More than 200 co-plaintiffs have teamed up to sue the Italian government for climate inaction and for failing to meet its binding legal obligations in line with the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C.
The court case, dubbed ‘Last Judgement’ after the namesake campaign that has rallied support across the country, comes in the wake of a landmark decision by the Dutch Supreme Court to uphold a claim made by Urgenda in 2019. The nonprofit foundation’s victory set an irreversible precedent.
The Netherlands was a trailblazer on this matter and, ever since then, many countries have been following suit. Now it is Italy’s turn.
The case was filed before the Roman Civil Court in June 2021, but the verdict is still pending. A new adjudication is expected this fall but given the Italian sluggish judiciary and slow legal proceedings, the case could drag on for quite a while.
“Our legal strategy consists in asserting the inertia of the Italian state. We want to hold the government accountable for not having put in place the appropriate mitigation measures to counteract the threat posed by the climate emergency,” says Luca Saltalamacchia, a lawyer who has long been working in the field of environmental protection and human rights.
If the government were to be condemned for climate liability, it would be forced to achieve a sharp reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. “The government could potentially decide to ignore the ruling. If that is the case, it falls to us jurists to find a way to compulsorily obtain compliance,” stresses Luca Saltalamacchia.
After a summer marked by extreme drought, a glacier collapsing due to record temperatures, and recent flash floods in the country’s central territory, time seems to be running short.
But instead of phasing out fossil fuels, the debate surrounding viable ways to address the current energy crisis seems to go in the direction of quick fixes, like reopening coal-fired power plants.
“Italy lags far behind in terms of renewables. The green transition started back in 2005, but it suffered a slowdown after 2011, only to be shelved in the name of economic interests. Now we pay the price of those missteps,” says climatologist and science communicator Luca Mercalli.
Climate litigation is on the rise and has rapidly become a tool in the hands of civil society members to exert pressure on both private and public actors so that they start shouldering their fair share of responsibility for not doing enough.
“Today, climate litigation cases are roughly 2000 in more than 45 countries. Just five years ago, when the UN first started tallying them, they were 884 spread across 24 countries. It’s an ever-growing phenomenon,” says Marica di Pierri – journalist and climate activist – whose NGO A Sud launched the initiative and is now spearheading the legal dispute.
“Fighting for climate justice is an intersectional struggle. It means standing up for social justice, gender equality and democracy. It means challenging a socioeconomic model that produces inequalities and environmental degradation,” reiterates the activist.
The Ministry for the Ecological Transition has yet to comment or issue any statement to this date.
Italy awaits its final judgement.
As our planet warms up, let’s just hope it won’t coincide with Earth’s doomsday.