Ice Cream Parlor Climate Fund: Chocolatier’s Absurd Tale


In 2015, the twenty-first conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as Cop21, was held in France. The meeting went down in history thanks to the signing of the Paris Agreement, which was not limited to the drafting of an action plan to limit global warming (which includes the famous target of +1.5°C global average temperature compared to pre-industrial levels). In fact, the main world powers also agreed to allocate one hundred billion dollars a year “to help developing countries counter the effects of global warming”.

A Reuters investigation published last June examined about forty-four thousand of these contributions (ten per cent of the total), communicated by the various governments to the UN. In the space of five years, the amount of investments destined for climate mitigation in the least developed countries amounted to 182 billion dollars, less than half of what was agreed in 2015. The real problem, however, is that very many of these money has not really been used to fulfill the commitments made.

The investigation, conducted in collaboration with the Stanford University journalism program Big Local News, revealed numerous gray areas in the reports presented to the United Nations, denouncing a dramatic lack of transparency in the system. The activities involved in the financing from 2015 to today – which can be consulted on this page – have involved, among others, the opening of hotels, the production of romantic films, the expansion of airports and even the construction of coal plants.

Nothing has prevented the various countries from counting them in the total allocations destined for the most backward nations in the fight against the climate crisis, as in fact no rules have been broken. The reason is obvious: the agreements did not provide official guidelines on which activities were to be considered or were not useful funding for the cause. Some governments have independently developed fair standards, others have exploited the gray areas for their own interests.

The network of less virtuous nations extends from the USA to Japan (first for declared investments), passing through the states of the European Union. Including Italy. One of the most striking and bizarre cases, however, concerns our country.

An Italian story: Venchi’s Asian expansion

The very first word of the Reuters investigation is «Italy». The long report by the British press agency opens by saying: “Italy has helped a retailer open chocolate and ice cream shops throughout Asia”.

In fact, among the alleged climate commitments recorded by our government is a share loan of 4.2 million euros to Venchi, the historic Piedmontese brand of ice cream and chocolate shops. Simest, a company of the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti group that helps Italian companies expand abroad, personally took care of the subsidy in 2018, contributing to the commercial expansion of the food company in Asia through the opening of stores in Japan , China and Indonesia (as reported in the press release issued at the time and in the 2018 Simest annual report, from page nineteen).

Venchi has grown considerably in recent years. In 2020, it had one hundred and forty single-brand stores worldwide; only Covid has stopped an industrial growth which in 2019 recorded a record turnover of one hundred million euros.

Contacted by Linkiesta, the Simest press office commented, explaining that “the list of operations that fight climate change was drawn up by the ministry through Ispra (Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, ed). Simest takes care of supporting the internationalization of companies, the criteria for which these operations have been included in the list do not depend on us».

When asked, Ispra in turn replied that it had not dealt with it, suggesting that it contact the ministry directly. At the time of publishing this article, we have not received a response from Rome. Contacted by Reuters before the publication of the investigation, a spokesman for the ministry responsible for Italy’s relations with the United Nations limited himself to saying that the project had a climate component, but did not want to elaborate.

Speaking to Renewable Matter magazine, Venchi said he was unaware of the report. However, he added: “In our opinion, there has been confusion between various loans, in fact we issued a green bond at the end of 2022 with Sace (a company controlled by the Ministry of Economy, ed.)”. The doubt arises that it was, simply, maladministration. However, as the magazine explains, it may also have been an attempt to make ends meet for our country’s climate finance.

Naturally, the money received from Venchi represents only the crumbs of an international regulatory Wild West which has seen the proliferation of questionable initiatives. Those 4.2 million euros are a decidedly minority share within a cauldron of economic allocations which on paper declared climate mitigation objectives, but which have never had anything green.

The black hole of global climate finance

Globally, Reuters points out that from 2015 to 2020 the most developed countries registered more than forty thousand contributions disbursed for the purpose of combating the climate crisis, for a total amount of over 182 billion dollars. Among these, in addition to the Venchi affair, appears a loan for the expansion of a coastal hotel in Haiti allocated by the United States, the financing of the Belgian film La Tierra Roja (a love story set in the Argentine rainforest) and the opening of a new coal-fired plant in Bangladesh by Japan, justified by Japanese officials as green because it “includes cleaner technologies and sustainable features”.

Exceptions in a positive sense, fortunately, there are. Thirty-three countries – including the UK and Canada – submitted detailed reports to Reuters, which found billions of dollars in spending aligned with their stated climate goals. Among these, investments in renewable energy and in projects for resilience to natural disasters.

However, over sixty-five billion dollars have been so vaguely reported that it is impossible to say what they were intended for. Furthermore, at least 500 million have been lost in projects that were later canceled without funds being disbursed, with developing nations still awaiting the promised operations.

Also according to the Climate Finance Shadow 2023 report, produced by Oxfam, although donor countries claim to have allocated 83.3 billion dollars in aid in 2020, the real figure would fluctuate between twenty-one and 24.5 billion (about a quarter). A real black hole of green finance. Many of the projects would have been disbursed in the form of loans at their nominal value, “aggravating the foreign debt burden of already very fragile and highly indebted economies – reports the dossier -, even more so in a period in which interest rates are skyrocketing ».

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