Italy’s environment hara-kiri

Nov 26 2007

By Michael STERN

Last November 10 in Beijing the Chinese government was delivered the first eco-building of the capital by the General Direction for Sustainable Development of the Italian Ministry of Environment. That same day in Rome, the Italian Minister of Environment was proposing in a government meeting the dismissal of that general Direction: the proposal is now undergoing through the administrative pattern that will end in the next few weeks with the final decision by the Parliament. A close look at this wired situation says a lot about politics “Italian style”.

That direction was set in 1999 to oblige a European Union environment directive calling the national governments to adopt inside their national environment ministries s specific structure devoted to the implementation of the international and European programs aimed at the protection of the environment. During the eight years of its operations, the Direction has been active in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and for the general strategy of sustainable development: among its main matched tasks there are 280 projects of environment cooperation in 48 countries, where the initial seed money financed by the Ministry has generated investments’ flows three times larger.

The General Director, Mr. Corradio Clini, is unanimously awarded by the international community as a first class public servant for the cause of environment: during these years he has been appointed by the international community to the most relevant offices such as the Presidency of the European Agency for the Development, the presidency of the G8 task force on the renewable energies, the presidency of the G8 partnership on bio-energies, the presidency of the European Committee for Environment and Health, and many more. Furthermore, Mr. Clini has brought to an operative level of excellence a large bounce of young (average: 30 years) Italian researchers and scholars, part of whom have been requested and hired by global institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, several very prestigious universities in US, Latin America, China; a specific program on the science of sustainable development is under way at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, jointly promoted by the Italian Ministry, with fellowships reserved to young researchers from Italy and the developing countries. A very important note not to be missed: Mr. Clini has been working on his responsibility under the leadership of Environment Ministers belonging to right, center and left political parties: there are no other such cases in the Italian public life after World War II.

Often in politics personal feelings play important roles: is this the case? Let’s look at the facts. By proposing to dismiss Mr. Clini’s General Direction, the Minister of Environment put its whole structure in a vacuum where none of the requested international activities can be carried on: in fact he does not explicitly charge other ministerial structure of the tasks belonging to the Direction to be cancelled. The paradox will be that almost 50% of the financial resources given to the ministry by the current budget law will not be spent because no internal ministerial structure will have the competence to do it.

A touch of kafkian color is added when we discover that the sitting Minister for environment is Mr. Pecoraro Scanio, leader of the Green party. It will be hard to explain to several international actors that if the Minister’s proposal reaches the approval by the Parliament, Italy will disappear from the bodies where the fight for the environment protection is managed: it will be interesting to watch how, for instance, the social forum would react.

On that side of the story, a circumstance is revealing of the entire “grand design” of the green minister: he opposes the development by Italy of the clean development mechanism (CDM) projects to reduce C02 emissions and to generate carbon credits. According to the Kyoto protocol Italy already committed to develop CDM projects able to produce credits for the value of 200 millions euro per year, amount that Italy should buy. Having the sitting minister decided not to invest such an amount, Italy is going to face two damages: the projects it has developed so far with an investment of 140 millions euro become useless, and the credits that those projects are anyway producing will be bought by other countries eager to acquire them, a long queue led by Spain. Needless to say, the gloom for the entire national industrial sector is granted, since the availability’s gap of those rights of emission is –as today- 80% of the needed. In financial terms, a granted fine by EU of 7 billions euro.

Among the strangest aspects of this case is the quite abnormal silence by the Italian press and political world. It is true that the Minister, with this last decision taken mid November, is trying for the fourth time in the last year to obtain the dismissal of the Direction: every time its proposal has been rebutted by the government’s administrative offices for incompatibility with the current national and international obligations. As for this forth try, so far only the internal trade unions have openly opposed the Minister’s decision and withdrew from any further discussion about the move. Who knows: maybe Mr. Pecoraro Scanio trusts his 1,5% of the vote inside the government coalition: very few deputies, but essential to keep the majority. If this will be the case, the old politics will have defeated the new challenge of the environment: for a green minister, not such a brilliant record.

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