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Italy - Country Profile

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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).

An IUCN red list national program/initiative was launched in recent years on Italy’s animal and plant species.

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. The Red List of Italian Dragonfly (2014) reports that, among 93 species assessed, one has become Regionally Extinct in recent times and 10.9% of the species are threatened. According to the Red List of Italian Saproxylic Beetles (2014), 21% of the 1986 assessed species are threatened, only two species are formally recognized to have likely become Regionally Extinct in Italy in recent times. Of the 112 species assessed, the Red List of Italian Corals (2014), 10 are at risk of extinction. Lastly, of the 289 butterflies assessed in the Red List of Italian Butterflies (2016), one has become Regionally Extinct in recent times. Threatened species total 18, corresponding to 6.3% of the species assessed. The majority of Italian butterflies populations are stable. The assessment of other taxa of animal groups is ongoing.

For plant species, the “policy species” (protected according to the Bern Convention and Habitats Directive), collectively a set of species living in particularly threatened environments, have been assessed as a priority. The assessment is ongoing on all endemic vascular plants and other taxa having particular meaning for the Italian flora. The IUCN Red List of Italian Flora Policy and other threatened species (2013) indicates that, overall, 42% of “policy species” 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).

The report on the state of Italian bird conservation is the first assessment of the effects of the Birds Directive (147/2009/CE). This report gathers information available on demographics (population size, short- and long-term trends) and on the geographical distribution of 306 Italian populations. It also analyses the main conservation threats and knowledge gaps, resulted very serious and extensive in the complex.

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. The latter 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, fish 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, fish mortality, transport and change to coastal and littoral habitats have the same impact.

About 3000 land alien species have been identified in Italy, of which 1,645 are animal species and 1,400 plant species; among water alien species, 156 are fresh water species and 726 marine species. Not all alien species generate impacts; in some groups, such as in invertebrates, the proportion is 15%, sometimes with direct effects on human health (vector species transmit infections or are directly pathogenic), animals and plants; while, in other groups, such as in terrestrial vertebrates, this proportion is higher, which determines particular and obvious impacts to which the public is particularly sensitive.

The introduction of invasive alien species should also be considered responsible for local extinction, especially in relation to fish, as well as 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.

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

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 the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Hence, there is a good match between the three strategies.

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:

• 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.

• 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 midterm review of the NBS pointed out the need to increase efforts at all institutional levels and that more effort is essential for communication activities and interaction between public and private entities; consideration should also be given to the opportunities provided by a green economy.

The agreement of the midterm review of the NBS (2016) by the State-Region Conference has confirmed and strengthened Italy's commitment to achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets by 2020.

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). Invasive Alien Species are addressed by EU Regulation 1143/2014 and national legislation.

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 consistency and the full engagement of all stakeholders in the process of implementing and reviewing the NBS.

Regarding the national implementation of the 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. These activities will be considered within ongoing initiatives. Legislative activities have also been carried out to enhance the Natural Capital and environmental accounting, including the adoption of Law 221/2015 on "Environmental provisions to promote green economy measures and the prevention of natural resources overexploitation".

Article 67 of Law 221/2015 established the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), including its functions and composition. The role of the Committee is to provide tools and information for the introduction of a system for assessing and recording the Natural Capital of Italy. The NCC is a public body, chaired by the Ministry of Environment. The Committee is also supported by external experts, as stakeholders, comprised of representatives from universities, the private sector and non-profit organizations. The NCC is committed to annually report to the Prime Minister and to the Ministry of Economy and Finance on the state of the Natural Capital and on the impact of public policies on the natural capital and ecosystem services. The NCC should also promote the establishment of an environmental accounting system among public and private organizations.

Italy anticipates implementation of Aichi Biodiversity Target 3 which states that, by 2020, at the latest, incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are developed and applied, consistent and in harmony with the Convention and other relevant international obligations, taking into account national socioeconomic conditions.

Moreover, Article 70 of Law 221/2015 has introduced a new market based instrument (a scheme of payment for ecosystem services) to mobilize further financial resources for biodiversity restoration and conservation.

Public Funds for the protection of biodiversity come from different sources, related to both ordinary resources, from the budgets of the central government and regions, and additional resources, based on EU Structural Funds, i.e. the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), under the European Common Fisheries, as well as on EU direct Funds, such as LIFE, Horizon, etc.

In the EU programming period (2007-2013), at June 20151, according to official statistics, Italy spent € 349 million for projects related specifically to natural resources under the European Regional Development Programs. Whereas, in the rural sector, Italy spent over € 4.2 billion in specific biodiversity measures2 under the Rural Development Regional Programs up to December 2014.

For the new EU programming cycle (2014-2020), within the Partnership Agreement (PA) (which is the strategic framework for the European Structural and Investment Funds3), Italy has chosen to also finance investments under the thematic objectives (TO 6), “Preserving and protecting the environment and promoting the efficient use of its natural resources”. In relation to TO 6, Italy has selected eight expected results; two of these are strictly connected with biodiversity, such as: 6.5 “Contributing to reverse the losses of terrestrial and marine biodiversity, including the biodiversity related with rural landscape, through restoring and protecting ecosystem services”; and 6.6. “Improving the standard of tourism supply and fruition in natural areas”. Under the European Regional Development Fund, Italy has been allocated about € 241 million4 for investments to reach the expected results 6.5 and 6.6.

For the Rural Development Regional Programs, the level of resources allocated for the entire thematic objective 6 (TO 6) is about € 1.9 billion while, for the Operational Program European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the amount is € 215 million. It is worth underlining that the entire TO 6 includes resources for the achievement of other environmental results, such as: improvement of waste management, water management, etc.

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 program by the European Commission in 1992, a total of 725 projects have been financed in Italy. Of these, 445 focus on environmental innovation, 268 on nature conservation and biodiversity and 12 on information and communication. These projects represent a total investment of €1.1 billion, of which €488 million has been provided by the European Union. In the 2007-2014 period, 104 projects were financed for nature conservation at a total cost of €315 million.

[1] The 2007-2013 EU programming period lasts until December 2015. Therefore, the level of expenditures at June 2015 can be considered a good indicator of the programs implementation level.

[2] It refers to the following RDPs measures: 213 Natura 2000 payments and payments linked to Directive 2000/60/EC, 214 Agri-environment payments, 216 Non-productive investments, 224 Natura 2000 payments, 227 Non-productive investments, 323 Conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage.

[3] The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) in Italy are: the European Regional Development Fund, The European Social Fund, The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

[4] This is an indicative value that can be subject to slight changes due to program’s negotiation at regional level, at the moment of the PA’s adoption.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The NBS will be implemented from 2011 to 2020, with a report issued every two years, dealing with progress made towards the achievement of strategic objectives and specific goals in the work areas. In 2015, a shared and in-depth assessment of the validity of the Strategy’s approach was conducted, and in 2016 the midterm review of the NBS was approved (coherent with the midterm review of the European Biodiversity Strategy to 2020).

The first synergistic collaboration between the NBO and NBC 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.

As an EU Member State, Italy is participating in a process which began in 2014 on the Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES) for assessing the economic value of such services, and promoting the integration of these values into accounting and reporting systems at the EU and national levels by 2020. In the initial phase of this process, Italy produced a map of its ecosystems and a map evaluating their conservation status. Furthermore, at the local level (administrative regions), maps have been produced indentifying territories for which each administrative region will schedule/plan interventions to restore ecosystems that are at a low level of conservation, particularly representative for the region, or which have an extremely low degree of coverage.

The aim of the national MAES process is to provide an important contribution to the integration of the value of ecosystems and their services in decision-making and accounting systems and budgetary reporting, through the recognition of the value of Natural Capital, both in physical terms and monetary terms.

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  • United Nations Environment Programme