For decades, Italian governments and political parties have largely neglected the threat that climate change poses to the country’s security and prosperity. To avoid warming pathways that will eventually make large parts of the country unsafe for settlement or tourism, the next government must make up for lost time.
ROME – When Italians go to the polls on September 25, they will cast their ballot against the backdrop of an unprecedented energy and climate crisis. With winter fast approaching, the next government will take on the difficult task of protecting citizens and businesses while putting Italy on track to build climate resilience and do its fair share of emissions reductions.
This summer’s extreme weather was just a preview of the climate-related turmoil that awaits us. Unusual temperatures, drought and catastrophic flooding have killed several people and caused massive economic loss and damage. Italians would do well to remember that they are in a climate change “hotspot” that climate scientists are calling. With temperatures rising 20% faster than the global average, the Mediterranean is one of the most climate-affected regions in the world.
Italy itself has already experienced warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and the human and economic costs of its past emissions and short-term infrastructure choices are mounting. Between 1980 and 2020, Italy recorded more than 21,000 deaths from extreme weather events – behind Germany and France in Europe. And over the past 50 years, landslides and floods have forced more than 320,000 people from their homes and eroded some 40 million square meters of boardwalk. Today, 91% of Italian cities and 12,000 cultural sites are threatened by landslides and floods.
The future looks ominous. By 2100, Italy’s summer temperatures could rise by up to 6°C and summer precipitation could fall by up to 40%. Without urgent containment measures, the number of hot days per year is projected to increase by an average of 400% by 2050 and by up to 1,100% by 2080. For a city like Rome, this could mean experiencing up to 28 days of extreme heat each year.
The economic costs will rise exponentially as the temperature rises and will hit the weakest sections of the population in particular. According to some estimates, climate change could reduce Italy’s GDP per capita by 8% by 2100. the cost of rising sea levels and coastal flooding could approach €6 billion; The value of agricultural land could fall by over €160 billion; and the drop in demand in the tourism sector could cost €52 billion (partly because only 18% of resorts in the Italian Alps will still have natural snow cover suitable for the winter season).
Recent tragedies such as the collapse of the Marmolada glacier and extreme flooding in Marche are emblematic of the new risk environment. They show how the socio-economic and political consequences of climate change could trigger mass migration and new tensions over water, food and energy resources.
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Clearly, climate change is a major national security threat to Italy. But you wouldn’t know if you follow Italian politics. While Italian voters are becoming increasingly aware of the problem and demanding action, very few options on the ballot convey these views. For decades, Italian governments and political parties have largely neglected the threat that climate change poses to the country’s security and prosperity.
The failure to formulate credible plans for the energy transition reflects a broader refusal to even acknowledge the climatic impact of Italy’s current energy sources. In a country long dominated by the natural gas industry, neither the political establishment nor the mainstream media are ready to question the state-controlled gas companies. As a result, only a third of Italians recognize natural gas as a source of greenhouse gas pollution, despite being the country’s largest source of emissions.
A new government offers an opportunity to change course; but the window to action is closing fast. To avoid warming pathways that ultimately make large parts of the country unsafe for settlement or tourism, the next government must recognize that without the European Union, there can be no climate security.
The faster the world’s major economies decarbonize, the better off Italy will be. The next government must support the EU’s climate agenda and do its part to make it a success. It must also support investments in climate resilience around the world, particularly in Africa and the Mediterranean, where climate-related events could become a major cause of mass migration.
In addition, Italy needs large new public investments in decarbonisation; However, since it must also adhere to the principles of debt sustainability, innovative strategies are also needed to mobilize the private sector for climate protection measures.
At the same time, the next government should recognize that trying to achieve climate security through simple technological solutions or a top-down command-and-control approach would inevitably provoke a political backlash. Democracy thrives on its capacity for innovation, accountability, transparency and inclusion. Italian politicians can no longer afford to leave the country’s energy strategy in the hands of a few companies, even if they are state-controlled.
Finally, the next government must recognize the myriad interactions between the economy and the environment. There can be no secure economy without a secure climate, but neither can there be climate stability without a strong and just economy. At the end of the day there can be no choice between economic and ecological goals.
It remains to be seen which path the next government will take. While public opinion polls point to a victory for far-right parties, Italians of all political persuasions would support a program to keep Italy safe and prosperous in a warming world.