Major Italian oil company ENI is facing the country’s first climate lawsuit, brought by twelve Italian citizens, Greenpeace Italy and Italian advocacy group ReCommon.
The plaintiffs claim the energy company with headquarters in Rome knowingly contributed to climate change by using “lobbying and greenwashing” to push for more fossil fuels despite having known the risks they posed since 1970, reported The Guardian.
“The urgency of taking action against the climate crisis has prompted us to bring the first climate lawsuit in Italy against the country’s largest energy company,” Matteo Ceruti, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told DeSmog.
The plaintiffs — which include the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the development bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti S.p.A., both influential shareholders of ENI — are claiming past and potential future damages, saying ENI’s policies violate the Paris Agreement, a press release from Greenpeace said.
“ENI scored record profits in 2022, yet it continues to invest in expanding its fossil fuels business, dismissing climate impacts and ignoring local communities in Italy and around the world who are suffering the consequences of the climate emergency,” said Chiara Campione, head of the climate unit at Greenpeace Italy, in the press release.
Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon uncovered a study from between 1969 and 1970, commissioned by ENI’s own Isvet research center, that warned of an imminent climate crisis that could result from the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting accumulation of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, DeSmog reported.
“[C]arbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to a recent report by the U.N. Secretary, given the increased use of [fossil fuels], has increased over the last century by an average of 10 percent worldwide; around the year 2000 this increase could reach 25 percent, with ‘catastrophic’ consequences on climate,” the report said.
DeSmog discovered that Ecos, a company magazine put out by ENI, repeatedly referenced climate change in the late 1980s and 1990s, while at the same time promoting natural gas — the main component of which is planet-warming methane — as a “clean” fuel in advertising campaigns.
ReCommon and Greenpeace Italy also uncovered a 1978 report, Environment and Exhaustible or Renewable Sources of Energy, by ENI’s Tecneco company that warned of the danger to the climate the increased risk of fossil fuels posed, with a prediction of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by the year 2000.
“It is assumed that with the increasing consumption of fossil fuels, which began with the industrial revolution, the CO2 concentration will reach 375-400 [parts per million or ppm] in the year 2000,” the report said, according to DeSmog. “This increase is considered by some scientists as a possible long-term problem, especially since it could change the thermal balance of the atmosphere leading to climate changes with serious consequences for the biosphere.”
It turns out that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere rose from 325 ppm to 371 ppm between 1970 and 2000.
The lawsuit’s citizen plaintiffs come from areas suffering from drought, rising sea levels, coastal erosion, glacial melt and other climate change impacts, the press release said.
“The region where I live, Piedmont, is already suffering the effects of dramatic drought, as the very low level of rainfall recorded this winter show[s], a problem that is likely to get worse in the future,” said plaintiff Rachele Caravaglios in the press release. “I don’t think it’s fair that Italy’s main energy supplier, of which the state is the largest shareholder, can continue year after year, an investment program that goes against what the best available climate science recommends, limiting our options to create a sustainable, resilient and equitable future for all.”
The plaintiffs are also demanding that ENI revise its industrial strategy so that emissions are reduced by a minimum of 45 percent by 2030, compared to 2020 levels, in order to pursue efforts to keep the average temperature increase worldwide below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as stated in the Paris Agreement.
They are also demanding that the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance adopt an “ambitious climate policy” as a guide to keep its company engagement in accordance with Paris Agreement goals, the press release said.
“These findings reinforce and add to the pattern found in previous research: oil majors understood the catastrophic effects their products would have on the world, yet failed to warn the public, concealed their knowledge, denied the problem, and obstructed efforts to solve it,” said Ben Franta, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Sustainable Law Programme, as The Guardian reported.
The number of climate cases around the world has more than doubled since 2015 to more than 2,000, according to the press release. These actions have increasingly been filed by non-governmental organizations and individuals asserting the rights of those suffering from the impacts of the climate crisis.
“I am suing ENI and the state-owned entities that control it because their strategies do not comply with the Paris Agreement in terms of CO2 emissions. ENI’s actions exacerbate the climate crisis, worsening impacts for me and for the region where I live, Polesine. Near the Po Delta, the sea will advance more and more into our lands, and as the salt wedge rises. [W]e risk finding ourselves living in a desert or being forced to abandon our home and our land,” said plaintiff Vanni Destro in the press release.
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