Activists in a rubber motor boat with a sign reading, "ENI climate killer" in Italian.

Greenpeace Italy activists place a message for ENI in front of the Porto Marghera plant reading, "ENI climate killer."

(Photo: Greenpeace)

ENI Knew, Too: Probe Shows Italian Oil Giant Was Aware of Climate Impacts in 1970

"ENI joins the long list of fossil fuel companies that... have been aware for decades of the destructive impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from coal, gas and oil" the report's research coordinator said.

Italian oil company ENI also knew its product would contribute to the climate crisis as early as 1970, a report published Monday by Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon revealed.

The news comes as Greenpeace Italy, ReCommon, and 12 plaintiffs are in the midst of a lawsuit against ENI seeking damages for the past and future impacts of its emissions.

"Our investigation adds evidence to the cynical attitude of energy majors," Felice Moramarco, a communication expert at Greenpeace Italy who coordinated the report's research, said in a statement. "ENI joins the long list of fossil fuel companies that, according to numerous international investigations conducted in recent years, have been aware for decades of the destructive impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from coal, gas, and oil on the climate, but chose to ignore what they knew."

The report details several internal documents showing that the fossil fuel company knew that burning oil, gas, and coal could disrupt the future climate.

In 1969, ENI—while entirely owned by the state of Italy—charged its center the Istituto per gli Studi sullo Sviluppo Economico e il Progresso Tecnico (ISVET) with completing a technical-economic survey. The survey, completed the next year, acknowledged the potential impact of greenhouse gas emissions in the introduction to its summary.

"The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to a recent report by the U.N. Secretary, due to the increased use of mineral fuel oils, has increased over the last century by an average of 10% worldwide; towards the year 2000 this increase could reach 25%, with 'catastrophic' consequences for the climate," the introduction read.

The next piece of evidence dates from 1973. As the environmental movement began to pick up steam in the early 1970s due to pollution concerns, ENI founded a company called TECNECO in 1971 whose sole purpose was to tackle pollution. Two years later, TECNECO published the First Report on the Environmental Situation of the Country. The report included a table that stated carbon dioxide's "increase in the atmosphere is considered a potential cause of climate change."

Another TECNECO report from 1978 included this passage:

Various hypotheses have been made about the effect of fossil fuel emissions on climate. On a local scale, even considerable changes to climate have been noted. Similar climatic changes may occur on a regional scale due to the continued, increasing consumption of fossil fuels, and this may become a major problem by the end of the century. As already noted, the best available data indicate that the CO2 content of the atmosphere will reach 375-400 ppm in the year 2000; this would increase the temperature of the atmosphere by 0.5°C.

In the 1980s, ENI's company magazine Ecos also acknowledged the potential climate crisis on multiple occasions. For example, a 1988 article read, "The tremendous development of combustion processes during this century has led scientists to fear the greenhouse effect that could lead to climate change with devastating effects on the entire earth's ecosystem."

"It can therefore be said that ENI—like other oil and gas majors—was already aware from the very early 1970s that its core business, the exploitation of fossil fuels, was a serious danger not only to people's health, but also to the planet's climate," the report authors wrote.

Despite this, in the 1980s ENI also advertised natural gas as a "clean fuel" and participated in the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA). IPIECA was used by ExxonMobil to sow climate denial and work against national climate policies during this decade, as a 2021 study found. Coauthors of that study Ben Franta, a senior climate litigation researcher at Oxford's Sustainable Law Program, and Christophe Bonneuil, who directs France's National Center for Scientific Research, both contributed to the Greenpeace report.

"It is time companies like ENI take responsibility for their harmful policies."

Bonneuil told the report authors that IPIECA, because it had many state-owned oil companies as members, played a key role in "international oil diplomacy" as nations sought to regulate the industry due to concerns over air pollution, oil spills, and global heating.

"Although IPIECA has never described itself as a pressure group, from 1988 to 1994 it clearly became a channel through which oil companies from around the world shared information and strategies regarding the work of the United Nations on the road to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the details of the negotiations on the Climate Change Convention," Bonneuil said.

In 1992, ENI co-hosted an IPIECA in Rome. During that meeting, and despite the more definitive statements in internal company documents, ENI's manager of its Safety, Quality, and Environmental Protection department Ennio Profili said it was "necessary to obtain data" about how oceans and clouds might contribute to climate change "before taking political decisions, such as adopting a carbon tax, which could lead to dire and unexpected economic consequences."

In response to Greenpeace's report, ENI toldDesmog in a statement that it had "already responded to the claims of the two organizations in the court of Rome, through the procedural tools provided and within the timeframe assigned by the law."

"The complexity of the matter is such that it merits spaces which are not compatible with journalistic reductions," the company continued.

However, for Moramarco, the situation is not complex.

"Carbon majors have contributed to and exacerbated the climate crisis and, despite the evidence in their hands, they have blocked progress towards effective regulation," Moramarco said in a statement. "It is time companies like ENI take responsibility for their harmful policies and invest in ambitious action to limit the impacts of the climate crisis on people and the planet."

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