07 February 2022 • 7 min

Catriona Graham

The Top Three Green Highlights of the UK-Italy Year of Presidencies and What They Mean for Business

By Catriona Graham, Country Director Italy, Department for International Trade (DIT)

As the UK’s presidency of COP26 continues into 2022 we take a look back at the top 3 moments that framed the “Year of Presidencies”, in which the UK and Italy together led the G7, G20 and COP26. And we look at the opportunities these activities have created for businesses…

2021 was an unprecedented opportunity for the UK and Italy to promote clean growth on the global stage, and we are proud of what we delivered together with business and civil society.

The UK and Italy are facing similar challenges and targets, including the transition to Net Zero economies by 2050 that will bring opportunities for economic growth. In the UK, the green industry already accounts for half a million jobs and the Government’s drive for a green industrial revolution aims to increase this to 2 million before 2030. In Italy, 40% of the PNRR recovery fund is earmarked for the green transition.

Both countries value strong international collaboration, reinvigorating their economies by championing freer, fairer trade, a more resilient global economy and a fairer global tax system as we recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the big institutional moments of 2021, namely the G7 in Cornwall back in June, the G20 summit in Rome in October and COP26 in Glasgow in November, last year staged another three key moments in our partnership with Italy that strengthened our bilateral relationship and created opportunities for business.


1. The Milan Pre-COP

Milan was in the global spotlight last Autumn as host of the Youth4Climate and the Pre-COP from 30th September to 2nd October - the key political preparatory meeting ahead of the principal UN climate Summit in Glasgow.

In the run up to Pre-COP, in May a workshop on Sustainable Civil Aviation opened the series with the participation of Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, his Italian counterpart Minister Enrico Giovannini and key industry players.

The Race to Zero is now central for UK civil aviation with the creation of a public-private consortium called Jet Zero to decarbonise the sector and reach net zero by 2050.

A few months later, in parallel with the main Pre-COP, at our ‘UK House’ in Milan, over 3 consecutive days we held a series of 14 events for business and civil society attracting over 1,500 senior stakeholders from industry and government across Europe.

Our activity built commitment to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign and showcased the best of UK and Italian sustainable innovation, key to our new green industrial revolution.

Min Grimstone at PreCOP

The UK Minister for Investment Lord Grimstone, COP26 President Designate Alok Sharma and Trade Commissioner for Europe Chris Barton figure-headed the first European Green Investment Summit on 29th September.

The conference was broadcast live from Milan to 23 markets across Europe where British Ambassadors hosted roundtables with leading European businesses and stakeholders.

Over 200 senior investors took part from different countries – from Ireland to Israel, from Lithuania to Portugal –to hear about UK’s world-leading net zero investment opportunities, the Race to Zero campaign and the UK’s Government 10 Point Plan.

This event was pivotal to launch the UK’s green investment offer, promote the Race to Zero and strengthen collaboration with top investors.


Looking for a replay? Catch up on the highlights of the European Green Investment Summit

PreCOP Venue

Hybrid business forums focussed on sectors representing the new clean growth opportunities in our trade relationship with Italy: smart cities and low carbon mobility, hydrogen, green finance, sustainable fashion, food and packaging and circular economy.

A broad spectrum of businesses took part at senior level, unveiling new and exciting opportunities for UK companies looking to export or expand their investment portfolio in Italy.

At DIT, we are committed to helping international businesses access the UK’s green investment opportunities, help them accelerate the transition to low carbon technologies and green supply chains, and this is what this programme enabled us to do.

It also included a focus on climate through the lens of culture, diversity and inclusion, conferences on forests and agriculture that promoted the UN’s ClimateShot campaign for sustainable agriculture.

The UK’s High Level Action Champion, Nigel Topping joined remotely and spoke about the Race to Zero and Race to Resilience campaigns to raise ambition amongst non-state actors in committing to science-based targets for mitigation and adaptation.

Want to know more about the Milan Pre-COP programme of events? Head over here and here to see a flashback of the best moments at the UK House and a video of the highlights.

People at PreCOP

2. The UK-Italy Export & Investment Promotion Dialogue: championing bilateral trade

Min Di Maio

A new UK-Italy Export & Investment Promotion Dialogue was announced by Secretary of State Trevelyan and her Italian counterpart Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Di Maio in Sorrento in October, aimed at boosting practical export and investment opportunities in technology and clean growth.

In the four quarters to the end of Q2 2021, Italy was the UK’s 8th largest trading partner accounting for 3.0% of total UK trade. Trade between our countries was worth over £34bn in 2020.

Using this data as a starting point, there are various reasons why the dialogue is key to our trade relationship:

  1. It will help share best practice on issues like digitalisation and sustainability, including on developing the necessary skills for the jobs of the future, to increase growth and reduce regional disparities.
  2. It will boost exports for companies in both countries, particularly high-performing sectors such as life sciences, defence & security, digital and tech.
  3. It will promote inward investment, including in low-carbon industries such as onshore and offshore wind, hydrogen, and carbon capture storage, plus the food and drink industry and tech sector – where UK’s research and development strengths can help support Italian scale-ups.

More is expected for 2022 and you can read more on GOV.UK.


3. G20 and the Sustainable Markets Initiative

Sustainable textile

Clothing is one of the UK’s top 5 goods exported to Italy, worth over £358M.

Fashion, however, is also one of the top polluting industries. Many UK companies have adapted their manufacturing processes to be far more sustainable, including in their supply chains.

During the G20 in Rome last December, we had the honour to host HRH the Prince of Wales as part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI), a global first for fashion that will enable more sustainable and ethical choices for consumers.

The visit promoted a common mission: private-public partnerships to combat climate change and protect the planet.

The event successfully demonstrated to G20 leaders the importance of public-private partnerships for the acceleration of a sustainable transition and the crucial role of business in this process.

See highlights from the event here.


Closing on the Royal theme, I am extremely proud that in 2021 the City of Milan won the first edition of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Earthshot Prize in the Build a Waste Free World category with its Food Waste Hubs. Find out more about this fantastic project here.

Earthshot Prize Milan

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and the economic crisis, 2021 offered an incredible opportunity to work together on our shared agendas and encourage that green industrial revolution to fuel recovery without further compromising the health of our planet.

Find out more

At the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT), we work to attract and support leading international investment into the UK and to support UK exporters in Europe.

Are you a UK company looking to sell into Italy? Don’t know where to start? Contact us to find out more.

If you are a European business looking for investment opportunities or sustainable solutions, look out for forthcoming events here or visit great.gov.uk/international for more information.