Environment in Italy Essay

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Italy, a state of Europe in the south of the continent, has a land area of 116,305 square miles (301,230 square kilometers, including the large islands of Sardinia and Sicily) and an estimated population of 58 million people in 2006. The country can be divided into three main physiographic units. The north, dominated by the Alpine mountain arch; the center, whose main feature is the Po river plain; and the mountainous south, with the Apennines mountains stretching to Calabria. Coastal lowlands are also frequent, especially in the Adriatic sea. In Sardinia and Sicily, high and rugged mountains and volcanoes (in Sicily) alternate with lower elevations and coastal plains. The climate is Mediterranean except for the Alps and the Po river plain, where continental conditions (cold winters and warm summers) prevail.

The most pressing environmental issues faced by Italians concern air and water quality; soil erosion and desertification linked to agricultural abandonment (especially in the south and in the islands); and a wide array of natural hazards (floods, droughts, landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions).

Air pollution shows some improving trends, such as the decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions (largely as a result of the reduction in coal burning and the increase in the use of the cleaner natural gas), but a serious deterioration in cities due to traffic. Italy has one of the highest per capita rates of car ownership in the world. Atmospheric pollution remains especially acute in cities where thermal inversions are frequent, and the concentrations of some pollutants in Rome, Milan, and other capitals often exceed the standards of the European Union (EU). Also, air pollution constitutes a serious threat for the rich historical heritage of Italian cities. However, several policy initiatives launched in the 1990s in order to curb pollution have attained some success, such as “car free” Sundays or rotating the use of cars with alternate plates on given days. Moreover, Rome was the first European city to establish a fee for cars willing to access the center.

Water pollution continues to be an important environmental problem, because of agricultural and industrial discharges, especially into the Adriatic. The so-called “yellow” and “red” tides (algae concentrations in highly eutrophied waters) of this sea are less common than in the past, and important efforts have been made to reduce marine pollution, for example in the Venice area. During the 1990s, Italian river basin authorities have been plagued by a crisis of underinvestment and mismanagement.

Agricultural land in Italy covers around 27.1 million acres (11 million hectares), or one-third of the total land area of the country, but it is declining fast; more than 20 percent disappeared between 1970 and 2000. Urbanization, on the contrary, is progressing, especially in the coastal areas. In 1996, it was estimated that only about 30 percent of the more than 4,960 miles (8,000 kilometers) of coast were free from development. In 2003, 11.2 percent of Italy was subject to some environmental protection. The country has created a network of 468 natural parks, including 46 Ramsar Sites and 5 biosphere reserves, notably the Ticino Valley in the Alps and the Tuscan islands. In 2004 Italy was the fourth-largest user of energy in Europe. The country disregarded nuclear energy in the 1970s and depends heavily on oil and natural gas. Only 2 percent of the energy generated comes from renewable resources (excluding hydropower).

Between 1991 and 2001, the country experienced some 12,000 flood and landside episodes affecting about 300,000 people and causing damages above 2 billion euros. Between 1980 and 2002, Italy sustained 17 percent of all flooding episodes in Europe but 38 percent of fatalities, including the 147 people killed in the floods and mudslides of Sarno (in the South) in 1998.


  1. A. Brebbia, V. Popov, and D. Fayzieva, Environmental Health Risk III, Vol. 9 (WIT Press, 2005);
  2. John Patterson, Landscapes and Cities: Rural Settlement and Civic Trans]ormation in Early Imperial Italy (Oxford University Press, 2006);
  3. Ronald Edward Zupko and Robert Anthony Laures, Straws in the Wind: Medieval Urban Evironmental Law-the Case o] Northern Italy (Perseus Publishing, 1996).

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