Italy, land consumption and ecosystem services. ISPRA report

land consumption

The Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA) and the National System for Environmental Protection (SNPA) present the 2023 edition of the Report ‘Land consumption, territorial dynamics and ecosystem services’ in Italy. (1)

1) Land consumption and ecosystem services

The soils provide a series of ecosystem services, from supporting food and biomass production to the filtration of drinking water, the storage of carbon (as well as CO2 and greenhouse gases) and the consequent mitigation of climate change. (2) In addition to providing a habitat for biodiversity, including microbiological biodiversity, which is however deteriorated, as we have seen, by unsustainable agricultural practices. (3)

Artificial cover of soils (i.e. concrete, asphalt) reduces their ability to absorb water, increasing the risk of floods and droughts. Artificial covers also prevent the natural cooling of the ground, with the effect of worsening heat waves. The ground surface temperature is in fact higher in dense urban areas with little tree cover.

2) Land consumption in Italy, 2022 scenario

Italy records a worrying increase in land consumption. Artificial covers affected 76,8 km² (+10,2% compared to 2021), to exceed 21,5 thousand km². In detail:

– the areas the most affected are the Po Valley with greater intensity on the Milan-Venice axis and along the Adriatic coast from Veneto to Puglia.

– the regions at the top of the rankings for land consumption are Lombardy (12,16%), Veneto (11,88%) and Campania (10,52%) in. The largest increases in net land consumption in 2022 are also recorded in Puglia, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont,

– at the provincial level, the land consumption records belong to Monza and Brianza (41% artificial cover), Naples (35%) and Milan (32%). The provinces of Cagliari, Lodi and Foggia recorded the highest consumption in 2022, significant percentage growth in land consumption in the last year.

– metropolitan cities like Rome and Naples they are the most affected by overbuilding. In 2022, Roma Capitale recorded the highest land consumption, followed by Uta (Cagliari) and Casalpusterlengo (Lodi).

The transformations are mainly due to the construction of new buildings – which in 2022 invaded 1000 hectares of agricultural land – and large infrastructures such as squares, car parks and other paved areas. This was followed by the ground-based installation of photovoltaic systems, which led to land consumption – according to the criteria defined in the EU – for a surface area of ​​just under 50% of the total installations.

3) Monitoring

SNPA extension – the National System for Environmental Protection – follows the use, coverage and consumption of land in Italy, offering an annual overview of the evolution of land consumption phenomena and the dynamics of land transformation. Monitoring also involves:

– the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), which has just published the National Atlas of Land Consumption (2023), (4)

– the national network of contacts for monitoring the territory and land consumption, in which numerous regional and provincial environmental protection agencies (ARPA, APPA) participate.

The comparison of historical maps with current data shows impressive urban expansion and land transformation over the last two decades.

3.1) Analysis of land consumption, Copernicus

An innovative method, which uses satellite remote sensing techniques and geographic information systems (GIS), has been used for the first time in Italy, on a national scale, for the semi-automatic analysis and classification of areas affected by land consumption:

– the images recorded periodically by the Sentinel 2A and 2B satellites, obtained thanks to the European Union Copernicus programme, (5) allow researchers

– the development of specific indices, i.e. NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), which highlight phenomena such as the presence and state of vegetation.

Video. Moving ahead with Sentinel-2 (Source:ESA)

4) Provisional conclusions

The Constitution of the Italian Republic was reformed, in 2022, through the introduction of:

– responsibility of the State, the Regions and autonomous Provinces and local authorities, in their respective areas of competence, in the protection of ‘the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems, also in the interests of future generations’ (article 9),

– limits to freedom of economic initiative that could compromise human health and the environment (Article 41). The law should determine the appropriate programs and controls, so that economic activity (public and private) is thus directed and coordinated. (5)

The data exposed by public research bodies on land consumption in Italy in 2022 highlight an unacceptable gap between the constitutional dictate and the country’s policies, on every territorial level. Until?

Dario Dongo and Gabriele Sapienza


(1) ISPRA. Land consumption, territorial dynamics and ecosystem services, 2023 edition. SNPA Report n. 38/2023. ISBN 978-88-448-1179-2

(2) European Environmental Agency, EEA (2019). Land and soil in Europe: Why we need to use these vital and finite resources sustainably

(3) Gabriele Sapienza, Dario Dongo. Microbial biodiversity of soils in Europe, analyzes and perspectives. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(4) ISPRA. National atlas of land consumption. 2023 edition. ISBN: 978-88-448-1180-8

(5) Program of the European Union Copernicus. Europe’s eyes on Earth

(6) Dario Dongo. Sustainable development in the Constitution and the vices of Italian democracy. #Clean shovels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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Graduated in Agronomy, with experience in sustainable agriculture and permaculture, laboratory and ecological monitoring.