The EU’s National Emission reduction Commitments Directive (NEC Directive) commits Member States to reducing emissions caused by human activities of nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, ammonia and fine particulate matter. Member States must also develop and implement national air pollution control programmes and monitor the effects of air pollutants on ecosystems, including freshwater, natural and semi-natural habitats and forest ecosystems, taking a cost-effective and risk-based approach (based on Article 9 of the directive). Annex V of the directive contains a series of indicators for monitoring air pollution impacts.
In Italy, the application of Article 9 is challenging, due to the high level of functional biodiversity and the wide variety of environmental, landscape and climatic conditions, which make it difficult to select representative monitoring sites. Moreover, due to the multi-stress conditions that typically affect Mediterranean ecosystems, the identification of monitoring indicators is a critical, and often very challenging, task.
Monitoring activities in Italy are currently carried out by two networks included in the ICP (International Cooperative Programme) Waters and ICP Forests programmes. Data on emissions of air pollutants at national level is sufficiently structured, being based on a solid network of monitoring sites. However, the study of air pollution’s impacts on ecosystems is still lacking, with no full representativeness of ecosystem types or integration among sites managed by different agencies, nor integration of results. Indeed, the current Italian NEC network is under representative with respect to the natural, biogeographical and ecological complexity of the territory, as it consists of only 6 forest and 4 freshwater sites that do not represent the whole variety of Italian ecosystems.
The main objective of the LIFE MODERn (NEC) project is to comply with the NEC Directive and enhance the representativeness of sites and indicators, thus improving the Italian NEC network.
In particular, the project aims to:
- Establish national emissions ceilings of certain atmospheric pollutants, linking them to the impacts on ecosystems;
- Expand the network of monitoring sites so that it is fully representative of the variety of Italian freshwater and forest ecosystems;
- Introduce and test a new set of indicators and develop new monitoring protocols to study the impacts of air pollution on biodiversity (plant functional groups, lichens, selected groups of fauna, and selected biological indicators in water bodies) and air pollution chemistry and transparency;
- Measure pollutant effects in remote areas that can provide the full background level for comparison with health-related impacts in urban areas;
- Assess mass balances of the major nutrient and pollutant flows through the atmosphere-forest-soil-water system, to quantify the long-term trends of the most relevant impacts;
- Distinguish between impacts resulting from pollutant emissions and those related to other drivers (climate change, management, land-use) by applying a multivariate statistical approach on NEC Directive target pollutants and on data collected during the 20-year environmental monitoring at ICP Forests and ICP Waters sites in Italy;
- Improve the awareness of experts in the Italian and European NEC network by promoting internet data dissemination through the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) Data Principles and the development of specific software;
- Raise awareness among the Italian public about pollution sources and their impacts on ecosystems, including by promoting the NEC network; and
- Increase knowledge exchange between EU Member States involved in implementation of the NEC Directive to discuss and promote common strategies and solutions.
In addition to more effective compliance with the NEC Directive, LIFE MODERn (NEC) will contribute to reaching some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the 2030 Agenda (e.g. SDG 13 by improving stakeholders’ education and awareness-raising on climate change mitigation, as well as SDG 14 and 15 by restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and by halting biodiversity loss). The project also shares common goals with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the EU’s common agricultural policy and addresses several EU policy priorities (the 2020 biodiversity strategy, the 2019 forest strategy, and green paper COM(2010)66 on forest protection and information). This is by virtue of the following: improving EU policymaking for forest protection and biodiversity; a better understanding of the effects of climate change on forests, resilience and related services; and proposing science-based measures (best practices, standards) for policymakers to prevent related damage at the pan-European scale and enhance the resilience of EU forests, in response to climate change and air pollution.
- Improved dataset of representative sites to meet the requirements of the NEC Directive’s Art. 9, providing national authorities with a larger set of monitoring data to be delivered to the European Commission and the European Environment Agency as required by the directive;
- An analysis report on forest and freshwater responses to air pollution in Italy;
- Updated monitoring protocols to be adopted in the Italian NEC network;
- Additional monitoring sites representative of Italian forest and freshwater ecosystems selected for the Italian NEC network;
- Additional indicators (to be integrated with those currently used);
- A national field campaign for testing the new and revised methodologies/protocols carried out in 10 forest sites and 10 freshwater sites;
- A training course for 200 field operators on environmental monitoring methodologies and techniques with a focus on the newly introduced protocols;
- Training for 100 field operators to serve as trainers for their colleagues; and
- Improved Italian NEC network and production of specific NEC technical guidelines.