Italy Italy Italy Italy

Desertification Italy

Vulnerabilities - Italy

More than 1/5 of the Italian territory is at risk of desertification involving over 40% of the South (5). Critical areas, amounting to 9.1% of the country surface, are mainly localized in Sardegna, Sicilia, Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria regions, where environmental conditions are more unfavourable and agriculture and sheep-farming activities strongly affect the territory settings; however, worrying conditions exist also in more northern regions like Campania, Lazio, Toscana and Emilia Romagna (2,6). Under the present climate conditions and land use, 3.7% of the Italian territory is very vulnerable, while 32.15% is mildly vulnerable and 64.11% not very vulnerable to desertification. Mildly and not very vulnerable areas are prone to become more vulnerable under some of the climate change conditions indicated by future scenarios (2).

Climate change is expected to worsen the desertification trend already observed. The costs of desertification in Italy are about 60-412 million US$/year, as a first approximation (1).

The most critical situation can be found in southern and insular regions (Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia) where environmental conditions are more unfavourable and where agriculture and sheep-farming affect the territory conditions. In Sicily, for instance, the semi-arid territory extension had been gradually increasing in the period from 1931 to 2000 up to 20% of the regional territory. Parallel to this, territories classified as humid decreased by 30%. The aridity variation can be essentially attributed to the effect of temperature, significantly increased over all the regional territory. Changes in precipitations are less indicative (2).

Climate change might cause general soil quality degradation, with a degree of severity depending on the local territorial context. In particular, in northern Italy land degradation will be mainly caused by run-off erosion due to the increase of intense precipitation and floods. On the contrary, in southern Italy degradation will mainly be due to the erosion because of dryness, salinization, and nutrients loss as a consequence of precipitation decrease and increase of droughts. To this regard a particularly negative effect is anticipated at local scale in southern Italy, where both vegetation and territory are already experiencing a marginal water supply regime (2,7).

Soil quality tends to degrade especially in southern Italy, even though not only for climatic reasons. Arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas changing into degraded areas cover today 47% of Sicily, 32% of Sardinia, 60% of Apulia, 54% of Basilicata and other regions although less severely. Degradation is also caused by changes in soil utilization, or by its inadequate utilization, besides from an increase in forest fires, and is worsened by factors such as erosion, salinization, loss of organic substances, waterproofing and, in some cases, also phenomena of large run-off caused by floods (2).

In currently affected areas, desertification is likely to become irreversible if the environment becomes drier; the pressure from human activities will increase and the soil will be further degraded (3).

Vulnerabilities - Europe

An estimated 115 million hectares or 12% of Europe’s total land area are subject to water erosion, and 42 million hectares are affected by wind erosion. An estimated 45% of European soils have low organic matter content, principally in Southern Europe but also in areas of France, the UK and Germany (4). Soil degradation is already intense in parts of the Mediterranean and central-eastern Europe and, together with prolonged drought periods and fires, is already contributing to an increased risk of desertification (8).

Climatic conditions make the Mediterranean region one of the areas most severely affected by land degradation. 12 of the 27 European Union Member States declared themselves as affected countries under the 1992 United Nation Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD): in the Mediterranean: Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain and in central and eastern Europe: Hungary, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Bulgaria and Romania (3).

Adaptation strategies Italy

Italy has developed in 1999 a National Action Plan for Combating Drought and Desertification (NAP). The NAP envisages a series of actions targeting agriculture, forestry, land planning, as well as awareness-raising strategies and education campaigns. There are currently no estimates of the costs and benefits of adapting to the increased risk of desertification posed by climate change (1).

The National Action Programme entrusted the Regions and Watershed Authorities with the responsibility to implement specific agronomic, civil and social measures and to adopt supporting information, training and research programmes in the following overriding sectors: Soil protection - Sustainable management of water resources - Reduction of environmental impact from productive activities - Land restoration. … Adaptation strategies against desertification also involve water and groundwater protection. The European Commission regards water scarcity and droughts as a key challenge and has thus identified an initial set of policy options to be taken at European, national and regional levels to address the problem. Amongst the measures proposed are: a sound water pricing policy; an efficient resource allocation; a better drought risk management; water saving promotion; better information. Water protection plans will have to take into consideration different climate change scenarios (2).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Italy.

  1. Carraro and Sgobbi (2008)
  2. Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2007)
  3. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  4. European Commission (DG Environment) (2007)
  5. Costantini (2007), in: Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2009)
  6. Carraro (2008), in: Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2009)
  7. Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2009)
  8. IPCC (2014)