21sT cENTuRY ITALY is a modern, industrialized nation with the seventh highest Gross Domestic Product in the world. Like other developed countries, Italy must struggle with high consumption of resources and the environmental effects of that consumption. The leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions in Italy are road transport and fossil-fuel burning energy production. Water pollution and desertification are environmental problems. Italy has been slow to confront these problems, but, beginning in 2006, has been able to see some positive outcomes as a result of new technologies and environmental policy changes.
Italy has the third highest rate of private car ownership in the world, and the low percentage of unleaded gasoline sold, a mere 18 percent, intensifies the emissions problem, as do the popular motor scooters. In the 1990s, Italy's industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions gave the country the world's tenth highest level of industrial CO2 emissions. Between 1990, Italy's base year for greenhouse gas emission according to the Kyoto Protocol, and 2005, Italy's emissions rose annually. Methane emission is also a problem. Experts suggest that methane emissions have the potential to reach levels comparable to emissions from Italy's fossil fuel industry.
Italy's greenhouse gas emissions have risen 12 percent since 1990. Italy did achieve a 1.5 percent reduction in 2006, but emissions from electricity production rose 4 percent, and automobile emissions were stable. To reduce CO2 emissions, Italy has considered expanded rail systems, car-free Sundays, and a move from trucking to water transport, among other experiments, but local politics and contradictory opinions about what is best for the environment and the country's citizens make changes difficult.
The connection between the emissions problem and desertification is strong. The country's National Environmental Strategy for Sustainable Development (NESSD) included the reduction of greenhouse gases as the first item in its plans to protect and sustain natural resources. Some reports warn that climate change and its effects, such as declines in precipitation levels, could result in the desertification of as much as 32 percent of Italy's land area. In southern Italy, land that has been cultivated for millennia is being abandoned. Even flourishing businesses, such as the wine and olive industries, are suffering. In 2007, when Italy had its hottest summer in 250 years, the nation recorded its earliest harvest of wine grapes in 30 years, and production was down by over 10 percent. Olive production has been forced northward by the changes. Water levels in the Po River, which feeds irrigation channels in four Italian regions, have fallen 20-25 percent in the last 30 years. Researchers caution that average temperatures could increase by up to 9 degrees F (5 degrees C) by the end of the century.
four decades of initiatives
Italy's initiatives to protect the environment now have a history of more than four decades. The Clean Air Law, the first legislation to deal specifically with air pollution, was passed in 1966. Ten years later, the Water Pollution Control Law was enacted. The Ministry of the Environment was established in 1896, and the Environmental Protection Agency was added in 1994. In addition to the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), Italy is a signatory to more than 20 international environmental agreements, including Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Climate Change, Ozone Layer Protection, and Ship Pollution. However, enforcement of existing laws and commitments to international agreements has been inconsistent. A 2006 Yale University study ranked Italy 21st among 133 nations on its Environment Performance Index, but Italy's score of 79.8 placed it below average among both its income and geographical groups.
The country's wind power generation capacity has been growing. Wind power supplied 1 percent of the nation's total power demand in 2006 and should exceed the target capacity by 2012. Italy also developed Europe's first train with solar-power assistance providing energy for air-conditioning, lighting, and safety systems, thus making the train more fuel-efficient. Italy's higher energy prices provide a strong stimulus for businesses to invest in energy efficiency research and development.
sEE ALso: Alternative Energy, Wind; Carbon Emissions; Desertification.
BIBLIoGRAPHY. Ansamed, "Italy to Have Climate Change by 2008," www.ansamed.info (cited September 2007); Paul Brown, "Sahara Jumps Mediterranean into Europe," Guardian (December 20, 2000); "High and Dry," Science (v.303, 2004); World Bank, "Little Green Book," www.worldbank. org (cited September 2007); Yale University, "Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index," www.yale.edu (cited September 2007).
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