Europe’s green revolution? Italy’s spending plans raise doubts


The European Union bills its 750 billion euro (around 98.5 trillion yen) pandemic stimulus fund as the opportunity of the century to transform the region’s economy and help it become the world leader in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

But closer scrutiny by environmentalists of the spending plans prepared by Italy – the EU’s biggest recipient of liquidity – raises questions about Green Rome’s contribution, how it will be measured and even what investments can be made. referred to as “green”.

They criticized the plan presented to parliament this week as falling far short of the promised revolution.

Mario Draghi’s government intends to submit the 273-page document to Brussels on Friday to secure more than 200 billion euros ($ 242 billion) from the prize pool aimed at making the 27 member states of the bloc greener, digital and resilient.

The EU needs the largest share of investment in each country – around 37% – to go towards projects that will green the region’s economy. But environmental lobbyists and think tanks say Italy’s plan falls short.

“A not very green plan” is the headline of a report by Greenpeace Italia, which met this week in front of parliament with other Green supporters to protest what they see as a lack of ambition in environmental matters.

Draghi’s document proposes € 59 billion in EU money for ecological transition, to be spent over the six years of the plan – some € 10 billion less than the project prepared by his predecessor Giuseppe Conte , who lost power in January.

This represents 31% of European funds, against 37% prescribed. Draghi supplemented this with € 9 billion in separate government loans, but lobbyists stress that this money will not come under Brussels for scrutiny and can therefore be easily revoked.

Draghi told parliament this week that green policies feature in several of the six chapters of his plan, and not just the ‘Green Transition’ one, which means the 37% target for Brussels has been met.

The European Commission has two months from the moment it obtains a national program to verify that it meets the criteria. EU finance ministers then have an additional month to assess them.

An official said this week that many countries plan to spend up to 50% of their funds on green projects, but in any case, all plans will be carefully scrutinized.

Electric transport

Specifically, objectors say Draghi’s plan offers little scope for conversion to electric transport, vital for towns in Italy’s industrial north which are among the most polluted in Europe, or for conversion to less intensive organic farming.

The plan provides only 750 million euros to develop charging stations for electric cars and 300 million euros for electric buses.

Rome has raised doubts about forcing the pace on electric cars if the batteries are not charged by energy from renewable sources.

The Minister for the Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani, argues that with a polluting public transport system and an aging car fleet, Italy’s priorities are clear. “We need to fix public transport first,” he said. “It’s an absolute emergency.”

Yet Greenpeace Italia said it was not even being done. Draghi’s plan to extend Italy’s urban public transport lines by some 240 kilometers is adequate for Rome alone, he said.

Germany will receive much less money from the EU’s Stimulus Fund than Italy, but plans to use more than € 5 billion for measures in favor of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Electric transport is also a cornerstone of the Spanish plan, which devotes 6.5 billion euros to “sustainable, secure and connected mobility” in cities.

“Draghi has allocated only 3.6 billion euros to the development of public transport lines and 24 billion euros to high-speed trains without any assessment of the impact on CO2 emissions,” said Matteo Leonardi , co-founder of the Italian energy and climate change think tank ECCO.

ECCO also accuses the government of having “no strategy for renewable energies”.

Its target of installing an additional 4,200 megawatts from renewable energy sources is only enough to ensure that Italy meets the EU’s recommended renewable energy quota for a single year, the group said. reflection in a report.

Slow process

Italian energy companies say the real problem is a labyrinthine process, which means it sometimes takes years to get permits for new solar and wind capacity.

Italy’s largest utility, Enel, estimates at current rates that it would take around 100 years to meet solar energy targets for 2030.

“We have the strength to install 6 to 8 gigawatts per year, but to do that we need to change the rules… and now,” says Cingolani.

Much of the stimulus plan’s energy strategy is based on the use of hydrogen, but environmentalists complain that it does not specify how the gas is to be produced.

Hydrogen is not necessarily “green” as it can be produced from fossil fuels in which Italian energy companies continue to invest.

Green hydrogen, made by electrolysis using renewable wind and solar energy, is currently too expensive for widespread use, and Enel has previously said electrolysers need to cost six times less to make it viable.

ECCO said that in the absence of a decisive push towards renewables or electric transport, Italy’s plan risked being a mere “greenwashing, in the interest of state-owned companies that aim to maintain a system based. mainly on fossil fuels “.

Upon taking office, Draghi created a new Ministry of Ecological Transition headed by Cingolani, a leading physicist who was previously responsible for innovation at the Italian defense company Leonardo.

Cingolani’s illustrious scientific career has focused on areas such as robotics and nanotechnology rather than climate change. Some observers have suggested that he was perhaps a better candidate in the Ministry of Infrastructure which went to Enrico Giovannini, who is rather a prominent expert in sustainable development.

In his inaugural speech to parliament in February, Draghi said “we want to leave a healthy planet, not just healthy currency”. Some environmentalists doubt that the recovery plan of the former head of the European Central Bank corresponds to this commitment.

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