Land Being Lost to Urbanization: A Threat to Biodiversity in Italy

Land Being Lost to Urbanization: A Threat to Biodiversity in Italy

Italy is one of the richest areas of biodiversity in Europe, both in flora and fauna. Italy in particular recounts a very high number of endemic species; species that only live within the national borders.

The North of the country as well as many areas in the centre and South are devoted to croplands, while the rest of the territory mostly consists of forests or herbaceous vegetation. Urban growth is one of the most worrying changes that impact land use in Italy; it occurs especially at the expense of arable lands and croplands, but also in areas that should be protected for their biodiversity potential. In recent times, Italian land has generally been converted from agricultural (land that is arable, under permanent crops, and under permanent pastures) to urban land (land where a human settlement is established, with high population density and infrastructure) at an increasing pace. This is shown by the systematic reduction of agricultural land since 2010 as a consequence of the increase of metropoles. The decrease in land use is considered an endangering factor for several types of habitats and species. However, Italy is still the third country in Europe for its agricultural surface, with an agricultural land corresponding to 127170 square km.

Among the laws that were passed to reduce land use, the 2016 Law “Contenimento del consumo del suolo” aimed at reducing the phenomenon of land being converted to urban use with the goal of achieving 0% urban transition in 2050. The idea is not only to prevent future land transition but to restore areas that have already transitioned to urban use. The underlying motive is economic, as Italy has had to increasingly import agricultural products from abroad, instead of relying on its own production. However, a reduction in Italy’s rate of urbanization will also help Italy’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change, and improve biodiversity.

Two EU Directives, namely “Habitat” Directive 92/43/CEE and “Birds” Directive 2009/147/CE represent the main reference points for the preservation of biodiversity. “Habitat” requires countries to develop an effective strategy to protect and sustain biodiversity. Together with the international Bern Convention, they require countries to draw up “red lists” of endangered species. These laws have been especially useful for they have fostered cooperation between national, regional, and provincial authorities in reporting on the implementation of the Directive.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, 43% of Italian habitats of the Directive are well protected, 36% are protected in an inadequate manner, and 16% are badly protected. This shows that there is still work to be done to ensure biodiversity protection in Italy.

Activity Rating: *** Right Direction but More Effort Needs to be Taken

Take Action:


To: Stefano Patuanelli, Minister for Economic Development

Soil is a limited natural resource since it is not renewable and is precious for the services it renders to humans. Its biodiversity is essential for our survival and we should take good care of it. Expanding land use and ensuring its biodiversity and sustainability should be a priority for our country. The Contenimento del consumo del suolo law is a good step in the right direction, as well as the implementation of the Habitat Directive and the multi-level cooperation it has fostered. However, this also needs to be complemented by policies aimed at protecting species’ biodiversity.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Italy Country Manager Cecilia Ivardiganapini

Image: Alpine chamois, an Italian endemic species. Source:

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