Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
Industrial and urban pollution is a major concern in Italy. Sulfur dioxide emissions that have been linked with health problems and damage to buildings have decreased since 1970, but progress in cleaning the air has been slower than in other European countries. Nitrogen oxide emissions are still on the rise, however, linked with continued growth of the transportation sector. Electric cars are becoming a popular solution to air-quality problems in urban areas. Up to 10 percent of Italy's forests have been damaged by air pollution. Levels of water pollution from farm chemicals and human waste are high in some rivers and in the Adriatic Sea. Extreme levels in 1988 and 1989 caused widespread eutrophication (oxygen depletion) of the marine environment in this region, and the government declared an emergency.
Nature conservation has been practiced in Italy since Roman times. There are currently five national parks, each independently administered. In addition, there are many other types of smaller protected areas. The lack of a national system of protected areas with centralized administration has impeded efforts to create new preserves and to legally protect existing ones. A nationwide forest inventory was completed in 1988. The government provides incentives for forest preservation and tree planting. About 22.1 percent (1995) of the country is forested, of which 42 percent is managed for tree harvest and only one-quarter is mature forest. A significant proportion of forests is under private management. Forest biomass has increased in recent years due to a decline in human encroachment on mountain habitats. Since the early 1980s Italy has had fairly comprehensive laws and guidelines protecting the sea and coastlines, although enforcement and implementation has been irregular.
Italy has ratified numerous international environmental agreements, including the World Heritage Convention and agreements concerning air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, hazardous wastes, marine dumping, the nuclear test ban, the ozone layer, ship pollution, tropical timber, wetlands, and whaling. Regionally, Italy is party to the European Wild Birds Directive and the Council of Europe (CE), under which dozens of biogenetic reserves have been designated. Ten specially protected marine areas exist in Italy under the Mediterranean Action Plan. Several transborder parks have been established with France and Switzerland.