Spain, Italy leadership changes raise hopes for EU climate ambition

Climate hawk Teresa Ribera gets a leading role in Pedro Sánchez’ government, while Giuseppe Conte promises to speed up Italy’s decarbonisation

Teresa Ribera has been put in charge of Spain's energy, climate and environment ministry (Pic: Casa de America/Flickr)


Government shake-ups in Spain and Italy this week may bring some good news for the climate.

Spain’s incoming centre-left prime minister Pedro Sánchez named climate hawk Teresa Ribera on Tuesday to lead a new super-ministry spanning energy and environment.

Ribera previously served as secretary of state for climate change 2008-11. Since then, she became director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (Iddri) in Paris and sat on the board of several climate-related organisations. She is known as an advocate for clean energy and international cooperation on climate change.

Laurence Tubiana, a key French architect of the Paris Agreement, and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark were among the first to congratulate her on the appointment.

The change of government follows a vote of no confidence in former premier Mariano Rajoy on 1 June, after leading members of his party were convicted of corruption.

Based on her record, Ribera can be expected to promote a faster transition away from coal to clean energy. A member of Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), Ribera has previously criticised Rajoy’s ousted government over its resistance to closing coal plants. “There is still an incredible inertia on the subject of climate,” she told Euractiv in November 2017.

Sánchez does not have a majority in parliament, however, which may constrain his government’s ability to effect change.

Teresa Ribera: World’s vulnerable must be at the heart of a low carbon transition

Meanwhile Giuseppe Conte, the law professor named to lead Italy’s populist coalition, promised in his inaugural speech on Tuesday to speed up the decarbonisation of the economy.

The coalition agreement between the 5-Star Movement and right-wing League parties puts a strong emphasis on the green economy. League’s manifesto states: “Man and environment are two sides of the same coin. Whoever fails to respect the environment fails to respect himself.”

It is short on specific policies to back up the rhetoric, however, noted E3G expert Luca Bergamaschi. “For now we can expect continuity with previous commitments and actions. Unless the new government develops a credible strategy and moves rapidly towards implementation, the government contract and the speech of the new PM will be just words.”

Seven EU member states have launched a campaign for the bloc to increase its 2030 climate target, in line with the Paris Agreement. Backing that initiative could be “a good first step” for the new government to prove its climate credentials, Bergamaschi said.

Caitlin Tilley contributed to this article.

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