Rome Caput Mundi no more: Just Kaputt

Why Rome Cannot Hold a World Conference on Climate Change on its Own

The next United Nations world conference on the climate, COP 26 to be held in 2020, should have been hosted by Rome. But now the event will be co-hosted with London. The preparatory work, “pre-COP” laying down the technical ground for the conference, will be carried out in Rome. It will also include a new segment called Youth COP proposed by the Italian government at COP 24 in Katowice (Poland). The idea is to draw young people from around the world in the COP decision-making process. 

However, and this is the point, the main conference, taking place two months later, will be held in London. 

Why? The reason is simple. While it’s true that Rome hasn’t been “caput mundi” for quite a while, now Rome is simply “kaputt”. Broken. Invaded by trash and rats. And this doesn’t help its international image. 

Two recent articles by Eduardo Lubrano on our sister publication Impakter Italia make the point. One, titled “anatomy of a city in disarray” explores how Rome has fallen apart; the other reports on an online petition signed by tens of thousands of disgruntled Roman citizens demanding that Virginia Raggi, the Mayor of Rome in charge since 2016, finally take action and fix the problems. Here is the translation of the two articles.

Anatomy of a city in disarray: Rome  

Smart cities, sustainable cities, sustainable development. Design differently. These are the watchwords for planning the future. A very near future. And yet Rome, a beautiful city, full of centuries of history, monuments, works of art, seems to have gotten lost. Confused, as if struck by a terrible disease, a cancer that corrodes her inside.

Chaotic traffic with no more rules. Full of immigrants who, instead of representing an opportunity, attract only the fears of citizens dazed by contradictory messages that come from politicians. Finally, last but not least, the waste problem. 

Rome is now, in many neighborhoods, an open-air dump.

The best observation post to see this full blast is the office of the most important newspaper in Rome. Ernesto Menicucci is the Editor-in-Chief of the Rome Chronicle of Il Messaggero. We turned to him for a realistic version of the facts as they appear to the citizens.

Is the waste situation in Rome as bad as it is reported in the news?

“Worse. People now don’t even look for space to throw rubbish in bins – a space that doesn’t even exist in reality – so they throw it on the ground. In some areas of the city, people are setting fire to bins because they believe it is the only possible solution to avoid worst troubles”.

Is burning waste in an uncontrolled way harmful?

“Sure! I am no technician but I believe that this ‘do it yourself’ approach is a totally wrong way to dispose of it. I believe that a health emergency is not yet here, at least not openly, but perhaps we are approaching it with great strides, especially if the municipal government remains immobilized. I would like to clear up a common misunderstanding: it does not seem to me that in this case there is the hand of organized crime as there is in other parts of the country even if we know very well that there is an illegal business of billions of euros thriving on waste “.

The situation in Rome did not break out now in June 2019, and perhaps it does not have a single culprit. But how did we get here?

“I don’t agree much with this narrative that as no one is guilty, everyone is guilty. In particular in this case. When in 2016 the Malagrotta landfill was rightly closed – I reiterate this to avoid misunderstanding, it was rightly closed – it was immediately necessary to have an alternative prepared by the Marino junta [Translator note: the Mayor preceding Raggi] as well as by the incoming Raggi. Instead the municipal authorities have gone on focusing on recycling – very well – without worrying however about where the waste should go in the meantime. When the municipal waste treatment plant (TMB Salario dell’Ama) caught fire in December 2018, only one dump remained, the Rocca Cencia which is now more than full. I would say that the municipal authorities have more than one responsibility “.

In the photo: Rome, Salaria waste treatment plant on fire, 11 December 2018 Source: Alessandro Serranò Agf

What is the distinctive feature of this Roman waste emergency?

“The fact that this is a non-governed city. In many respects. And that therefore the problems explode and I do not say that nobody resolves them but worse, nobody gets their hands on them. In three years, AMA [the Rome waste removal agency] has changed directors every six months – they are at the hands of the Mayor. Every six months, that is not even enough time for anyone heading it to realize what kind of agency it is. The Municipality of Rome has not had a waste commissioner for months. Everything is stopped. The city is a jungle in the sense that even the grass is growing in the streets”.

Rome submerged by waste: the online petition

In the last week of June, many large European capitals have raised the alarm for the coming great heat wave and put into practice a series of measures to prevent the more vulnerable groups – the elderly, the sick and children – from suffering more than warranted. Paris and Berlin, for example, have tried to tackle the issue of global warming in the city but both – at least according to news reports in the two capitals – have not had to fight with what many call a possible health emergency in Rome due to waste.

To the point that Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, former Minister of the Environment of the Prodi government, former national president of the Greens, has addressed a petition to the Mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi, to the acting President of the Capitolina Assembly Enrico Stefano, to the president of the Environment Commission Daniele Diaco and all the council leaders of the Capitoline Assembly.

“We want Rome as the capital of Italy to declare the climate emergency and halve CO2 emissions by 2030. This is the last chance for our planet, which has only 11 years remaining to be saved from the risks of global warming”. These are the first words of the climate emergency petition that, having just entered the web, has collected thousands of signatures.


The proposal is divided into four points:

1) To declare the climate and environmental emergency with the widest possible support from all the groups present in the Capitoline Assembly;

2) Approve a resolution with specific schedules and concrete mitigation and adaptation measures to combat climate change and to halve CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to eliminate C02 emissions and the use of fossil fuels by 2050;

3) Evaluate the possibility of anticipating the goal of fossil fuel spillage to 2040 in consideration of the acceleration of climate change currently in progress;

4) Ensure Rome is ready to host and support the Cop 26 preparatory events of 2020 with particular reference to the Youth Cop.

The Cop26 is the UN World Climate Conference that could have been held in Italy but which – after a proposal from London and Rome – was jointly assigned to the UK and to our country which will host the preparation phase and the part dedicated to young people.

Returning to Rome, worms, mice and seagulls are the new masters of the city who do not have preferences between North and South, East and West: the entire perimeter of the capital is submerged by garbage left on the streets, which the Ama cannot pick up and dispose of it because the whole system is collapsing: Families that do not bother to reduce the waste and dispose of it as they should; agents that have to collect this waste and are powerless in the face of the sheer quantity and who are not organized; disposal facilities that are overflowing. 

And above all the feeling that there is no one who knows what to do.

The Lazio Region writes to the local health authorities and the concerned Public Health Hygiene Services (Sips) to monitor and evaluate the effects of prolonged waste exposure. A circular letter, a simple written message enjoining the Municipality and its agencies to take:

“All the initiatives useful to solicit the regular and constant removal of waste, ensuring in particular the removal near hospitals, schools, local markets and signaling the phenomena of combustion of waste with release of toxic substances”.

Rome’s Mayor is silent; the Italian government’s Ministry of Health says ” No risk “. 

The Romans are on a war footing because they can’t stand it anymore.

Featured Image: From Impakter Italia

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