Italy’s Adaptation to Climate Change: Local Efforts and a Missing National Strategy

Tourists swim through the streets as ‘Floating City’ Venice is flooded

By Andrea Lisi

The Flood-Risk Management case

Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimize the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later[1]. Unfortunately, Italy is still lagging behind in implementing a significant adaptation strategy plan.[2]

The Italian Ministry of the Environment has the primary responsibility for the establishment and preparation of a national strategy and/or action for adaptation to climate change. The Ministry focuses on the integration (mainstreaming) of adaptation into sectoral policies, while Regional Governments are entrusted with the implementation of local adaptation plans of action.

As to date, Italy does not have a National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) and/or a National Adaptation Plan (NAP). The national climate strategy only includes specific mitigation measures to comply with the Kyoto targets.[3]

Late in November 2012[4], during a session at the Senate, the then Minister of the Environment Corrado Clini discussed the issue of climate change impacts on the regions of Liguria, Umbria, Toscana and Lazio. In his report, he states that climate variability, manifesting itself through extreme events,  put a strain on territories that are equipped for different rainfall regimes, and that to a large extent were also widely used in recent decades for residential and productive settlements – which are often located in areas already deemed vulnerable when they were settled. In the last twenty years the vulnerability rate has been steadily growing, in the face of increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events[5], which take the predominant form of flash floods[6] and landslides. In the mainstream media these events are still referred to as “natural” and unrelated to anthropogenic climate change and/or lack of prevention and adaptation policies.

Since 2010, a series of national laws has been passed to:

–          divide the country into eight river basin districts, each with the task of preparing a management plan which takes into account the impacts of climate change;[7]

–          integrate adaptation measures into flood-related risk-management strategies;[8]

–          include adaptation and resilience-building policies into the National Biodiversity Strategy;[9]

–          prioritize climate change adaptation amongst marine environment policies;[10]

With considerable delay, Italian legislators have prepared a strategy draft, as indicated by the UNFCCC[11] and the European Union[12], for a comprehensive adaptation strategy. The program guidelines included five main areas of interest and three priority actions[13] to be implemented, but the document – which was to be ratified by March 1st 2013 – didn’t see the light yet because of to the electoral swing occurred in the meantime. The current government has given place to a broad consultation with the scientific community and civil society organizations, which should bear fruit in November 2013.[14]

As to the Regions, most of them are active in the field of mitigation, while some have started working on adaptation, particularly with respect to aspects such as research[15] and monitoring.

The most important adaptive policy to mention is the Floods-Risk Management Plan (FRMP) [16], also referred to as River Basin Hydrogeological Plan[17]. Italy has a very long history of disasters caused by floods[18] that invariably affected plains sweeping away houses and farmlands, damaging all properties and causing loss of human lives. Even before the EU directive 2007/60/CE, Italy already imposed[19] to local authorities a systematic evaluation of the risk connected to flood events. Since 2010, there is an ongoing effort to coordinate local and regional authorities in preparing the FRMPs.

The process entails the identification of the attention level and the priority actions on the basis of the hazard degree determining the degree of risk. A very high risk contains also medium and high risk, hence represents the objective of the priority actions. On the basis of the Plans, the Map of the areas at high hydrogeological critical state has been prepared to support the priority actions. Only to face up these actions, a planned strategy of the required initiatives will be needed, to be financed by EU, National, Regional, Local and Private Funds.

Hence, the main issue at stake is the allocation of financial resources in relation to the priorities (very high-risk areas). On this aspect, much more is needed.

UPDATE: Something is moving, apparently. The current Minister of Environment has recently launched an online public consultation to discuss his draft Strategy

If you want to delve deeper into the subject, these books are the best I can recommend:

[1] Some examples are the Climate Adaptation Plans introduced by London’s Municipality, US Federal Transit Administration and Canada’s Ontario State.

[4] Italian Senate, session n° 839 report, December 21, 2012.

[5] See Ferrara “Evoluzione del clima ed impatti dei cambiamenti climatici in Italia”, Synthesis from ENEA contribution to Italy’s Third National Communication to UNFCCC.  

[6] See my previous work on Assigment 1.

[15] See for example the Planning Law and the Regulation of danger zones of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Alto Adige

[16] See the programming document “Direttiva Piano Alluvioni”

[18] Polesine 1951, Florence 1966, Genoa 1970, Versilia 1996, Sarno 1998, Piedmont 1994 e 2000 and many others, in the more recent years.

[19] Two main laws: no.183/1989 and no.267/1998

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