ITALY: External environmental costs of motor vehicles account for 11% of GDP

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Italy has analysed the external environmental costs of the country's transport system and concluded that the combined impacts of air, rail and road vehicle production, use and disposal during 1997 was about 11% of Italy's GDP.

The report received praised from Italy’s Environment Minister Edo Ronchi. “This is our third [transport] report and the first to look at external costs,” Andrea Molocchi, head of research at FoE Italy, told edie. “The Environment Minister is usually very positive about our reports, but we’re quite critical of such public compliments because there is no real commitment to reduce the external costs of unsustainable transport.”

“The most urgent thing for Italy to do is to make a bigger commitment to public transport,” says Molocchi. “In Rome, there are only two subway lines and in the real centre of the city the inhabitants don’t have any access to the subway.”

The Italian Railways Board provided financial support for FoE Italy’s research into external costs. “They are interested in external costs and fund projects which specifically cover this issue,” says Molocchi.

Impacts of external costs for vehicle production during 1997 were assessed at:

  • 3,269 billion lire for road vehicle production
  • 82 billion lire for rail materials production
  • 15 billion lire for aeroplane production

Vehicle circulation is the most damaging phase of the Italian transport system, with 42 million vehicles circulating in 1997 – Italy has the highest per capita vehicle ownership rate in the world. FoE Italy believes that early deaths from vehicle emissions represent 310,000 years of life lost, more than the number of years lost to road accidents (274,000 years of life lost from 8,000 deaths per year).

Other data relating to the external costs of vehicle circulation includes:

  • emissions of 109 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent
  • more than 40 million Italian citizens exposed to noise levels higher than 55 decibels (see related story)
  • 3 billion hours per year lost due to congestion
  • 35.8 million tonnes of oil equivalent consumed
  • 113,000 tonnes of batteries, 295,000 tonnes of tyres and 283,000 tonnes of lubricating oil consumed

Although 80% of the 2.7 million end-of-life road vehicles were subject to some form of recycling in 1997, FoE Italy says that about 150,000 tonnes of recoverable goods – namely spent lubricants, exhausted batteries, coolers – were not recovered and, instead, landfilled.

FoE Italy would like to see the internalisation of external environmental costs into the price of transport – with a resulting proportionate rise in the cost of private vehicle ownership compared to the cost of public transport. However, Molocchi believes that internalisation cannot take place until the transport alternatives – mass transport – are comprehensive and high quality.

An English summary of the study is available and a translation of a longer, 60-page summary is in the works.

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