How Italy briefly stopped using cars – Elena Vedovello, Italy




Just a few weeks after the COP21 meeting in Paris, where world leaders gathered together to discuss climate change and possible solutions to it, Italy realized that the pollution that tarnished the skies over some of its cities was hitting alarming levels.

The month of December had been a strangely dry month for the country, going almost 30 days without rain or wind in the Northern areas. With nothing to clean the air, levels of pollution and dust began to rise, reaching alarming numbers, which eventually convinced the mayors of the biggest Italian cities to do something.

Milan, as well as eleven other towns and cities, decided to forbid the usage of cars for six hours a day from the 28th to the 30th December. Other cities, like Rome and Bergamo, let cars with even-numbered license plates circulate one day and cars with uneven plates drive the next day. Cities like Turin and Milan attempted to implement the usage of public transportation by offering tickets that were valid for the whole day, rather than the tickets valid for 90 or 120 minutes that were normally common in Italy. Many towns also forbade the usage of fireworks on New Year’s Eve due to the pollution they would have caused.

However, reactions to this decision were of many kinds. Legambiente, an environmental NGO, stated that banning cars for a few days at a time was “a good thing, but not enough to solve the problem. The whole nation should contribute and do more: turning off the heaters, for example.” Another move the government needed to make, according to the organization, was to invest more in public transportation; an aspect that Italy is vastly under-resourced in. For example, Rome, the capital of Italy, has only two subway lines, as well as one that they’re about to finish, in a place where at least fifteen lines are needed.

The Northern League leader, Matteo Salvini, accused Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of taking useless measures. “Blocking traffic is not going to solve anything: cars are only contributing to 20% of pollution. Let’s just turn down the heaters and buy buses that consume less,” Salvini declared.

To answer Salvini was Milan’s mayor Giuliano Pisapia, who reminded the politician of the huge efforts they took to reach the decision.

Torino ancora avvolta nello smog due giorni fa.


In any case, Italy’s new year brought rain and winds, and everyone hoped that the situation would change. Unfortunately, even though cars are now allowed to circulate again, the problem is yet to be solved.

The government, influenced by pressure from environment minister Gianluca Galletti, called a summit of mayors and governors of regions in order to respond to the pollution crisis in a more systematic way, instead of tackling it in random order. The politicians met in Rome on the 30th of December. Talking about possible ways to tackle pollution, Galletti said that Italy should implement environmental education in order to make people more aware of the nature around them, so that they can take better care of it.   

Pianura padana senza vento, la 'cappa' che aggrava l'emergenza smog



In addition to that, solutions he proposed included using electric cars, not waterproofing the soil so that it can absorb carbon dioxide, and turning down the heaters in houses. The minister decided not to forbid driving cars as a measure to stop pollution, because he agreed, after seeing the results, that levels of toxic dusts were not changing. However, he did tell mayors to change the speed limit in city centers from 50 to 30 kms per hour. Something that was brought up at the summit but not yet acted on was the scrapping of old cars, which produce a lot of pollution. A drawback to this proposal is the enormous amount of money that need to be invested by the State to make it happen.

Anyhow, as of mid-January the situation seems to be improving, but Italy cannot possibly afford any more days of intense pollution in its metropolitan cities, as this will lead to illnesses and setbacks in the tourism industry.

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