Italy struggles to name climate envoy as ministers argue over name

FILE PHOTO: Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio speaks during a news conference in Rome, Italy, June 28, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

ROME (Reuters) - Italy, joint host of a key United Nations climate summit just over a week away, has still not found a special envoy to represent it because the ministers responsible for the appointment cannot agree on a name.

Italian climate activists cheered when a government decree in June promised the appointment of the special envoy, following the example of other countries which have named prominent figures to the job such as John Kerry in the United States.

The role would ensure "more effective Italian participation at international events and negotiations on the environment and climate change," read the decree.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani were given joint responsibility for the appointment, which Di Maio said would be made by September.

Three weeks after the deadline nobody has been named, as Italy prepares to host a Group of 20 leaders' meeting next week where climate change will top the agenda, immediately followed by the U.N. "COP26" climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

"The delay in appointing the special envoy before the crucial G20 Summit and COP26 is a big missed opportunity," said Luca Bergamaschi, co-founder of Italian climate think-tank ECCO.

Cingolani wants someone widely known, a figurehead who can be "inspiring" to the general public but who will not overshadow the minister himself, said one government source, adding that Di Maio, on the other hand, wants to pick a career diplomat.

Another source said the names put forward by Cingolani were considered unsuitable by the office of Prime Minister Mario Draghi and it was for this reason that Di Maio was looking for candidates among the foreign ministry's diplomatic corps.

Draghi's office declined to comment.

"We can't deny there is a problem, otherwise the person would have been named by now," said a third ministerial source.

Cingolani, a physicist with no party affiliation, has often been criticised by climate activists for stressing the financial and social costs of the ecological transition and saying that it needs to be gradual.

Di Maio is a former deputy prime minister and a leading light in the 5-Star Movement, the largest party in parliament.

Italy, which holds the rotating G20 presidency this year as well as being joint host - along with Britain - of COP26, is the only G7 nation that has not yet made a new financial commitment up to 2025 to help poor countries tackle climate change.

ECCO's Bergamaschi said the envoy should be "a high-level figure with a credible track record on climate diplomacy at European and international level". He added that a female appointment would be ideal "given that the top Italian political and diplomatic posts are dominated by men".

(additional reporting by Crispian Balmer, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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