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Environmental impacts in the wake of the corona outbreak in Italy

Researchers from Aarhus University and the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology have quantified and described the environmental consequences of the lockdown in Italy. The study has also estimated greenhouse gas emissions in relation to possible economic recovery scenarios in connection with the Italian reopening.

For the first time, a new study provides a deeper account of the possible effects of the lockdown on the reduction of greenhouse gases in Italy.

This was done by quantifying the carbon footprint of normal Italian energy production and consumption since 2015, and then comparing the data with emissions during the lockdown period.

The analysis shows that there has been a drop of approx. 20% in carbon emissions, explains Dario Caro, a researcher at the Department of Environmental Science at Aarhus University:

"Our results show that the biggest decrease has occurred in northern Italy, where the coronavirus spread has had the biggest impact. This area also has the heaviest industry in Italy, so the region experienced a major drop in the industrial activity that normally accounts for a great deal of Italy’s carbon emissions."

The study has been published in the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment as part of a special edition dedicated to evaluation of the environmental impacts associated with Covid-19.

Three ways back but a long way to Paris

A number of economic and environmental consequences arose after Italy shut down large parts of society to limit the spread of Covid-19 infection. On the basis of three possible recovery scenarios, the researchers estimate that, despite the significant decrease in emissions in the lockdown months, it will be difficult for Italy to live up to its environmental obligations under the Paris Agreement.

"Our analyses show that there may be reason to reflect on the gap between our environmental goals and our environmental efficiency. In the most pessimistic scenario, in which we assume a drop in GDP of more than 9% compared to 2019, Italy will still produce higher average emissions per Euro than in the period from 2015 to 2018," explains Benedetto Rugani, who has coauthored the article.

The article has the headline “Impact of COVID-19 outbreak measures of lockdown on the Italian Carbon Footprint”, and it concludes that the drop in consumption of non-renewable energy sources like natural gas, oil, etc. has led to a drop in emissions.

"Like so many other countries, Italy is facing a need to re-establish industry, production and consumption patterns. There is also an increasing awareness in Italy of the importance of a transition to more environmentally friendly forms of energy production. This study provides a preliminary but concrete review of the route of different footprints towards a more sustainable future after such an exceptional lockdown situation."

Read the full study in Science of Total Environment here.

Dario Caro,
Department of Environmental Science,
Aarhus Universitet.