CIVICUS speaks with Gabriella Abbate of Last Generation about climate activism and its criminalisation in Italy, a country that has recently experienced both drought and devastating floods.
Last Generation is an international network of climate activists using civil disobedience to compel governments to address the climate emergency by enabling citizen participation and financially supporting the global south as a primary victim of climate change that it hasn’t caused.
Why are climate protests on the rise in Italy?
Italy is heavily affected by climate and ecological crises: it experienced 310 climate disasters in 2022 alone, one of the main reasons behind them being the use of fossil fuels. The Italian government’s funding of fossil fuels has been steadily increasing, reaching €2.8 billion (approx. US$3 billion) between 2019 and 2021 and comprising 90 per cent of Italy’s total investment in fossil energy. Italy is the world’s sixth largest fossil energy lender, ahead even of Russia and Saudi Arabia.
In reaction to these energy policies, transnational activist networks including Last Generation, Extinction Rebellion and Scientists Rebellion are organising climate protests throughout Italy. They all use nonviolent civil disobedience tactics such as roadblocks, soiling with washable and vegetable-based paint and gluing. Last Generation is currently protesting to demand that the Italian government immediately cease public funding for fossil fuels and respect the agreements made by European Union member states in the 2030 climate and energy framework to increase the share of renewable energies, improve energy efficiency and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
What challenges are climate protesters facing in Italy?
A major challenge has been the criticism of our ways of protesting and the way we have been portrayed by the media. I think it is much easier to present someone as a vandal than to try to understand the root causes of the anger driving their action. The media and the state strongly exploit people’s lack of awareness regarding the innocuous materials used in the actions, such as vegetable charcoal, which leads to plenty of misinformation. However, more and more people are still joining our movement, perhaps driven by personal fear of the climate catastrophe, but also due to the realisation that the label of ‘eco vandalism’ is only a facade to mask the problem and that the negative consequences of our actions are minor and superficial.
On the other hand, the consequences of our activism being portrayed as violent and as acts of vandalism have been profound. There are currently three Last Generation activists facing trial for spraying the Senate building in Rome. They’re accused of ‘criminal damage’ and risk up to three years in prison. Never mind that the paint they used in the protest was washable.
In April, the Italian government introduced a new law specifically to punish climate actions seen as damaging monuments or cultural sites with fines ranging from €20,000 to €40,000 (approx. US$21,500 to US$43,000) and possible imprisonment for those caught in the act. In this regard, it should be noted that an essential part of Last Generation’s activism is to draw attention to one’s responsibility for one’s choices, which ends up accentuating the consequences of the actions we take. We take responsibility by not running away after an action, and this puts us in an even riskier position. Another tool used by the Italian state is indictment for ‘criminal conspiracy’, a charge historically used against the mafia.
The Italian government criminalises climate activists because by doing so it can continue avoiding its responsibilities regarding the wellbeing of its citizens. Accusing activists of vandalism is much easier than implementing renewable energy policies.
How does Last Generation support activists so they can continue mobilising for climate action?
Last Generation supports prosecuted activists by using funds from donations to pay their legal fees and hire experts to help them navigate court proceedings. We also share information about their cases on social media to gather international solidarity and support.
How do you connect with the global climate movement?
Last Generation is part of the A22 coalition, an international network of nonviolent civil disobedience campaigners, all of which demand their governments adopt measures to address ecoclimate collapse. The coalition was established in 2022 and it already includes at least 10 different campaigns advocating with governments in Europe, the Pacific and the USA.
Within the coalition we share not only strategies and best practices but also victories, such as that obtained in the Netherlands last month. In April, following months of continuous campaigning by our Dutch allies, Schiphol Airport decided to ban private jets and night flights from 2025. It is setting new rules that establish clear limits on noise and emissions and has dropped plans to build an additional runway.
This network is a great source of support. We help each other increase the visibility of our campaigns. It has certainly helped us attract more people to Non Paghiamo il Fossile (We Don’t Pay for Fossil) and other environmental campaigns in Italy and beyond.
Civic space in Italy is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.