Home Climate Change Italy-Africa Summit an ‘empty box’, climate activists say

Italy-Africa Summit an ‘empty box’, climate activists say

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The Italy-Africa Summit, which was held in Rome on January 28-29, had been heralded by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni as a non-predatory and non-paternalistic strategy for Africa.

But when the summit – which was dubbed the Mattei Plan – came to a close, African leaders and representatives who were in attendance left disappointed that the Plan did not address pressing African issues, such as ending neo-colonial approaches by European countries.

In their speeches, Ms Meloni and the country’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani did not reveal much on the concrete aspects of the so-called Mattei Plan, only confirming what had been already announced before the Summit – earmarking further exploitation of African resources for Europe’s energy needs.

The Mattei Plan, named after Enrico Mattei, the founder of Italian oil and gas giant Eni, which has interests in several oil and gas projects in Africa, was seen by many observers as a ploy to transform Italy into an energy hub for the European Union as the block weans itself from Russian oil and gas.

African leaders at the Italy-Africa Summit
African leaders at the Italy-Africa Summit

But Ms Meloni hinted that the Mattei Plan meant to address the root causes of Africans’ migrations towards Europe and the continent’s agriculture, water and green energy transition in the wake of climate change. In her speech, she also announced that Italy was keen to play its ‘natural role’ as a bridge between Africa and Europe and that Africa will be the main priority for Italy’s G7 presidency.

In the build-up to the summit, up to 79 African civil society organisations had written a letter to Ms Meloni demanding transparency, participation and inclusion of African civil society to ensure access to energy and energy transition; adopting an integrated approach to Africa’s climate, energy and development issues; tackling global and African adaptation finance gaps and delivering on commitments to double adaptation funding; as well as agroecology and food sovereignty.

However, even though Italy pledged 5.5 billion Euros in grants and loans for Africa, there was little mention of climate change.

Climate-migration nexus

The speeches did not make any reference to the climate dimension – even on the Italy-Africa energy partnership. The impact of climate change on migration was only mentioned with reference to the issue of water scarcity, which apparently drives instability, conflicts and migration flows.

“As of today, the Mattei Plan is an empty box. Premier Meloni has talked about pilot projects, but the risk is that the Plan will be filled with projects that are harmful to African populations, starting with those related to fossil fuels. On top of that, there is the participation in the steering committee of actors such as Eni and SACE,” said Simone Ogno, finance and climate campaigner at ReCommon, an Italian nonprofit organisation that challenges corporate and state power responsible for the plunder of territories.

Mr Ogno pointed out that those same actors potentially had interests to see their own investments included in the Plan, which makes it lack well-defined guidelines.

“We call for a moratorium on all fossil projects concerning Africa that involve Italian companies, in order not to influence the Plan and so that not a single euro of public money is spent on these,” he said.

Dean Bhekumuzi Bhebhe, campaigns lead at Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate-focused nonprofit, said that Africa stands at a critical point given the climate crisis and that if Africans do not call out convenings such as the Italy-Africa Summit, the continent stands to allow a new form of colonialism to take shape and spread inequality across its landscape.

‘Africa cannot be developed through gas infrastructure’

“If the Mattei Plan is to succeed, we need genuine solutions centred on renewable energy. Beyond solutions, we need transparency and inclusivity. Beyond inclusion, we need African voices. Africa is for Africans and only we reserve the power to define our developmental future. The process of locking-in Africa to outdated, outmoded and obsolete fossil fuel extraction is a future we cannot endorse,” he said.

However, even though Kenyan President William Ruto has in the past presented himself as Africa’s climate change champion, he seemed to contradict himself at the Summit, saying that it would not be complete without Africa’s natural resources, especially fossil fuels – resources he said Africa must be allowed to harness for export.

“I firmly believe that no African country can be asked to halt the exploration of its natural resources, including fossil fuels,” he said.

Up to 45 African states were represented at various levels – with two dozens of presidents in attendance – and Ms Meloni said that Italy would support energy projects in Africa for both domestic use and export.

Silvia Francescon, senior foreign policy expert at ECCO, an Italian think tank dedicated to climate change, said that even though the presence of African leaders at the Summit exceeded expectations, only an Italian and African civil society – which was absent from the Summit – would make the Mattei Plan truly innovative and inclusive.

“Climate and energy are confirmed to be the central pillar of the Plan, but several ambiguities remain. Furthermore, there is no clear reference to the international commitments on climate, also reaffirmed by the Italian government at the latest COP28 in Dubai,” she said.

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