DeSmog

Climate Trial Against Oil Giant Eni Opens in Italy

The case coincides with a new Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon report showing Eni’s technical consultants have wide links to climate denier groups.
Stella Levantesi
Stella Levantesi
on
Greenpeace Italy released a new report that shows oil major Eni is using climate denier technical consultants as a defense strategy in its climate warming lawsuit. Flickr via PRP Channel (CC BY-2.0)

Italy’s first climate change lawsuit brought by Greenpeace Italy and climate advocacy group ReCommon against Italian oil giant Eni opened with its first hearing on February 16, alleging the company contributed to global warming. 

The hearing comes alongside a new report by Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon, which describes how Eni’s technical consultants in the case have deep ties to the fossil fuel industry and climate deniers. 

The lawsuit “aims to build on a similar case targeting Anglo-Dutch oil major Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands to force Eni to slash its carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030,” as DeSmog has previously reported.

At issue in the case is whether or not Eni knowingly contributed to climate change and if it’s responsible for past and future damages. The case is also assessing if the oil giant violated human rights that are protected by the Italian Constitution and international agreements. 

The cache of documentary evidence in the lawsuit includes two “technical reports” produced for Eni’s defense by consultants who Greenpeace Italy’s new report describes as climate deniers.

Last week, the two environmental organizations pushed to have the judge hear their witnesses, which include 12 Italian citizens who have been impacted by climate change, the groups’ lawyer Alessandro Gariglio told DeSmog.

“Now it will be up to the judge to assess whether he considers the documentary evidence presented to be sufficient or, instead, whether he thinks it might be appropriate to hear witnesses and, above all, to order a court-appointed expert opinion,” Gariglio noted. He added that he and his parties are in favor of such a move, “and the counterparties [Eni included] are not.” 

In a statement to DeSmog, an Eni spokesperson said the company “will prove the groundlessness of Greenpeace and ReCommon’s claims, both legally and factually, in the legal proceedings.” Documentation related to the current lawsuit is available for review on Eni’s website.

Eni’s Technical Reports

The technical reports are addendums to one of Eni’s statements of defense and are authored by Carlo Stagnaro, director of research and studies at the think tank Istituto Bruno Leoni (IBL), and Stefano Consonni, professor of Energy and Environmental Systems at the Department of Energy of the Politecnico University in Milan.

According to Greenpeace Italy, the two consultants are “anything but independent,” and “have expressed climate denial positions” on more than one occasion. 

Consonni’s resume states that since 1993 he has been “lead investigator” for research financed by multiple oil and gas companies, including Eni, ExxonMobil, and BP Alternative Energy, and the U.S. Department of Energy. 

Stagnaro’s technical report, Greenpeace says, includes references to Eni’s key climate delay tactics, such as “whataboutism” to obscure the Italian oil giant’s true contribution to global warming. For example, it mentions China’s lack of responsibility in controlling emissions and also the tactic of  diverting accountability towards consumers –  a reference that is repeated 19 times throughout the text.

Ties to the U.S. Climate Denial Machine

According to Greenpeace’s report, the think tank IBL has denied man-made anthropogenic climate change in the past and, in the early 2000s, Stagnaro was “among the most active figures” within the institution to import U.S. climate denial theories into Italy.

In 2006, for example, Stagnaro wrote a briefing called “Climate. We want to be Amerikans,” which includes delayer phrasing such as “climate alarmists.” The briefing states, “Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol presupposes a ‘choice of field’ in science: it rests, that is, on the assumption that humans are the root cause,” which is “an assumption that is justified neither by the uncertainty of actual scientific knowledge nor by the complexity of the atmospheric dynamics.”

To support this, the briefing cites retired astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas, who is associated with many climate denier organizations, including the George C. Marshall Institute. In 2002, in a hearing in the U.S. Senate, Baliunas declared that “since no warming trend in the lower layers of the troposphere was observed, most of the surface warming in recent decades cannot be attributed to a greenhouse effect enhanced by human causes.”

Stagnaro’s briefing also cites climate denier Bjorn Lomborg and was co-authored by Mario Sechi, current editor-in-chief of far-right Italian newspaper Libero, who is the former director of Eni-owned news agency, AGI, and a former spokesperson for current right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

At a summit in Rome at the end of January, Meloni unveiled the “Mattei Plan,” named after Enrico Mattei, founder of Eni. The program aims to transform Italy into “an energy hub” distributing fossil fuels extracted from Africa that creates “a bridge between Europe and Africa.” Campaigners in Italy and across Africa have criticized the plan, saying it will promote fossil fuel exploitation and “false solutions.”  Before the initiative was announced, over 50 African groups signed a letter to the Italian government calling for an “end of neo-colonial approaches” and “a more consultative approach.” “This ‘dash for gas’ in Africa is dangerous and short-sighted,” the letter states.

Eni has also recently come under fire in some Italian media for sponsoring the week-long music and entertainment TV show, Sanremo, which was seen by 70 percent of Italian viewers this year during one of its broadcasts. According to Greenpeace, this sponsorship is “yet another greenwashing operation.”

Greenpeace’s report underscores the fact that IBL, under Stagnaro’s direction, is part of the Atlas Network, a group of more than 500 “free market” organizations in nearly 100 countries that have supported climate science denial positions and  lobbied against legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

According to previous DeSmog reports, the Atlas Network is also behind efforts to “brand climate activists as extremists” and “pass anti-protest legislation.”

Greenpeace’s report reveals that in 2004, IBL also joined the Cooler Heads Coalition (CHC), a U.S.-based pressure group that has worked to promote climate denialism. After calling climate science a hoax for two decades, CHC played an important role in President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.

Eni’s technical consultants with the Istituto Bruno Leoni (IBL) have ties to U.S. climate denial organizations like the Heartland Institute. Credit: Wikipedia

According to the Climate Investigations Center, from 1997 to 2015, members of CHC received “upwards of $98 million dollars in donations from Exxon Mobil, conservative foundations, and dark money organizations.”

According to another report by Italian news outlet Il Fatto Quotidiano, in 2010, Exxon contributed $30,000 to IBL and Eni gave the group 12,000 euros.

In 2008, IBL also co-sponsored the event “Global Warming Is Not a Crisis” with the Heartland Institute, which has been at “the forefront” of denying scientific evidence for climate change.

IBL’s position seems to have softened over the years, Greenpeace’s report mentions, with Stagnaro tweeting in November 2019 that, “The position of the @istbrunoleoni on #climate is that: 1. climate change exists and is also due to humans 2. Emissions must be reduced 3. Not all policies that aim to reduce emissions work or are efficient.”

However, in 2018, IBL promoted the launch of “In Defense of Fossil Fuels,” a book by Alex Epstein who, according to investigative group Documented, “influences oil policy directly as a member of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission,” which is “a powerful quasi-regulatory body that lobbies for oil and gas interests.”

“Can the report of someone who has often personally embraced and disseminated climate change denialist positions be considered reliable in the context of climate litigation?” asks Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon, who have named their campaign for the lawsuit “The Just Cause.” Can it “be considered free of judgment if that same expert has received funding from that same company in the past?” the plaintiffs ask.

In response, Eni’s website reads, “There is little that is ‘just’ about this action. “The plaintiffs are in fact asking the court to declare Eni “responsible” for damages suffered and future damages resulting from climate change, to which the company has allegedly contributed with its conduct over the past decades.” 

This “false narrative,” Eni continues, is based on an “obvious instrumental approach” aimed at “demonizing” the business.

Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon stated that they hope the judge will “reject the numerous and specious objections made by Eni” to allow “a radical change in the company’s industrial strategies.”

Stella Levantesi
Stella Levantesi is an Italian climate journalist, photographer, and author. She is the author of the Gaslit series on DeSmog. Her main areas of expertise are climate disinformation, climate litigation, and corporate responsibility on the climate crisis. Her book “I bugiardi del clima” (Climate Liars) was published in Italy with Laterza, and her work has featured in The New Republic and Nature Italy. You can follow her on Twitter @StellaLevantesi.

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