The Italian Strategy for the Arctic identifies actions and key instruments to be deployed in the relevant frameworks. It envisages the promotion of “lessons learned” and the exchange and sharing of knowledge on specific environmental topics. It also stresses the critical role of taking targeted actions and raising awareness among the main stakeholders in the relevant discussion forums, notably, international negotiations and political processes regarding environmental issues. A major role is also played by activities aimed at identifying and giving access to proper European and international funds. Such activities, if properly managed, will be instrumental in improving and strengthening current bilateral relations with Arctic States and in fostering new cooperation opportunities, with positive outcomes for Italy as well as for the Arctic environment and tangible benefits on a global level.
Cooperation and exchange of experiences with Arctic States can and must also offer development opportunities for Italy in some fields, such as sustainable urban environment, which is one of the priorities of the Italian Ministry of Environment.
In this framework, a major role is to be played by scientific and technological research, in which Italy excels. Italian experts collaborate with Arctic Council Working Groups and other international specialist bodies promoting Italian expertise and competence and creating new opportunities for bilateral and multilateral cooperation and exchange.
Actions and strategies shall be focused on crucial Arctic environmental issues, such as: protection of biodiversity, prevention of air pollution, reversal of climate change, marine conservation and integrated management of coastal zones, including supervising water quality and the exploitation of natural resources as well as addressing environmental risks posed by transport by sea, tourism, mining and harbor operations.
Italy bears a number of similarities with the Arctic region, first of all for the features of its seas and mountains, especially the Alps, which are particularly fragile and vulnerable to climate change and to all factors liable to alter their delicate equilibrium (such as fishing, hunting, pollution and tourism). More specifically, the Baltic and the Adriatic sea have similar characteristics, peculiar to closed seas, such as scarce water circulation and renewal. On the other hand, the Italian mountain areas and the Arctic region both suffer from geographical, social and technological isolation.
- Marine environment
The analogies between the Baltic and the Adriatic sea (and, to a certain extent, the whole Mediterranean) include the delicate balance of their ecosystem, the low resilience to continuous or sporadic polluting events and the severe impacts of global phenomena, such as sea level rise. In addition, the growing sea trade in Northern waters poses a major challenge as it entails a growing risk of accidents and environmental damage connected to possible oil spills. In this respect, the Marpol Convention on the prevention of pollution from ships stands as the key international instrument for its parties, including Italy.
Directive 2013/30/EU on offshore safety is another relevant operative tool in this field. It establishes strict rules for the construction and management of extraction facilities as well as technical and financial requirements for the granting of licenses to oil & gas operators (insurances, bail bonds).
- Air pollution and climate change
Fighting climate change in the Arctic is clearly a priority for regional actors. It is altogether crucial that it is recognized as a global priority. To this purpose, awareness-raising activities targeting public opinion and all relevant stakeholders should be encouraged.
In recent years, most Arctic countries have increasingly promoted policies aimed at curbing Short Lived Climate Forcers (SLCFs) levels. SCLFs are methane, tropospheric ozone, hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and black carbon. Locally, most black carbon emissions come from wood burning and diesel engines. At international level, current policy actions mainly aim at reducing ship emissions. Indeed, as accessibility to Arctic shipping routes improves, this vulnerable region is more and more exposed to those pollutants. Furthermore, because of atmospheric circulation patterns SLCFs typically accumulate in the Arctic region even when emitted at lower latitudes (most black carbon found in the Arctic comes from mid-latitudes). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reducing SLCFs concentration would significantly improve the situation of ice and snow cover in the Arctic region.
Italy plays an active role in applying the main international instruments dealing directly or indirectly with atmospheric pollution and climate change, namely:
- the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC);
- the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer; and
- the already mentioned Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) .
Arctic biodiversity is one of the most vulnerable of our planet. Various international instruments for biodiversity conservation exist, and their effectiveness has been proved over the years. Each one of them should be employed in the Arctic area through tailored actions and measures and implemented through international cooperation and partnerships. The main international conventions on this subject, to which Italy is party, are:
- the already mentioned Convention on Biological Diversity aiming at preserving biodiversity and ensuring the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, also through international cooperation;
- the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats to preserve plants, animals and their habitats, to promote cooperation among States and to monitor endangered and vulnerable species;
- the Paris International Convention for the Protection of Birds in the wild state;
- the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals for the protection of terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range. In the framework of this Convention, it is worth mentioning the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA);
- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), regulating the international trade of plant and animal species on the verge of extinction.
- Urban Areas
Considering the distinctive features of Arctic areas and their vulnerability, urban development has a role of remarkable importance. Some Arctic States are pioneering in this field. Sweden for instance promotes a holistic approach to sustainable urban development, involving not only architectural and urban design, but also the careful planning of interactions among all relevant subsystems (waste cycle management, energy, heating, etc.). Such planning ensures cities’ effectiveness and sustainability, thus improving the quality of life of citizens. This holistic approach has become an integral part of the smart-city concept.
Urban sustainable development is one of Italian national priorities, which shall be pursued in the framework of relevant international instruments, notably the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme and the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (HABITAT III) to be held in Ecuador in 2016. Also the global negotiation process in the framework of the Paris Climate Agreement showed the growing interest for urban development and city planning.
- Indigenous peoples
Many Arctic territories are highly fragile due to their natural isolation and vulnerability. Local communities are facing ecosystem alteration, biodiversity loss, changing availability of arable lands and the side effects of unregulated hunting and fishing. Also, shortage of connections in human settlements engenders social problems that should not be underestimated, as it jeopardizes socialization, career development and business opportunities. The same happens in some Alpine areas. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the actions taken under the Alpine Convention and aiming at improving access to basic services for highly isolated Alpine settlements, through the promotion of innovative organizational structures in scarcely populated areas.