Clini: Environment, growth are ‘two sides of the same coin’

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Italians decidedly rejected nuclear power in a referendum last year, but that does not mean abandoning the study and research on atomic energy, Environment Minister Corrado Clini said in an interview with EURACTIV Italy.

Corrado Clini is Italy's minister of the environment in Mario Monti's government of 'technocrats'. A career civil servant, he has previously organised environmental forums for the G8 and served as director-general of Ministry of the Environment's department for international protection of the environment. He was interviewed by EURACTIV Italy's Alessandra Flora.

Click here to read a shortened version of this interview.

Minister, you said that Italy cannot remain behind in research on nuclear power generation. How can this coexist with your clear support for the development of renewable energies?

In a referendum, Italians have ruled against the possibility of installing nuclear power plants in our country. So the argument is now closed. Getting involved in nuclear energy research is different as that is cutting-edge research going on all over the world, with innovative developments in many sectors with the aim of achieving fourth-generation power plants, which will be safer and produce less waste.

Just in the interest of our citizens who so clearly expressed their thoughts, I think our country should maintain a high level of research and knowledge. Nuclear research points towards clean energy in the medium-long term. Renewables, which we highly support and promote, are the present and the near future. I see no contradiction in this position.

The Lombardy Region has proposed the establishment of "territorial transparency committees" on the French model, through which civil society organisations can visit the nuclear power plants at any time and check the safety conditions. Do you believe that this will help to reopen the debate on nuclear power that came to a halt with the referendum?

It is not about reopening the debate on nuclear. This argument, as I said, is closed. Instead, it is important to study the evolution of nuclear technology, in order for our country not to fall behind and acquire the knowledge to exploit the innovations in other research areas. All contributions can be useful in this regard.

How will Italy contribute to 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 provided by the Energy Roadmap presented in mid-December by the European Commission?

Italy, like all EU countries, is already doing its part. The measures adopted by our government like the new rules on the use fluorinated gas and the voluntary agreement with private entrepreneurs on the so-called carbon footprint, show that the path we want to follow is the one of shared commitments with industry.

Without entrepreneurs' awareness that we need to change the production systems, any measure is likely to have ineffective results.

Fortunately, we recorded a great willingness to proceed on the path of reducing emissions. The strategy to promote energy efficiency and, above all, renewable energy production with the adequate R&D to lower costs of production and improve plants’ production capacity is gradually coming together.

This also means we need to convince Italian industrial concerns as a whole, but also the population, that we face a momentous challenge, which is to change our way of life and the way we use energy. It is possible to win this challenge, both in economic and environmental terms.

You welcomed the agreement reached in Durban on 9 December. What are the next actions in this regard? The rejection of Japan, Russia and Canada, which add up to the historical no of the US to the Kyoto protocol, will affect the success of the platform?

Italy was in the top group of countries which wanted the agreement in Durban. An agreement which was possible because China has broken the circle of mutual distrust with the US ("I will not because you don’t") and opened the way for a comprehensive agreement.

Now we are committed to following the agreement by undertaking national policies, while participating to European decisions and strengthening partnerships with China, Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa.

We know that there are different ideas on the timing with which this process must be completed, not on the will to do so. So, I think that the path of strengthening international cooperation and partnership among countries is the best way to bridge the gap between those who, like the EU, is willing to accept binding commitments from the start, and those which are massively investing following a national logic.

This will facilitate the exchange of technologies and systems capable of providing at the same time, economic growth and reducing emissions. I was recently in Brazil to promote environmental cooperation programmes already under way for the establishment of new joint initiatives in view of the "Earth Summit" which will take place in Rio in June, 20 years from the first in 1992, which marked the advent of sustainable development strategies that are now a widespread economic reality.

During the trip to Brazil, we examined the Italian initiatives at Rio+20, also considering initiatives that coincide with the Year of Italy in Brazil. The support of the Italian Ministry of Environment, scientific institutions and of the Italian industry aims to achieve the ambitious program of environmental recovery of Rio de Janeiro in view of the Olympics.

The European Parliament has not yet reached a definitive agreement on the energy efficiency directive. What is your assessment on this issue? When will it be possible in Italy to speak concretely of 'green taxes'?

I said and I confirm that in our country respect for the environment and economic growth are two sides of the same coin and hold together precisely thanks to proper taxation.

The 55% tax exemption on energy efficiency has given a clear signal that the government intends to work in this direction, because the idea that we must get across is that people that consume while respecting the environment should benefit from an economic advantage.

My department is working on several measures, in consultation with the Ministry of Economy, and the first results of this combined work are perceptible in the adopted development package.

Let's talk about carbon footprints. Do you think the voluntary agreements which have been signed with several Italian companies will lead to a compulsory system of greenhouse gas emissions detection in the production process?

I would like to stress the importance of this agreement lies precisely in its voluntary nature, because it shows companies' awareness. If we want the measures to be effective, we need to share the burden. The number and importance of the companies that have signed this first series of voluntary agreements gives me hope that others will follow shortly.

We are certainly working at the national and international level to set up a programme that could become common practice, in the interest of all industries across the world.

This initiative has the advantage of promoting production and distribution techniques that improve products while sending a positive message to consumers. This is one of the most interesting to promote the green economy.

In an article written for Il Sole 24 Ore [the Italian financial daily], I said that such a situation is a "win-win-win" one because you win three times–the environment, the company and the consumer. 

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