Advocacy groups Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon and 12 private Italian citizens directly affected by extreme weather are suing Italy’s largest oil firm ENI for denying the environmental issues of their products despite knowing about the link between fossil fuels and global warming and the risks their activities pose to climate.
Italian energy firm ENI is facing the country’s first climate lawsuit, with environmental groups Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon and 12 Italian citizens accusing it of knowingly contributing to climate change.
ENI, Italy’s largest multinational company and one of seven “supermajor” oil firms in the world, is accused of using “lobbying and greenwashing” to push for more fossil fuels despite knowing about the risks of its products since 1970, when the firm commissioned a study that warned of the “catastrophic” risks that rising carbon dioxide could pose to the climate.
“[C]arbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to a recent report by the UN secretary, given the increased use of [fossil fuels], has increased over the last century by an average of 10% worldwide; around the year 2000 this increase could reach 25%, with ‘catastrophic’ consequences on climate,” the report seen by nonprofit climate news service DeSmog read.
Further research by DeSmog has shown that ENI’s magazine Ecos repeatedly mentioned climate change during the late 1980s and 1990 while simultaneously advertising planet-warming fossil fuels as “clean” energy.
The firm’s disinformation practices and campaigns were exposed in a 2022 Greenpeace Netherlands-commissioned study titled “Three Shades of Green(washing)”. Harvard researchers found that the largest European oil, gas, automotive, and aviation companies – including ENI – use their social channels to promote fake green pledges and distract public attention from the climate crisis.
According to an assessment by Oil Change International, ENI is on track to approve new oil and gas extraction projects this year that would make it “the world’s third-worst oil and gas expander in 2023”. The company – which reported record profits of €13.3 billion (approx.US$14.6 billion) in 2022 – is expected to approve another annual average of nearly 770 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) from now through 2030.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Greenpeace Italy said the lawsuit – which also names the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the development bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, holders of a one-third ownership stake in ENI – serves as a reminder that the Paris Agreement commitments “also apply to large private energy companies such as ENI.” A condemnation, they added, would “finally enforce the company to review its industrial strategy.”
According to the advocacy group, ENI’s global operations generate more greenhouse gas emissions than Italy produces annually. Moreover, the company’s cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions generated between 1988 and 2015 amount to 0.6% of global cumulative industrial emissions.
The lawsuit comes as climate impacts across Italy bring the country’s economy to its knees. Northern Italy has been battling a year-long drought in the northern Po River region that has depleted water supplies, dried up croplands, and disrupted hydroelectric power generation. After last year’s historic heatwave, an exceptionally warm and dry winter has raised concerns among scientists and environmental groups about a new, nationwide emergency.
A new study published last October suggested that human-induced climate change made last year’s drought across the Northern Hemisphere at least 20 times more likely. And as the effects of climate change rapidly intensify, record-breaking heatwaves are becoming a regular occurrence not just in Europe but globally.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.