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Sulcis Iglesiente, Italy

Region: Sulcis Iglesiente
Country: Italy
Leader: K&I

About the case study

The case study was focused on Sulcis, one of the historical regions of Sardinia island. As indicated by the ENTRANCES analytic framework, we focused on the Sulcis “Coal and Carbon Territory” (CCT), the portion of Sulcis territory composed of nine municipalities that has a strong identification with coal mining and that is dependent on carbon-intensive industries. This is the area that historically hosted the only Italian coal mine (that stopped production in 2015), where the non-ferrous metal industries proliferated, and where one of the two main coal-fired power plants of Sardinia is based. The area is relatively small (534.6 sq Km) and with a limited population (64474 inhabitants), a good part of which lives in the Sulcis capital, Carbonia (26,813 inhabitants), a city founded in the 30s by the fascist regime and whose name means “city of coal”. The Coal and Carbon territory (in yellow) may be appreciated in the Sardinia chart.

The Sulcis coal and carbon territory has been subject to significant and ongoing economic restructuring since the 90s when the publicly owned aluminum companies were privatized. In the period 2008-2012, following the economic crisis, two out of three of the biggest employers in the local non-ferrous metal industry closed or stopped production. It has been estimated a loss of 3000 direct and 10000 indirect jobs in the area. In the same period, following an infringement investigation on competition rules by the EU, the extractive activities of the local coal mine stopped, with a further loss of jobs. In this critical context, further pressure on the territory arrived with the decision of the Italian government to phase-out coal in Italy by 2025, and with the energy crisis started before the Russian war in Ukraine. The combined effect of these events endangered other two main employers in the area, the coal-fired power plant and the Portovesme Srl, the only non-ferrous metal industry still active after the economic crises of 2008-2012.

The case study was developed across three different foci.

Firstly, an analysis of territorial change in the Coal and Carbon and Territory was carried out through the implementation of a focus group mapping of the strain situations in the area, which allowed us to identify how different changes are conflicting with how the territory is organised an structured; and a Survey with 386 respondents, aimed at discovering how citizens place attachment is challenged by the decarbonisation process.

Secondly, an analysis of the underlying dynamics of structural change, i.e. change in the socio-economic and the socio-demographic structure of the region. The analysis was conducted through extensive data collection and elaboration.

Thirdly, an analysis of the Clean Energy Transition that is taking shape in Sardinia was conducted through the implementation of text research, which focused on the narrative battles that are ongoing among different actors for the interpretation of the transition; and in-depth interviews focused on an overview of the capacity available in the Sardinia region to shape its decarbonisation pathway.

The main findings / results so far are the following:

  • Four fundamental challenges for the Sulcis Coal and Carbon Territory were identified: saving the metallurgic sector; diversifying the local economy; advancing ecological remediation and conservation; combating peripheralisation. The territory managed to mobilise a significant amount of human and financial resources to deal with these challenges and several coping strategies have been adopted to achieve them.
  • Despite these attempts, the challenges and coping strategies are often experienced in conflict or competition with each other. The territory is fragmented and divided about what should happen next and there is not a clear vision of what new kind of territorial development will integrate or substitute the current model based on the non-ferrous metal industries. Against this background, few if any attempts have been conducted so far to address the existing conflicts and re-compose a shared interpretation about what the territory is and what it should be in the future.
  • Against this background, the Clean Energy Transition is perceived in the territory both as a further factor that will deepen the current crisis and as a possible window of opportunity to rethink the territory. The case study shows, however, that the energy transition, as it is currently taking shape in Sardinia, is characterised by a change toward a more centralised energy system and a centralisation of the related decision-making process, by a weak and opaque vision, and by a lack of capacity to respond to social and territorial needs. So far, the clean energy transition is not producing a new vision for the Sulcis territory, but rather is having a divisive effect on the local community, and is further decreasing the autonomy of the territory.
  • Despite the critical situation highlighted above, the research has shown how the Sulcis territory is also endowed with an active civil society, an inclination to innovation and a rich cultural and natural heritage, whose potential for “territory-making” is still untapped.

Local support

The following local organisations agreed to support the research activities in Sulcis Iglesiente: Cagliari University (for local technical support), Autonomous Region of Sardinia, SOTACARBO, and ENEL.


Access the full case study here.