Renewable Matter # 10 / May-June

Missing the Blue

by Ilaria Nardello

In April this year, The Economist hosted the FishHackathon event in London. The small meeting was one of a series aiming to sensitize the public on fisheries issues. In her keynote, their Environment correspondent pronounced like pearls in a rosary all the issues impinging on our oceans today. While each of them would deserve a prolonged narrative of its own, and the health of the Oceans has evidently taken the global stage, some countries appear to be particularly insensitive to such arguments and to actively dismiss the opportunities to even take the smallest steps in the right direction.

 

Italy’s regions launched a public consultation, a referendum, concerning the drilling rights of companies mining for oil and gas off-shore, within 12 miles of the beautiful Italian Coast. The referendum was called upon the initiative of some of Italy’s coastal regions, namely those more closely interested by the drilling sites. Their campaign aimed at abolishing some principles recently introduced in the Italian law, which now allows those companies and their platforms to forego the safe and healthy dismantling of the drilling platforms, to drill new wells in the same concession area, to exploit those wells until the complete exhaustion of the mine rather than until the expiration of the concession rights. 

With the whole Mediterranean fish stock dramatically shrinking, and 93% in the state of being over-exploited (source European Commission), and some on the verge of being depleted; with the obvious impact of those activities on marine life; the great risk of environmental pollution disasters, which the recent facts of Genoa have prospected as a close ominous threat; and especially with a thriving green economy, we are incredulous by how the government first and then the broad majority of people have simply dismissed the appointment with this referendum, which failed to reach the quorum of voters.

On the other hand, a week later, Italy would proudly ratify the COP21 Agreements on Climate. And the country’s message was strong during the intervention of the Italian Prime Minister in front of the UN Assembly, where words like Sustainability, Future and Environment appeared as the pillars of the Italian government’s at one time environmental and innovation-driven agenda. 

And it is true: Italy’s green economy is productive, innovative and leading some segments of the market. Among those, the bioplastic sector, with the strength of an industrial giant like Novamont; or the efficient energy sector, which according to recent statistics currently counts over 300,000 firms and 3 million workers. While some signals of alignment with the EU policies in this area, such as a green economy law passed by the Italian Parliament at the end of 2015, showed a modest intention to correct the bearing, strong signals of implementation still fail to be transmitted. Instead, the visible, recent efforts of revitalizing the Italian economy have pointed more often and more intensely to an ancient model of development based on fossil fuels and steel; i.e.: renewing the offshore gas and oil exploitation concessions, even within twelve miles of the coast, unfreezing the lock-down measures imposed on oil mining companies in the area of Basilicata and planning the grand re-opening of a long-time inactive steel factory based on the coast of Tuscany.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Italy’s diverse natural environment and exquisite cultural heritage are among its most important assets. With the important threats that the oceans are facing, such as the depletion of its biological resources, the insurmountable amount of plastic soon to be present in larger volumes than fish, the ocean warming and acidifying, the opportunity of this referendum to provide the right signal was simply too good to be missed: to lead our people in the right direction, and embrace, at least symbolically, the liberation from ancient technologies and ancient socio-economic ties. A process of dis-armament in favour of a more sustainable relationship with the Blue planet could have begun. 

 

 

Comunicazione del 27 aprile 2016 del commissario per l’Ambiente, Affari marittimi e la Pesca Karmenu Vella 
europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-16-1564_fr.htm