Greenpeace Italy, together with ReCommon (an Italian association involved in questioning corporate and State power) and twelve Italian citizens from different regions of the country manifestly affected by climate change impacts, filed a lawsuit against ENI, a major oil & gas multinational company, and the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance, which, also through Cassa Depositi e Prestiti S.p.A. (an important public financial institution), has a relevant influence on the corporation.
The applicants asked the Court to ascertain and declare that the defendants share liability for the moral and material damages they suffered to their health, life and properties due to climate change impacts, and for further endangering these same assets.
The claimants allege ENI contributed to climate change as its activities, either industrial, commercial or for transportation of energy products, caused greenhouse gas emissions far beyond the limits suggested by the scientific community, notwithstanding the temperature goals internationally recognized in the Paris Agreement, which implies emissions reductions both in the public and in the private sphere. The claimants argue that the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti S.p.A. (whose majority shareholder is the same Ministry), as shareholders of the oil&gas corporation, could have influenced its strategy concerning the ecological transition away from fossil fuels, but did not leverage their relevant influence in that direction.
The legal strategy is primarily based on Article 2043 of the Italian Civil Code, dedicated to liability for non-contractual damages and interpreted, according to previous case-law, as a tool for human rights protection. The applicants claimed a violation of their rights to life, health, and respect for private and family life, as enshrined in the Italian Constitution, in the European Convention on Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that ENI shall respect according to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises.
The claimants drew on attribution science to argue for the existence of a causal link, and recalled the reasoning of the Dutch courts in the Urgenda case, according to which even a quantitatively relatively low level of greenhouse emissions on the global scale contributes to climate change, meaning that there is a sufficient causal link between those emissions and their present and future adverse effects. In addition, the applicants rely subsidiarily on Article 2050 of the Italian Civil Code, dedicated to liability for dangerous activities, that implies a reversed burden of proof: the defendant shall prove that every measure was taken to prevent the damaging event.
Concerning remedies, the claimants did not ask the Court to quantify the damages. Recalling the case against Royal Dutch Shell (Milieudefensie), they asked the Court to order ENI to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 45% in 2030 compared to 2020 and to align to the 1.5°C temperature goal. They also asked the Court to impose a monetary sanction in case the order is not fulfilled. The applicants also asked the Court to order the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti S.p.A. to adopt a policy defining climate goals to foster as relevant shareholder of the corporation.
This is not the first instance of rights-based climate litigation in Italy: you can read about the previously filed lawsuit against the Italian State here in the Database.
Date of filing:
9 May 2023
Civil Court of Rome
15 May 2023