Mitigating climate change involves reducing the flow of heat trapping greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere by either reducing sources of these gases (ie. the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat, or transport) or enhancing carbon sinks that can accumulate and store these gases (ie. oceans, forests, and soil). Different mitigation policies like switching the global energy system from fossil fuels to low carbon sources, energy efficiency and conservation, reforestation and afforestation, carbon capture and storage, geoengineering, and shifts in food consumption patterns, can be adopted in an effort to accomplish such objectives.
At the national level, Italy has policies that fall under three main groups: cross-sectoral policies aimed at achieving the 2020 targets of renewable energy use; energy measures including cogeneration and energy efficiency actions; and non-energy measures to reduce emissions mostly in the agricultural and waste sector. However, existing policies are insufficient to reach Paris targets and to be aligned with the European Green Deal ambition (EU Commission, 2019). Be that as it may, this post aims to contribute to the debate by proposing three short-term policy recommendations to achieve a 50% reduction in GHG emissions in Italy.
Policy Recommendation # 1 Stop Fossil Fuels Subsidies and Enact a Carbon Tax
In 2017, Italy’s fossil fuel subsidies amounted to €19 billion (Legambiente, 2017). They can act as a negative price on carbon by reducing the costs of using fossil fuels for businesses and individuals.
Goal: Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and redirecting the funds to sustainable mobility and low-income options like public transportation. This is only a first step but can be done immediately and should be followed by a long-term national carbon tax.
Relevance: This policy is crucial in order to avoid market distortions and address climate change mitigation. It is feasible, immediately applicable, and costless.
Method: The government, through the next budget law, can implement this action by redistributing funds saved from fossil fuel subsidies to sustainable transport for instance.
Expected Results: An increase in fossil fuel prices and more competitive alternative sources of energy. As well, a shift from fossil fuels to renewables and electric transportation.
Obstacles: Risk of political obstacles from fossil fuels lobbyists pursuing their own interests. Just transition measures redirecting employment and investments to clean energy sectors can overcome this issue.
Policy Recommendation #2 National Reforestation Strategy
Emilia-Romagna is promoting a project consisting of the planting of 4.5 million trees in five years—one per citizen (Regione Emilia-Romagna, 2020). Looking at the regional plan of Emilia-Romagna, Italy should use this as a model and develop a comprehensive national reforestation strategy.
Goal: Planting one tree per citizen at the national level by 2030, combating deforestation and hydrogeological instability, and rethinking cities increasing their carbon sink capacity.
Relevance: Italy is currently facing hydrogeological instability, an issue that can be addressed through this initiative. As well, phenomena like landslides, floods, coastal erosions, and avalanches can be mitigated through planting more trees.
Method: National guidelines will be provided and regions will be responsible for implementation. The procedure for this reforestation strategy is based on the provincial distribution of funds and calls for applications for nurseries, it has proven to be successful in Emilia-Romagna (Regione Emilia-Romagna, 2020).
Expected results: Results can be measured by the additional amount of green cover in the cities, the emissions abatement compared to current levels, and the reduced hydrogeological instability in the long term.
Obstacles: The main obstacles are conflicting interests at the local level and the financial effort required (€14,2 million estimated only for Emilia-Romagna). However, this strategy might be integrated into the “Piano nazionale di ripresa e resilienza (PNRR)”, the Italian spending plan for Next Generation EU (FASI, 2021).
Policy Recommendation # 3 Energy Community Framework
Energy communities act as an instrument to incentivize energy efficiency and saving, allowing citizens and firms to connect with each other as well as allow for consuming, storing, and exchanging energy. They are groups of citizens, retail businesses, and other companies that decided to join forces so as to equip themselves with systems to produce and share energy from renewable sources. They aim to transform the current centralized energy system fueled by fossil fuels into a decentralized and efficient system charged by clean, renewable energies based on innovative technologies and smart grids. They were promoted by the EU Directive 2018/2001 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, that was only partially integrated by the Italian government.
Goal: Fully integrating this European Directive, also called RED II, by regulating and promoting the energy communities as an instrument for the energy transition. This can be legislated immediately and implemented in the following years.
Relevance: The energy transition is the most urgent issue to mitigate climate change because energy is the main contributor to GHG emissions both in Europe and in Italy. In fact, energy contributed towards 81% of total national emissions in 2017 (ISPRA, 2019)
Method: Through an act of Parliament, the government can further develop decentralized energy production based on solar and on smart grids, reduce bureaucratic procedures, provide green incentives as energy incomes, or constrain new constructions to be part of an energy community.
Expected results: Increased energy efficiency, emissions reduction from buildings, and economic advantages in terms of diminishing energy bills.
Obstacles: Bureaucracy, resistance to change, financial resources, and technological gaps in energy storage might slow the transition. Nonetheless, measures such as the 110% eco bonus (a fiscal tool that introduced a 110% deduction on spending for renovations aimed at improving energy efficiency in buildings) are already in place and widely accepted. This framework can be built on such premises and financed through the funds coming from Next Generation EU along with fostering technological advances and research and development spending on green hydrogen as an alternative energy vector.
Sergio Costa, Ministero dell’Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio e del Mare
EU Commission, 2019. Communication from the commission to the european parliament, the european council, the council, the europeaneconomic and social committee and the committee of the regions.
FASI, 2021. Via libera al Recovery Plan Italia: dalle infrastrutture alla sanita’, cosa prevede il piano per la ripresa. [Online] Available at: https://www.fasi.biz/it/notizie/strategie/22519-recovery-fund-recovery-plan-piano-ripresa-resilienza.html
Legambiente, 2017. Legambiente. [Online] Available at: https://www.legambiente.it/legambiente-presenta-stop-sussidi-alle-fonti-fossili/
Regione Emilia-Romagna, 2020. L’Emilia-Romagna “corridoio verde” d’Italia: 4,5 milioni di nuovi alberi in 5 anni, uno per ogni abitante. [Online] Available at: https://www.regione.emilia-romagna.it/notizie/2020/giugno/lemilia-romagna-corridoio-verde-ditalia-4-5-milioni-di-nuovi-alberi-in-5-anni-uno-per-ogni-abitante
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Italy Country Manager Andrea Bruno
Image Source: ENEL X