Climate Change Hitting Italy Hard

Telegraph (UK)       December 17, 2006

Italy’s woodlands dying due to climate change
By Michael Day in Milan

Italy’s woodlands are already dying as climate change starts to bite in southern Europe, experts warn.

A report represented to the Italian government said that eight out of 10 trees across Italy’s varied ecosystems were already suffering from the effects of rising temperatures and diminishing rainfall.

Professor Carlo Blasi of the Inter-university Centre for Bio-diversity at Rome’s La Sapienza University said the research showed that a third of the country’s woodland was seriously threatened, and that 60 per cent was likely to suffer permanent damage.

The warning echoes fears that the Mediterranean, and Italy in particular, is proving highly vulnerable to climate change.

Climatologist Dr Filippo Giorgi of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told a major environment conference in Rome in September that the Mediterranean was warming up faster than the rest of the world.

“It’s a climate change hot spot, one of the areas where we actually see the change happening”.

Dr Giorgi said that in the next decades temperature rises in Europe during the summer months could be 40-50 per cent higher than elsewhere.

Of the six major droughts to occur in Italy in the last 60 years, four have occurred since 1990. The average temperature has increased by 0.4ºC in the north in 20 years and by 0.7ºC in the south. Earlier report have suggest that 10m hectares were “at risk of desertification”.

Prof Blasi noted that many of Italy’s tree species were ill-equipped to survive hotter, drier conditions.

“Despite its large Mediterranean coastline, Italy has a relatively low proportion – just 40 per cent – of the shrubby Mediterranean trees that are best adapted to resist the heat waves that are on their way,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.

“The other 60 per cent are particularly likely to suffer from increasingly hot and arid conditions.”

Most surprising, said Prof Blasi, was how widespread the threat was across Italy.

The regions of Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo, Puglia and also the islands of Sicily and Sardinia were being hard hit by rising temperatures, with several species of oak and beech tree in particular under threat.

Lack of rainfall was proving the biggest threat to woodland in the Alpine north of the country.

In Sicily and Sardinia, cork trees, the evergreen Holm-oak and even some compact Mediterranean tree species were threatened by the increasingly arid conditions.

In response to the report Environment minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio said: “Fewer woodlands mean, among other things, reduced capacity to absorb carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.”

He said that to “break this vicious ciricle” his government had set aside £110m to tackle degradation of forests and woodlands.

Like other Southern European countries, Italy has also lost considerable areas of woodland to forest fires, which although fanned by hot winds, are often started deliberately.

Pecoraro Scanio lamented the failure of Italy’s fractious parliament to agree to fund a new body to investigate the cause of such blazes and “defend itself from the criminals that set fire to the forests”.

He predicted more woodland and forest would perish from such fires in the summers to come.

It is not not only Italy’s forests that are causing enviromentalists concern, however.

Scientists at Italy’s Agency for New technology, Energy and the Environment (ENEA), say that failing cold currents and rising water temperatures are exacerbating periodic flooding – and this is causing massive erosion along Italy’s Adriatic coast.

As a result they have drawn up a plan in which hundreds of miles of new sand dunes would be created to save it the country’s most endangered coastline and its wildlife from rising sea levels.

Dr Edi Valpreda, who led the project, told Telegraph Earth that it was currently being considered by the environment ministry.

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