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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Italy is extremely rich in biodiversity; it has the highest number and density of both animal and plant species within the European Union, as well as a high rate of endemism. This rich biodiversity is in large part due to its range of biogeographic regions, which are the Alpine region, the Continental region and the Mediterranean region, providing differences in climate, topography and geology. These three regions cover the mountain systems of the Alps and the Apennines, islands of Sicily and Sardinia, as well as the continental region in the plains of northern Italy, and the major part of the Italian peninsula which has a mediterranean climate, owing to its long coastline of around 7,400 km along the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy is estimated to include over 58,000 faunal species, with 1,268 (2%) species of vertebrates, 1,812 (3%) species of protozoans, with the remaining 95% comprised of invertebrates. Recent studies on certain groups of insects suggest that the number of animal species, that are a part of the Italian fauna, should be increased by at least 15%, bringing the number of species reported in Italy to more than 65,000. There are over 6,700 vascular plant species, 1,156 recorded species of bryophytes, and around 20,000 known fungi species, including 2,328 taxa of lichen. Notably, at least 20 new species are published in Italy every year. The country has a high incidence of endemic species, with around 30% of animal species and 15% of vascular plants species being endemic. Sicily and Sardinia are particularly important in this respect (their indigenous flora accounts for 11% of all Italian flora, of which 15.26% are endemic).

Among 672 vertebrate species assessed in the recent IUCN Red List of Italian Vertebrates (2013), of 576 terrestrial species and 96 marine species, 6 have become extinct in recent times. It has been calculated that about 31% of Italian vertebrates are threatened, with about 50% of least concern.

The IUCN Red List of Italian Flora Policy and other threatened species indicates that, overall, 42% of “policy species” (protected according to the Bern Convention and Habitats Directive) are threatened at various levels, which is more or less in line with what is reported in the Red List of the Vascular Plants of the European Union (27 Member States); while data are insufficient to make a proper assessment for 24% (comprising mostly mosses).

Land transformations are taking place in Italy. For thousands of years, Italian forest systems have been undergoing progressive reduction, especially in areas deemed more productive to humans. However, a trend of forest habitat expansion is occurring at present, which may appear to be a positive sign but is in fact the result of the progressive abandonment of rural areas. Those more underprivileged areas, such as in the mountains, are especially vulnerable. The progressive incursion of shrubs and trees on grasslands and arable lands that are no longer cultivated have caused the landscape in those areas to lose its identity and produced negative ecological effects, as evidenced by the disappearance of important habitats, animals and plant species.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The outcome of the third national report on implementation of the Habitats Directive shows that anthropic threats are stable in number and trends, and are expected to stay this way in the short and medium terms.

In particular, impacts are generated by changes in ecosystems stemming from human activities (e.g. pollution of surface runoff; habitat fragmentation; use of biocides, hormones, chemical products). Other drivers include mismanagement of forestry and agriculture, abandonment of pastoral activities leading to a reduction in semi-natural habitats, urbanization and anthropic disturbance. Anthropic disturbance is the main threat to habitats of interest to the European Union, along with the construction of infrastructure, cultivation of alien species and change to ecosystems. Intentional fires are another important threat to the conservation of some habitats.

For plant species and, at a less important scale, for animal species, direct harvest is still an important threat to conservation, in spite of the existence of national and local rules.

For marine species, fishing mortality ranks first among threats, followed by pollution, anthropic disturbance and change to ecosystems. For marine habitats, pollution ranks first, followed by change to ecosystems, while anthropic disturbance, fishing mortality, transport and change to coastal and littoral habitats have the same impact.

The introduction of invasive alien species should also be considered, being responsible for local extinction, especially in relation to fish and decapods, as well as being a potential major threat in the near future.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Adopted in October 2010, the National Biodiversity Strategy (NBS) aims to merge and integrate biodiversity conservation targets and sustainable use of natural resources within sectoral policies, thereby implementing the vision of the Strategy which states: “Biodiversity and ecosystem services, our natural capital, are preserved, valued and, insofar as possible, restored for their intrinsic value so that they can continue to support economic prosperity and human well-being despite the profound changes that are taking place globally and locally”.

The NBS is structured around 3 key issues (biodiversity and ecosystem services, biodiversity and climate change, biodiversity and economic policies). Three strategic objectives have been developed to complement these 3 key issues; cross-cutting aspects of biodiversity have also been considered as have their integration in sectoral policies. In this light, achievement of the strategic objectives is addressed in 15 “work areas”: 1. species, habitats, landscape; 2. protected areas; 3. genetic resources; 4. agriculture; 5. Forests; 6. inland waters; 7. marine environment; 8. infrastructures and transportation; 9. urban areas; 10. Health; 11. Energy; 12. Tourism; 13. research and innovation; 14. education, information, communication and participation; 15. Italy and global biodiversity. Within each work area, specific objectives have been identified, as have specific measures to be undertaken towards their achievement.

Implementation of the NBS is in line with EU policies dealing with biodiversity, and with the EU Biodiversity Strategy, whose targets are also consistent with Aichi Biodiversity targets. Hence, there is a good match between the three strategies. The governance of the NBS is guaranteed by a National Biodiversity Committee (NBC), composed of representatives of all ministries and regions; the National Biodiversity Observatory (NBO), composed of technical and scientific experts; and a Consultation Table held with all stakeholders.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Italy is strongly committed to the implementation of the Strategic Plan and is making significant progress to achieve all Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and encouraged by the following results:

• Good collaboration has been established with the agricultural and forestry sectors.

• Interministerial activity for the development of the National Strategy for Resource Mobilization for Biodiversity.

• Protected areas system is very wide-ranging. For the time being, activities are directed towards increasing management efficiency, with the aim to maximize biodiversity conservation, including ecosystem services.

• Creation of operational databases and dedicated portals (these are tools that make steering policies possible, provide up-to-date figures for environmental assessment procedures, enhance and disseminate knowledge, and increase the level of biodiversity awareness). In this respect, the portal “Naturaitalia” has been identified as the National Biodiversity Clearing-House Mechanism and will play a pivotal role in the exchange of information among different sectors to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Italy.

• The governance system of the National Strategy for Biodiversity significantly contributes to mainstreaming, aiming to enhance a cross-cutting approach, widen opportunities and procedures for disseminating and communicating significant initiatives that are ongoing in Italy.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

In Italy, legislation is the basis for many projects and actions for biodiversity conservation. The Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea was established in 1986 (Law 349). A Framework Law on Protected Areas (Law 394/91) and the Law for Sea Protection (Law 979/82), and respective subsequent amendments and integrations, comprise the main regulatory principles for terrestrial and marine protected areas in Italy. The establishment of Areas of Ecological Protection (AEP), commencing from the outer limit of Italian territorial waters up to the limits established in accordance with agreements signed with States whose territory is adjacent to or opposite to Italian territory, is also enshrined in legislation (Law 61/2006).

The implementation of the National Biodiversity Strategy (NBS) requires a multidisciplinary approach and a great amount of sharing and collaboration among policy-makers and central and regional administrations, with the support of academic and scientific institutions, and other stakeholders. For this reason, the State-Region Conference was chosen as the venue for policy discussion and decision-making with regard to the NBS. By a Ministerial Decree (6 June 2011), the Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea established a governance body known as the National Biodiversity Committee (NBC), composed of representatives from Central Administrations, Regions and Autonomous Provinces, to support activities of the Conference and NBS implementation. In addition, the decree approved the creation of the National Biodiversity Observatory (NBO) which offers scientific and technical support to the NBC. Furthermore, it approved the establishment of the Consultation Table (CT), involving the NBC and representatives of main economic/production and environmental associations, to allow for consistent and the full engagement of all stakeholders in the process of implementing and reviewing the NBS.

The Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea has established an inter-ministerial Table on the Strategy for Resource Mobilization to fulfill the global commitments made at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Nagoya, especially as relates to Aichi Biodiversity Target 20. All competent national authorities on the subject are involved in the Table. As such, the Ministry for the Environment is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Ministry of Economic Development, the Piedmont Region (on behalf of all Italian Regions), National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) and the Institute for Environmental Research and Protection (ISPRA). This inter-ministerial Table has begun the process of developing a National Strategy for Resource Mobilization.

Since 2010, the National Accounts Department has published, on an annual basis, national eco-accounts of the central administration’s public expenses for biodiversity.

The European Union provides financial resources for agri-environmental measures through the European Agricultural Fund for Regional Development (EAFRD), which forms the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Rural Development Programs in Regions and Autonomous Provinces had a pivotal role in improving the mainstreaming of issues in agricultural and environmental policies, particularly in regard to the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem services in agricultural and forested lands. In the 2007-2013 period, public expenditure for Axe 2 (Environment) totaled approximately 6 billion Euros. Financed actions aimed to facilitate the sustainable management of agricultural and forested land and conserve biodiversity. In addition, an intervention proposed in regard to measure 323 of Axe 3 (conservation and requalification of rural estates) allowed for the establishment of management plans for Natura 2000 sites, and biodiversity monitoring activities at the regional level.

The LIFE (Financial Instrument for the Environment) is the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental and nature conservation projects throughout the EU. Since the launch of the LIFE programme by the European Commission in 1992, a total of 688 projects have been financed in Italy. These projects represent a total investment of €1 billion, of which €443 million has been provided by the European Union. In the 2007-2013 period, 96 projects were financed for nature conservation at a total cost of €305 million.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The NBS will be implemented from 2011 to 2020. In 2015, a shared and in-depth assessment of the validity of the Strategy’s approach will be conducted, and a decision taken on whether adjustments are needed to the Strategy. A report on the status of NBS implementation will be issued every two years, dealing with progress made towards the achievement of strategic objectives and other specific goals in the individual work areas, and require approval by the National Biodiversity Committee.

The first synergistic collaboration between the NBO and NBC has resulted in the establishment of a preliminary set of NBS indicators to support the above assessment. In the first instance, 13 indicators for measuring the state of biodiversity and 30 indicators for evaluation have been developed. At present, the NBO is seeking to implement and improve this set of indicators.

The monitoring carried out in Italy, in accordance with the Habitats and Birds Directives, is another important information source for assessing implementation of the NBS.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme