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Italy’s Eni faces lawsuit alleging early knowledge of climate change



Italian oil major Eni is facing the country’s first climate lawsuit, with environmental groups alleging the company used “greenwashing” to push for more fossil fuels despite knowing of the risks posed by burning its products since 1970.

Greenpeace Italy and Italian advocacy group ReCommon aim 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.

While Eni is among the world’s largest oil companies, the company’s role in climate change has so far undergone scant scrutiny.

But the groups have unearthed a 1970 report by Eni’s Isvet research centre that warned of the “catastrophic” risk the build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by burning fossil fuels could pose to the climate.

Further research by DeSmog has shown that Eni’s company magazine Ecos made repeated references to climate change during the late 1980s and 1990s — while running advertising campaigns promoting natural gas, which is mostly comprised of planet-warming methane, as a “clean” fuel.

Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon will charge in the lawsuit that although Eni has been aware for more than five decades that burning fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change, the company used “lobbying and greenwashing” strategies to downplay the dangers posed by its business model.

“The urgency of taking action against the climate crisis has prompted us to bring the first climate lawsuit in Italy against the country’s largest energy company,” Matteo Ceruti, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told DeSmog. 

The lawsuit will also name two government entities — the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the development bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti — for the “influence they exercise on Eni,” the writ of summons states. Between them, the ministry and the bank hold the Italian government’s one-third ownership stake in Eni.

Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon announced the litigation at a news conference in Rome on Tuesday, held on the eve of Eni’s annual general meeting. The groups say they intend to file the lawsuit in the Civil Court of Rome by May 19, and will request that hearings begin in November.

“What we want is for those who knowingly and consciously caused climate change to be held accountable,” Simona Abbate, of Greenpeace Italy, told the news conference.

Eni has set a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But Abbate said the company’s short-term plans to increase production of oil and gas were incompatible with the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and dismissed its pledges to use carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions as a form of greenwashing.

“Eni took a bath of green paint,” Abbate said. “But no color is enough to comply with the Paris Agreement.”

Eni said it would prove the lawsuit was “groundless,” and, if necessary, demonstrate in court that it had taken the correct approach to decarbonization. “The strategy combines and balances the essential objectives of sustainability, energy security and competitiveness of Italy,” Eni said in statement.

The company added that it reserved the right to take legal action to protect its reputation in response to “repeated defamatory actions” undertaken by ReCommon.

Last month, DeSmog revealed new evidence of Shell’s early knowledge of climate change, contained in a dossier of 201 documents unearthed by Dutch climate activist Vatan Hüzeir, and published on Climate Files.

Read the full report from DeSmog here.


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