for a more balanced approach to the scientific aspects and uncertainties of climate change. With the exception of the Czech Republic’s President, Vaclav Klaus, this is probably the only case of a relevant institution in a European member State that challenges the “consensus” on climate policies. Obviously, this is also an important signal about the high discontent of Italian businesses about a package of EU directives that they believe, with good reason, are punitive towards the Italian economy.
In fact, thanks to its reliance on natural gas that covers around 60% of the electricity generation, the country is among the least carbon-intensive countries in Europe, and yet it has to meet goals that are comparable with those of other, more carbon-intensive countries.
But that is only part of the story. What is more relevant is that an intense debate about climate change and the alleged solutions to temperature increase has been going on in Italy in the last few years, that led several policy-makers and other stakeholders to endorse non-alarmist, if not openly skeptic, positions with regard to climate policies.
What is interesting is that the primary reason for this is not skepticism on global warming per se, even though many recognize that there are more things in heaven and earth than in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. What drove a growing number of people, and not just in the center-right coalition, to become dubious about the EU road to climate serfdom is the acknowledgment that the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the other political tools aimed at cutting emissions would produce negligible environmental benefits, if any. However, they would have a significant cost for the Italian economy, and – even more concerning – they entail a major restructuring of the EU structure, with the creation of an ad hoc bureaucracy that has a vested interest in keeping the alarms on, instead of promoting a fair assessment of costs and benefits of the proposed policies.
From this point of view, the major achievement from the motion by Senators D’Alì, Possa – and others – is to remind the government and the Italian public in general that there are still people that raise rational arguments before they endorse costly policies. Implicit in the motion – and explicit in D’Alì and Possa’s thinking – is a concern for the lack of a democratic debate on the EU energy and climate package. In fact the Italian Parliament, as well as other Parliaments of the EU member states, never had a chance to discuss the consequences of such a wide-ranging, costly, questionable policy. If the Italian Senate’s vote may help to raise the awareness of the dangers not just for the European economy, but also for the democratic process in the European Union, it will strike a much more ambitious goal than cutting emissions by a few percentage points.
Carlo Stagnaro is Research Director of the Italian think tank Istituto Bruno Leoni – www.brunoleoni.it