Stefano Laporta has been the President of the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA) since September 2017, after having served as Director General of the same Institute since 2010. As President, Mr. Laporta chairs the National System for Environmental Protection (SNPA), which brings together the 21 Italian regional environmental protection agencies as well as ISPRA. He is also a member of the National Civil Protection Operative Committee. Since November 2019, Mr. Laporta has chaired the Council of Presidents of the National Public Research Agencies (CONPER). Additionally, since 2017, he has coordinated the Advisory Committee of the National Inspectorate for Nuclear Safety and Radioprotection (ISIN), after having been Director of the Italian Nuclear Safety Authority from June 2011 to 2016.
1 – What is the situation of hydrogeological risk in Italy?
With over 620,000 landslides surveyed, we are the European country that is most affected by this phenomenon. Out of the 1,000 landslides that are initiated or reactivated every year, a few hundred impact the population, urban centers, and the road and railway networks. According to the ISPRA 2021 “Hydrogeological Instability in Italy” Report, which is published every three years, nearly 94% of Italian municipalities are at risk from landslides, floods, and coastal erosion. Moreover, 18.4% of the national territory is classified as highly dangerous in terms of landslides and floods. This means that 1.3 million inhabitants, residing in the greatest risk areas (very high and high), are at risk of landslides, while 6.8 million are at risk of flooding in medium hydraulic hazard scenarios with a return period estimated at 100 to 200 years. Last but not least, over 560,000 buildings are at risk due to landslides and 1,500,000 due to flooding.
2 – How does climate change affect our country’s hydrogeological instability?
Climate change undoubtably has a significant effect on phenomena related to instability. As emerges from the IPCC Reports, Italy is located in the so-called "Mediterranean hot spot," an area that has been identified as particularly vulnerable to climate change. Indeed, climate change is driving an increase in the frequency of heavy rains and flash floods, which are extremely dangerous and destructive phenomena due to the rapidity of the event and the short alert time. Furthermore, the increase in temperatures at high altitudes is reducing permafrost, the perennially frozen layer of soil, with a consequent increase in slope instability and the deterioration of the soil and its capacity to store carbon.
3 – What are the economic and social implications of hydrogeological risk and climate change? How can they be addressed?
The issue of hydrogeological instability is particularly significant in Italy due to its impact on the population, environment, cultural heritage, linear communication infrastructures, and the economic and business system. In the last 50 years, landslides and floods have caused over 1,600 deaths with an estimated damage of €1-3 billion/year. The National Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change, published by the Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security (MASE) last December, supports national, regional, and local authorities in identifying and choosing the most effective action and promoting the integration of adaptation criteria into planning processes and tools. Moreover, in collaboration with ISPRA, MASE has also developed the National Platform for Adaptation to Climate Change (http://climadat.isprambiente.it/), a portal that provides information and raises the awareness of citizens and stakeholders on the issue of adaptation, as well as delivering data and tools to support authorities in decision-making processes. I am convinced that any plan, any decision, no matter how strategic, will never lead to concrete results without the active involvement of citizens. And this is why ISPRA has implemented the IdroGEO Platform (https://idrogeo.isprambiente.it) that allows anyone to easily view, download, and share maps and indicators on landslides and floods, even from smartphones, thereby contributing to raising the awareness of risk in local areas and the resilience of society.
4 – Has Italy implemented adequate solutions over the past ten years? If not, what is wrong?
If we analyze the data collected by the ISPRA Platform on the National Directory of Soil Defense Operations (ReNDiS), nearly 11,000 operations have been financed for over €10 billion by the Ministry of the Environment (from 1999 to today) and by the Department for Internal and Territorial Affairs (DAIT) of the Ministry of Homeland Affairs (from 2019). With regard to the implementation time of these actions – including the design, procurement, and construction phases – the average duration is almost 5 years. The PNRR has allocated €2487 billion to "Measures for the management of flood risk and for the reduction of hydrogeological risk," of which ca. €1.2 billion will be used for prevention by the Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security and another €1.2 billion will be managed by the Civil Protection Department to address risk situations and guarantee local territorial resilience to natural disasters. In terms of landslide monitoring, a few thousand events are currently being monitored with on-site instrumentation. As part of the PNRR, ISPRA, in collaboration with Italian regional authorities and those of the autonomous provinces, together with ARPA, has presented a technical proposal to monitor the most critical landslides affecting inhabited centers or linear communication infrastructures through the use of both surface and underground sensors. The aim is to assess ongoing trends, supporting the design of stabilization works, correct territorial planning, and the activation of population alert systems. Satellite data also provides a significant contribution to the analysis and monitoring of slow-moving landslides (i.e., those with an annual cumulative displacement of less than one meter). Tuscany, the Valle d'Aosta and Veneto have already launched a regional monitoring service using data collected by ESA's Sentinel 1 satellite constellation. The PNRR also calls for the implementation of the IRIDE Earth Observation Satellite Program, which will provide operational services for monitoring land and infrastructure deformation caused by landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural or anthropic causes. I therefore believe that we are working well, both at a technical-scientific level and in terms for funding for prevention and management works. However, we certainly need to ramp up this effort and aim to make operations structural and inspired by a logic of prevention, rather than the management of emergencies.