RAIN UPON US
Floods, landslides, torrential rain, infrastructure damage and river overflows. This is the climate situation in Italy denounced on the map of Legambiente's City-Climate Observatory: in the first months of 2022, from January to July, the territory of our country was hit by 84 extreme weather events, a 45% increase over 2021 when there were 'only' 46.
The number becomes even more shocking when compared to 2010 when the City-Climate Observatory began collecting all extreme events occurring in the area and cataloguing them. Twelve years ago there were just 17 and they remained more or less stable until 2017 when the curve soared to 244 cases in 2020.
Every extreme event brings with it damage and costs: the National Directory of Measures for Soil Defence has calculated that since 1999, including works in the planning stage, the Italian State has spent almost 10 billion euros to repair damage caused by extreme weather events.
The causes of the increase
The dramatic increase in extreme cases is not accidental but, as the Legambiente report 'Climate has already changed' published in November 2021 explains, is due to two main factors: the rise in global temperature and the consequent increase in sea temperature. As the European Climate Agency points out, the frequent release of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere is raising the temperature of the atmosphere, which is then absorbed by the seas.
In this scenario, the Mediterranean area is central to understanding the macro phenomenon: the surface of the mare nostrum has warmed by almost one degree Celsius in the last twenty years. The Mediterranean is turning into a sea very similar to tropical ones. This means sudden water bombs, tornadoes, hot and humid weather with sultry nights and extreme weather events. In recent years, for example, we have reported the Mediterranean hurricane (MEDIterranean hurriCANE), a type of hurricane that is very rare in these latitudes but to which we should become accustomed in the coming years if we do not succeed in reversing the trend.
Who pays the bill
Extreme events are affecting the whole country evenly, but it is mainly the cities that are paying the price. Rome, Bari and Milan are the hardest hit with 56, 41 and 30 extreme events respectively since 2010. This is due not only to the natural consequences of climate change but above all to the ferocious consumption of land that modernisation has brought about. According to ISPRA's report "Soil Consumption, Territorial Dynamics and Ecosystem Services - 2021 Edition", since 1950 artificial surfaces have increased from 2.7% to 7.11%, while the EU average is 4.2%. The Italian figure rises to 9.15% if we consider useful soil, i.e. that part of land theoretically available and suitable for various uses. The result is soil sealing that stops water drainage. In fact, it is precisely the three cities mentioned above that flood more easily than the others.
If one widens the lens over the entire country, one can see that among the most affected areas is the North-West: Piedmont, Liguria, Valle d'Aosta and Lombardy. All areas with massive soil consumption and a very large hydrographic density. Milan, for example, has a dense natural water network that has been buried over the years to encourage urbanisation. Or Liguria, which has a critical orographic and hydrographic situation: a territory overlooking the sea with considerable soil consumption and several rivers flowing into the Ligurian Sea. In 2022 alone, the North-West area counted 42 extreme weather events, half of the total 82.
What to do?
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Italy has therefore invested about 10 billion euros from 1999 to 2021 for 6,401 hydrogeological disruption interventions, with an average of about 303 million euros per year. Figures that have allowed as many as 4,048 works to be completed. Furthermore, in 2019 the 'ProteggiItalia Plan' was drafted, which provided for a series of allocations of 14.3billion euros between 2018 and 2030 to be allocated to land protection and the prevention of hydrogeological instability. In addition, there were plans to streamline bureaucratic operations at both national and local levels. However, the Court of Auditors in a note of 25 October 2021 rejected the plan, especially in the streamlining of decision-making responsibilities.
The last hopes are pinned on the Next Generation Eu, where some 8.49 billion are earmarked for measures against hydrogeological instability. However, Legambiente concludes: "The problem is that we continue to chase emergencies and implement projects that are easier to build and not those that are more urgent."