Commentary. Giuseppe Conte’s speech at the UN was remarkable only for its lack of substance. Italy’s plan to reach the zero emissions target by 2050 is impossible as presented.

If Italy really wants to reach zero emissions, here’s how

The image of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte smiling while eating a hamburger in Manhattan is a perfect representation of the debate that took place at the UN General Assembly. With the exception of a number of speeches, it was only so much hot air.

The Greenpeace Italy protest Tuesday at the Ministry of Agriculture against public subsidies for factory farming is a way to continue exposing just how much weight the current food production system has in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Fast food—like the hamburger enjoyed by Prime Minister Conte (or was it a veggie burger after all?)—is the symbol of a system that needs to be changed on a profound level.

The disappointing results of the UN General Assembly are also due to the deep crisis in relations between the US and China, the two largest greenhouse gas emitters: while the Paris Agreement was also a result of the policy of “competitive cooperation” pursued by the Obama presidency, which China followed and from which it reaped major benefits, the current crisis in relations between the two superpowers is becoming an obstacle in the path of the great global transformation which requires strong economic and technological cooperation.

This is one of the factors that tie together the fight against climate change with the fight for world peace. Conversely, the defense of the old system of fossil fuel assets, backed by the Trump presidency, not only leads to climate disaster but also raises the risk of international conflict, as we can see in the current crisis involving Iran.

In this already bleak context, the news from the World Meteorological Organization passed by almost unnoticed: compared to the 2011-2015 period (which seems like only yesterday!), the average global temperature has risen by a further 0.2°C, to a total of 1.1°C above that of the pre-industrial era. Therefore, from the pre-industrial era to 2015, we saw an increase of 0.9°C, and then 0.2°C more in just a few years. That is a truly scary piece of data.

“This latest report, along with the trend of the CO2 concentration, shows how virtually all the climatic trends are amplifying,” Antonello Pasini, a physical climatologist at the CNR, told Greenpeace.

Unfortunately, the speech by the Italian prime minister was remarkable only for its lack of substance, even though he insisted that Italy was implementing “one of the most ambitious decarbonization programs in the world, thanks to the leadership of the private sector,” which, he claimed, was consistent with the objective of zero emissions by 2050. 

It’s not true that our country is actually “implementing” anything. And, if we look at the proposed integrated energy and climate plan presented by the government, we see that reaching the zero emissions target by 2050 is impossible. 

Such a statement, made at this summit and with such a clear intent, must be called an ideological falsehood. That’s right: it’s nothing short of a lie for ideological purposes. In order to actually accomplish “decarbonization” by 2050, it is necessary to put forward plans and resources with clear objectives, and set out, for instance: 1) ambitious targets for renewables by 2030; 2) the detailed plan for the closure of coal-fired power plants by 2025, which has been announced; 3) the resources and measures needed to achieve the energy efficiency at the level put forward in the plan; 4) the dates on which the sales of diesel, petrol, gas and hybrid cars will no longer be allowed; 5) the date on which the gas-fueled power stations will close; 6) the elimination of first-generation biofuels, such as palm oil; 7) the progressive shift of environmentally harmful subsidies (such as those towards intensive farming and fossil fuels) towards supporting climate-friendly production.

In addition, we need actual details for the plan for ending the mining of fossil fuels, which the government claims will be led by companies such as ENI, which, under the leadership of Claudio Descalzi, is coming up with proposals to combat climate change by burning gas and waste (whose plastic component is fossil-fuel derived, and thus is energetically relevant).

The difficulty in getting serious about fighting climate change is caused by the influencing power of these still-dominant interests. The fight continues, and it will be necessary to raise our voices.

Giuseppe Onufrio is Director of Greenpeace Italy.

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