Italy’s Lurch to the Right Raises Risk of Fossil Gas Lock-In

Lambert: This was written immediately before the Italian election, but the logic applies now that the “lurch” to the right has taken place.

By Stella Levantesi, an Italian climate journalist, photographer, and author. She is the author of the Gaslit series on Desmog. Her main areas of expertise are climate change delay and denial, climate disinformation, climate litigation, and corporate responsibility on the climate crisis. Originally published at DeSmog.

Italy’s gas lobby should be entering early retirement. Instead, it’s rarely been riding so high.

The energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the prospect that far-right politician Giorgia Meloni will win snap elections on Sunday, have all but eclipsed growing calls from a younger generation for a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.  

In fact, Italy seems to be moving in the opposite direction. An emergency decision to approve two new gas import terminals, and the virtual absence of discussion of climate policy on the campaign trail, have raised the risk that energy companies will leave Italy hooked on planet-warming fossil gas for decades to come, campaigners say.  

“Fears of winter have been stoked, and families are terrified of being in the cold,” said Elena Gerebizza, energy and infrastructure campaigner at ReCommon, an advocacy group. “In this scenario, it’s getting harder to explain why we don’t need new gas infrastructure, or why we have to reduce consumption and dependence on gas.”

With the European Union pledging to slash carbon emissions by 55 percent by the end of the decade, compared with 1990 levels, Italian oil and gas company Eni and pipeline operator Snam have adopted net zero targets. But both companies remain wedded to fossil fuel-dominated business models, according to analysis by Oil Change International and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, even as climate impacts intensify. 

Italy was hit by its worst drought in 70 years this summer, and less than 10 days before voting day, the eastern region of Marche was drenched with 400 millimetres of rain – an amount that would usually fall over six months. At least 10 people were killed in resulting flash floods, with four missing, including a boy who was swept from his mother’s arms, according to reports.

Even as the country experiences extreme weather first-hand, politicians referenced the climate crisis in less than 0.5 percent of their statements on Italian talk shows, online and on their Facebook accounts, according to a study by Greenpeace Italy and Osservatorio di Pavia, a media research institute. 

With the exception of the leftist coalition Green Leftist Alliance and the populist Five Star Movement, which are trailing in the polls, all major parties want to double down on new gas infrastructure, according to a review of manifesto commitments by Ecco, a think tank. 

If Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, wins the election and forms a coalition with other right-wing parties, as polls project, then the gas lobby, which has long enjoyed a close relationship with the Italian state, may find it even easier to sidestep scrutiny, campaigners say.

“The Italian ultranationalist right will rely even more on turnkey ‘Italian champions’, from Eni to Snam to solve the energy crisis, fueling their billion-dollar business abroad, and subsidising new drilling in Italy,” said Antonio Tricarico, programmes manager at ReCommon.  

Greater influence for the gas lobby could have implications far beyond Italy, which produces 11 percent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Eni and Snam are key members of Italian chamber of commerce Confindustria, which research group InfluenceMap says has been lobbying the EU to back new fossil gas projects, while opposing policies to limit demand. 

“The European Union is at a historical turning point for its energy mix. Yet despite scientific guidance, the Italian industry association Confindustria is opposing the shift away from gas,” said Will Aitchison, InfluenceMap’s EU strategy manager.

Confindustria, Eni and Snam did not respond to requests for comment.


Even before the snap election was called in July, when prime minister Mario Draghi resigned following the collapse of his national unity government, Italy’s gas industry had won important concessions in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.

As Italy joined the scramble to secure alternatives to Russian gas, Draghi’s government authorised Snam to spend more than 700 million euros on two new terminals to receive cargoes of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) –  fracked gas supercooled into liquid form for transport on tankers. Known as “regasification” terminals, the projects will be used to convert imported LNG back into gaseous form so that it can be fed into Italy’s pipelines. Underscoring the sense of urgency, the government decreed that all such infrastructure should be considered “strategic”, “non deferrable” and “urgent”. 

Critics fear the projects will lock Italy into long-term dependence on fossil gas, pointing out that Snam has asked for a 20-year concession on a floating LNG terminal it plans to install at Piombino, Tuscany. Similarly, the other planned terminal, in Sardinia, could tie the island to gas for years, campaigners say. 

“All the new gas infrastructure, including LNG terminals that Italy is mandating Snam to buy, has an impact in the long term,” ReCommon’s Gerebizza said. “This means that Italy is preparing to maintain this dependence on gas in the long term too.” 

Italy says it has slashed the proportion of gas it imports from Russia to 25 percent from 40 percent last year, when it was the second biggest importer of Russian gas after Germany. Nevertheless, with the cost of wind and solar plummeting, think tank Ecco questions whether large and opaque investments in publicly-subsidised gas infrastructure could leave Italy saddled with stranded assets – at the taxpayer’s expense. 

“I see this as a huge dead end, but one that’s incredibly profitable for the gas industry,” said Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner with the Brussels-based research group Corporate Europe Observatory. 

Nevertheless, leading candidates have rushed to back the projects.

“LNG terminals must happen…because we must free ourselves from dependence on Russian gas,” Meloni told a television show broadcast in late August. At a rally in Mestre, in the northeastern region of Veneto, on September 11, Meloni gave a speech voicing her support for new gas drilling and, in a media interview, declared that Italy could become “a gas hub for Europe.” 

‘Italian Gas’

Although Meloni and other candidates have mentioned renewables during the campaign, the emphasis of right-wing parties, especially, has been on fossil fuels, from reopening coal plants to new gas infrastructure and drilling for “Italian gas” in the Adriatic. 

“Abandoning fossil fuels overnight is unthinkable,” Nicola Procaccini, a Member of the European Parliament who serves as the Brothers of Italy party’s environment spokesman, told a delegation from climate movement Fridays for the Future this month, according to a video of the meeting published by Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. 

On August 25, Matteo Salvini, former deputy prime minister and a leading figure in the right-wing Lega party, told a talk show: “Unblock all energy facilities that to date are blocked by bureaucracy, extract gas, for example, in the Adriatic, because otherwise the Croatians will steal it from us,” according to the Greenpeace study.

Politicians closer to the centre of the political spectrum, such as Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister and leader of the Italy Viva party, and Carlo Calenda, leader of the Action party, have also voiced support for the new gas terminals and increasing Italian production. 

Experts say fresh drilling in the Adriatic would generate only marginal benefits relative to Italy’s overall energy needs. Nonetheless, the calls are reassuring for the sector.

“Certainly, it is no mystery that a gas pipeline, or oil and gas, company would prefer a government that says yes to new pipelines, regasifiers and more drilling in the Mediterranean,” said Luca Iacoboni, Head of National Programs at Ecco. 

In the year to June 2021, companies including Eni and Snam met more than 100 times with Italian ministers, including Roberto Cingolani, minister of the ecological transition, according to a report by ReCommon. The companies wanted to ensure that Italy’s COVID-19 recovery funds would be used to “tie us to gas for the next decades,” the report states. 

‘Conflict of Interest’

In a move that appeared emblematic of the close ties between the gas lobby and the Italian state, Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Eni, joined foreign minister Luigi Di Maio on a trip to Algeria in February, and then to Angola and Republic of Congo in March, in a push to diversify sources of gas away from Russia. 

Confindustria has also provided an important vehicle for Eni and Snam to promote their interests, with Descalzi serving on the group’s General Council and Advisory Board, and Snam represented on working groups on issues including energy efficiency and industrial emissions. 

“During the past year, Confindustria…has mounted a two-pronged strategy against the energy transition: supporting new fossil gas infrastructure and expansion of national production, while at the same time advocating against policies at EU level that would limit fossil gas demand,” said InfluenceMap’s Aitchison. 

In 2021, Snam spent nearly 300,000 euros on lobbying European institutions, LobbyFacts reported. According to the InfluenceMap findings, Snam advocated for “preferential treatment for fossil gas and LNG” in its November 2021 consultation response on an EU framework for taxing energy products. 

Snam is also active in a network of interlocking European lobby groups seeking to present fossil gas as part of the solution to the climate crisis. The Milan-based company is a member of Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE), a Brussels-based group representing the LNG terminal industry. GIE is in turn a member of Gas Naturally, a group arguing that “natural gas helps make a clean future real”. Snam also belongs to Gas for Climate, another group promoting “renewable gas,” an attempt to “paint the gas industry green,” according to Corporate Europe Observatory.  

Snam is also part of ENTSOG, a pipeline operators’ association, which Sabido described as a gas lobby group within the European Commission structures which is given the responsibility of projecting the next 10 years of gas use.” 

“So, there’s a huge conflict of interest where you have these companies providing the Commission on how much gas we need,” Sabido said.

Young Activists Fight Back 

While octogenarian Italian politicians set up TikTok accounts in a bid to reach the younger generation, party manifestos generally lack comprehensive commitments on climate change – despite polling showing the crisis is a priority issue for voters aged 18-24. 

With electricity bills projected to double after October, youth activists say the gas lobby is crowding out discussion of policies that could ease the energy and cost-of-living crisis and, at the same time, speed a transition to cleaner energy: from energy efficiency and windfall taxes to cushion the impact of soaring bills, to simplifying the long authorisation processes delaying the roll-out of renewables. The Ministry of Ecological Transition’s decision to sponsor a four-day gas industry conference – Gastech – in Milan earlier this month became a flashpoint for such criticism. 

“It’s terrifying that people who should be thinking about the good of their citizens, have sponsored this [event],” said Sara, a twenty-three-year-old activist with Extinction Rebellion Italy, who asked to be identified by her first name. “There is basically this idea that gas can be the only solution to all our energy problems.”

Filippo Sotgiu, 21, a spokesperson for Fridays for a Future Italy, which proposed its own science-based climate agenda, urged Italians to join a global climate strike on Friday – and cast their votes carefully.

“Voting for those who succeed better than others in putting the climate at the center can be a very important tool,” he said. “We want to make sure that politics gives answers to those who do not feel heard, but it’s also the parties’ responsibility to make sure this happens.” 

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. Dave in Austin

      Lambert’s politics are showing. “Lurch to the right”? I just Googled the definition of lurch and got: “make an abrupt, unsteady, uncontrolled movement or series of movements; stagger.
      “the car lurched forward”. We usually call elections where one side gains 65% of the seats “a landslide” not “a lerch”. Was electing Biden a “Lurch to the left”?

      The big surprise for me was how sweeping the Italian victory was. Look at the charts for the last two Italian elections at:

      And on gas Italy is following the exact same policy as Germany, which is buying buy gas from less-than-liberal people in the middle east

      The political lurch isn’t causing the Italian search for gas. Economics and public opinion are.

        1. Dave in Austin

          Mia Culpa.

          Even if he had written the headline I was wrong.

          Shortly after the 5 minute rewrite time had passed I though “That’s an ad hominem” but it was too late. My apologies to L.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      Perhaps this is one of those patented Cass Sunstein “nudges”. As in the Western liberal political parties will do absolutely nothing in the way of providing any concrete material benefits for their constituents, until those disgruntled constituents are “nudged” into voting for the only remaining option whether they really like it or not.

  1. Anthony G Stegman

    What the long terms consequences of Biden’s War in Ukraine are is unclear, but outcomes like the Italian election are likely. The world is turning in the wrong direction at the absolute wrong time, More coal, more oil, more gas, more nuclear. As Tucker Carlson might say this is insane.

  2. trapped in Europe

    Can’t see anything wrong with building new gas infrastructure. Unless of course one belongs to the cult of climate alarmism, which for quite some time is doing its best to destroy Germany. Italy may well be smarter than that.

    1. Otis B Driftwood

      Read the latest IPCC report. There is nothing alarmist about recognizing the rapid pace of climate change brought on by burning fossil fuels and the urgency of acting now.

      The neoliberal governments of the US and Europe, in their monomaniacal focus on punishing Russia have set the stage for right wing climate deniers. It’s hard to say which of them is worse. None of them are “smart”.

    2. prism

      Europe is destroyed by the US State Dept and the US oil & gas industry controlling their energy policy, not because of “green agenda”. They could have transitioned into renewables under cheap Russian natural gas, but no, they chose to throw a wrench into their long term plan and abandon the high growth China/Russia-led Eurasian market just because Washington says so.

    3. vao

      The new gas infrastructure in Italy (as well as in Germany and other European countries) is essentially intended to enable LNG supplies to reach Europe.

      LNG is way more expensive than gas pumped through pipelines because it requires a complex technical infrastructure to liquefy, transport and then regasify gas, and because the LNG comes from further away (USA, Qatar…) The costs will sink the competitivity of Italian industry — which was already crumbling under the straightjacket of the Euro.

      LNG is way more polluting than gas pumped through pipelines, first because it requires significant energy to liquefy and regasify, and second because at every step of the LNG supply chain (from gas extraction to the last step of feeding pipelines with the regasified product) there is gas escaping/leaking and thus reinforcing the greenhouse effect.

      LNG is really only useful as an auxiliary solution to bridge limited gaps in gas supply, or for countries (like Japan) to which no pipelines can be built. Basing gas supply to Europe on LNG is an heresy.

      1. Revenant

        Gas is gas. Right now, there are no alternatives. Every other despatchable spinning generation mode takes too long to build (quickest is oil, then coal then nuclear/hydro/tidal). If you literally need to keep the lights on when it is a still winter’s night, you need one of these modes of generation. Having forsworn Russian gas, Italy now needs to get it by pipeline from Algeria and by tanker.

        Worrying about the IPCC be damned! Unless you want riots over deindustrialisation and hypothermia, western economies are dependent on gas for any duration transition to low carbon energy (renewables, nuclear). We don’t have a fairy wand to wave to achieve this just because we are fighting with the fascists against the Red Menace. And bleating about how Italy could gave done things differently helps nobody. Take the world as it is, shitty fascist fossil-fuelled world, and not as you would like it to be.

        Italy needs gas.

        1. vao

          Having forsworn Russian gas, Italy now needs to get it by pipeline from Algeria and by tanker.

          Indeed. The pipeline from Algeria already exists — does it have enough capacity to compensate the loss of imports from Russia? Because other countries such as France also want that Algerian gas.

          Is the necessary infrastructure enabling LNG tankers to dock, unload their LNG, regasify it, and feed the result into gas pipelines available at scale? No? Then the example of Germany tells you what will happen.

          Germans may be able to have one floating LNG plant built within a year (started in May, to be operational…when the winter is over) because
          (1) they had a favourable site with enough space;
          (2) they need to build a 28 km only pipeline to their gas network;
          (3) they started the work before the construction permit was granted, simply abolished the need for an environmental impact study, and reduced public inquiries to two weeks.

          They have been frantically planning other such plants — but alas, since those aforementioned (1) or (2) conditions are not met (in one case dredging is required, in the other a 54 km pipeline must be built, etc), it takes much longer. The other plants will come on line probably end of 2024. Building a fixed (on land) LNG plant usually takes 5 years. The Swiss have been planning such a plant in Basel too, and they will take only 4 years just because they already have a suitable plot available and reserved for that purpose.

          Are there enough regasification ships for all countries that want to jump start their LNG infrastructure? Germany has reserved 4. There are 50 such ships in total worldwide. How long does it take for shipyards in Korea, Japan or elsewhere to build one?

          Are there sufficient suppliers of LNG to replace all the Russian gas that was sent to Europe? Not in the short to medium term. A couple of days ago, Chancellor Scholz was visiting Gulf States to negotiate LNG shipments. From the UAE, he managed to get a commitment for exactly one tanker — and no commitment at all for any LNG tanker from Qatar.

          Face it: even with heroic exertions, fully substituting Russia gas with LNG from other producers will take 3-5 years. Too late to avoid the “riots over deindustrialisation and hypothermia”.

          And you did not read my post attentively enough: even with LNG, deindustrialization will take place, because it is substantially more expensive than gas pipelined from Russia. Europe will lose its competitiveness. Unemployment and the attendant riots are inevitable. And with austerity, unemployed people will not have the means to pay for a substantially more expensive gas to heat their homes. The attendant hypothermia riots will take place.

          Europe has managed to self-screw. LNG will be too little, too late, too dear.

        2. James

          The red menace? The eighties just called and they want their anti-Russia jingoism back. Italy can un-forswear Russian gas. I know, I know – you would rather bolster US hegemony than forestall climate change … that is fine, just be honest about it.

          1. Revenant

            @vao, I was not commenting on your post but where a comment appears is hard to control depending on who has posted in the interim. I was responding to Otis B Driftwood. The collapse in Europe’s terms of trade is indeed important, although surviving the winter and WWIII is top of my to-do list. I think the IPCC is at this point the least of anybody’s worries.

            @James, I was being sardonic. Italy ceded its economic independence to Brussels and has been sent cold turkey on Russian gas. Not what an old junkie needs. US hegemony is reprehensible – and delusional. However, so are current decarbonisation nostrums: the world needs gas for the foreseeable future because it needs reliable, marginal spinning generation to maintain grid stability in a dispatchable way, which is not possible with *current* volume renewable technology (solar and any renewables with battery storage produces DC rather than inertial spinning systems which provide AC frequency stability).

  3. Petter

    What’s the energy mix in Italy? Norway is 90% hydro and 10% wind- solar last time I checked. For heating, cooking, everything. No gas.

        1. Petter

          I may have been unclear. Was just wondering what Italy’s mix is. I assume they’re way more dependent on gas than we are – obviously we’re not dependent on gas since we don’t use any, not for heating, cooking or electricity generation.

      1. Petter

        Denmark, which has about the same population as Norway, used 2.1 billion cubic meters natural gas in 2021 according to a quick search. So it’s not just population. Norway is mountainous, Denmark is flat -no chance for hydro generation.

      1. Petter

        Thanks. Italy needs gas, as Reverant so eloquently writes above. There are no short term alternatives.
        Also, as been discussed here before, Italy’s GDP per capita has been going down. Was reminded of this again today when I opened Adam Tooze’s Chartbook email – 25 years ago Italy’s GDPpc was 3.5 the world average, today it’s twice the world average. Prior governments have not been delivering for the Italian people. The new one probably won’t either but can understand why they would be given a chance.

  4. Bugs

    When you start your analysis with the normative “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”, well, I don’t care what comes next. There’s a humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ukraine, sparked by American meddling, which Russia is using arms to remedy.

    1. feox

      You’re denying the reality of a massive long-term crisis because you’re upset about the wording concerning a much shorter-term one? It doesn’t make sense.

  5. dean 1000

    The quickest and most democratic way to end this energy crisis could start with the people of Germany chanting in unison – ‘Mr. Scholz! Open the valve on Nord Stream 2’ and continuing the chant until it is opened.

    It is democratic as it doesn’t sacrifice the people of the European countries to imperial intrigue.

      1. Acacia

        This is the part of the movie when Sean Connery climbs out of the night water in a scuba suit, and then casually removes it to reveal a dinner jacket as we hear the sound of a distant explosion off screen.

    1. feox

      Instead, it sacrifices our climate and health to short-term profit. Climate change is an existential crisis, more fossil fuel is not the answer.

  6. Biologist

    Re:Russian gas – Nordstream 2 seems to have been damaged, accidentally or as act of sabotage. Whichever it is, it’s unclear if it’s trivial to repair or whether damage is substantial / expensive to repair.
    If the latter, it’s no longer just a political obstacle to resume import of cheap Russian gas to Europe, it may be one step closer to this reduction becoming permanent.

  7. Matthew G. Saroff

    This is a direct result of the EU’s dedication to sado-monetarism and resulting austerity politics.

    With the exception of the populist xenophobic right, the rest of the credible polity in countries in the EU are all in on the “European Project”, even when it does the wrong thing and is fundamentally an anti-democratic institution.

    This means that the far right is the only place for Euro-skeptics to go.

    The closest that any credible left-wing party comes to Euro-skepticism is Die Linke in Germany, and they are neutral, and push come to shove, the mainline parties would rather align with the fascist AFD than Die Linke.

  8. discwrites

    Without cheap energy, the Italian economy will implode. It does not matter who won the election, all governments would do the same: desperately try to get their hands on gas supplies.

    All parties have had good relationships with our gas suppliers, including Russia/USSR, for the whole post-war period, not only the Right.

    Former prime minister D’Alema (the first post-communist to become prime minister) was always a strong supporter of gas terminals. See this interview from 2006, among many others.

    Under prime minister Letta, current secretary of the Democratic Party, gas imports soared. Letta had a very friendly meeting with Putin in Trieste almost as soon as he was sworn in.

    Algeria and Italy recently signed a new gas deal under Draghi and with the strong support of the 5-Star Movement and the Democratic Party.

  9. ArkansasAngie

    I for one am glad Italy is being sane about not setting up a winter where climate control ideas actually buries people. When people die from freezing to death (or starving to death) be sure and blame climate control as the cause.

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