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Economic Activities Must Not Damage Public Health, Environment

Italy is known for its natural beauty and history, but environmentalists say it doesn’t do enough to protect natural wonders, such as the Venice Lagoon or its Mediterranean coastline. Parliament approved a new constitutional law to safeguard public health, environment, biodiversity and ecosystems. Enforcing the law will be the challenge.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Enrico Giovannini called the new constitutional law a strong and symbolic act, but said the principles established now needed collective and individual actions consistent with those principles. Conservationists hope that parliament also will update existing legislation on environmental issues to avoid legal delays.

“Finally, environment protection has become a fundamental principle of the republic, which future legislation must be inspired by and past legislation adapted to,” said Italian WWF president Donatella Bianchi.

Italy’s ecosystems include the mountainous regions of the the Alps, temperate woodlands, coastal waters, freshwater river systems and shrub lands in the southern part of the country. Because Italy is a member of the European Union, its environmental policies largely fall under EU environmental legislation. They have failed to adequately protect people or the environment.

According to the World Health Organization, the air quality in Italy is unsafe.

More than 66,000 Italians die prematurely each year from air pollution, including particulates and ozone. Its air quality is the worst in the European Union. EU law on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe requires Member States to limit the exposure of citizens to these particles. Italy is among the countries of the European Union emitting the largest total amount of CO2.

Water contamination also is taking its toll. In 2013, more than 127,000 people living in the Veneto Region learned that their tap water was contaminated with perfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS)—also known as forever chemicals because of their persistence in the environment and their persistent threat to public health. The contamination affected groundwater, surface water and drinking water.

In 2014, the mayor of Rome banned the use of public water after tests found that the water supply was not safe for human consumption. Later that year, the European Commission put Italy on notice to reduce the environmental impact of the ILVA steel plant in Taranto, Europe’s largest iron and steel works. Tests found heavy contamination of the air, soil, surface and ground waters both at the ILVA site and near the city of Taranto. Fallout from the emissions of the steel plant caused the problem. The EU demanded its compliance with the Industrial Emissions Directive and other EU regulations.

The environmental issue that worries Italians the most is waste management. Other environmental concerns include air pollution, global warming and climate change.

As Italy recovers from the global economic collapse, it hopes to incorporate green initiatives into its economic policies, including: greening the tax code, expanding environment-related markets and green trade policies, promoting eco-innovation and investing in green technology.

Through its recent policies and financial incentives, Italy has made a major push toward embracing solar energy technology. However, support for fossil fuel consumption in Italy has risen sharply since 2012. The bulk of its fossil fuel tax subsidies focus on consumption, including diesel tax credits and tax breaks for energy use in agriculture in forestry and industry. The government also provides tax exemptions for gas and coal production. Hopefully, it’s offering the same sort of subsidy for solar energy production

Italy has impressive growth in the renewable energy sector. Italy has invested heavily in renewable energy, having surpassed its 2020 target already. The share of renewables in Italy’s energy mix has shown a distinct upward trend from 6 percent in 2007 to 15 percent in 2014. The country’s green energy incentive scheme has reduced the cost of photovoltaic systems by 72 percent.

While current economic factors will influence the progress of clean technology in Italy, the International Energy Agency’s made three primary recommendations. It said that Italy must:

  • Develop a national energy sector consistent with the modern energy market;
  • Identify and address deficiencies in its energy infrastructure; and
  • Fulfill its climate change responsibilities.

Under the country’s six-month term as President of the European Commission, Italy pushed for higher recycling targets and progress toward the complete elimination of EU landfills, green job growth and the tighter control of emissions from medium-sized combustion plants.

In 2019, Italy became the first country in the world to make sustainability and climate crisis compulsory subjects for schoolchildren. State schools now incorporate the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development into several subjects. It devotes one hour a week to themes including global warming. Other subjects, including geography, mathematics and physics, are taught from the perspective of sustainability, announced Lorenzo Fioramonti, Italy’s education minister.

“The entire [education] ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model,” said Fioramonti, a former economics professor who was criticized earlier this year for encouraging students to miss school to take part in climate protests.

“I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.”

Fioramonti, a member of the pro-environment Five Star Movement, is the government’s most vocal supporter of green policies. He has taken heat for proposing taxes on airline tickets, plastic, and sugary foods to generate funds for education and welfare.

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Author: Gary Chandler

Gary Chandler is a sustainability strategist, author and advocate. Follow him on Twitter @Gary_Chandler