It can only be described as a victory for democratic rights: an Italian court has ruled against utility company Enel and its desperate bid to silence Greenpeace Italy.
Enel, incensed by an embarrassing analysis of its dirty coal habit, took Greenpeace Italy to court, objecting to a study that revealed the company’s coal emissions kill 366 people in Italy every year.
The company then tried to censure Greenpeace Italy with legal action, seeking a court ruling ordering the Greenpeace Italy website detailing Enel’s deadly emissions to be taken offline. The lawsuit failed on all counts.
What Enel should have done instead, was face up to the facts of its unhealthy addiction to coal and invest in renewable energy.
It did neither and in a telling blow earlier this month, the Italian court denied Enel’s request to shut down Greenpeace Italy’s website and noted that Enel had failed to present any facts to dispute the analysis that Greenpeace Italy had used. Greenpeace Italy had even given the company the chance to check the accuracy of its calculations.
In the ruling, however, the judge said the “essential core” of Greenpeace Italy's information was accurate and the “harshness of expressions” used to criticise Enel was justified.
Greenpeace Italy executive director Giuseppe Onufrio put the ruling into its true context, describing it as “a victory for a fundamental democratic principle” – the right to criticise.
Onufrio also said the court ruled that harsh language cannot be censured if it is based on scientifically grounded data and arguments. And the evidence against Enel is alarming.
The calculations Greenpeace Italy used for its campaign were based on data and methodology from the European Environment Agency, the top EU environmental agency. The study looked at air pollution from all industrial facilities in Europe, including Enel’s plants.
Greenpeace Italy commissioned Dutch independent research institute SOMO to adapt the methodology of the EU agency to Enel's coal-fired power plants to determine the number of deaths caused by its emissions.
The independent analysis of data showed that, including the deaths in Italy, air pollution from Enel’s entire fleet of coal plants brings the number of deaths to more than 1,000 a year in Europe.
The public has a right to know about the huge impacts of Enel's dirty coal emissions.
In 2011, Enel, with carbon dioxide emissions of 36.8 million tonnes, was the major CO2 emitter in Italy, and at 78 million tonnes was the fourth largest emitter in Europe.
The company’s CO2 emissions in Italy are equivalent to the total emitted by the steel and concrete producing sectors and about 55% more than what is emitted by the big oil refining groups.
These are facts that Enel wanted to hide. But it doesn’t end there.
The analysis also estimated that the damage to Italy from Enel's coal plants amounts to 2 billion euros a year and the annual costs for all of Europe are 4.3 billion euros.
Ultimately, instead of a obtaining a ruling forcing Greenpeace Italy to silence its campaign, Enel ended up being ordered by the court to pay the costs of the hearing.
And this isn’t the first time Enel has tried to use legal means to silence its opponents.
The company has previously threatened to sue Greenpeace Italy and Greenpeace International for 1.6 million euros following peaceful protests.
Sadly, demanding huge sums of cash is a preferred route for big companies trying to frighten off its critics.
Greenpeace Italy will not be silenced and is urging Enel to come clean.
Instead of going to court to try to hide its deadly secrets, the company should cut its coal-based production in half by 2020 and get out of coal completely by 2030. Enel should replace coal with clean and renewable sources of electricity.
Italy requires renewable energy, not censorship.