Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
Land is a finite resource and the way it is used is one of the principal drivers of environmental change, with significant impacts on quality of life and ecosystems as well as on the management of infrastructure. As Europe’s share of land used for production (agriculture, forestry, etc.) is one of the highest on the globe, conflicting land-use demands will require decisions that will involve hard trade-offs. Land use in Europe is driven by a number of important drivers. Drivers as the increasing demand for living space per person, the link between economic activity, increased mobility and growth of transport infrastructure usually result in urban uptake. Urbanization rates vary substantially, with coastal and mountain areas among the most affected regions in Europe due to the increasing demand for recreation and leisure.
The impact of urbanisation depends on the area of land taken and on the intensity of land use, for example the degree of soil sealing and the population density. Land take by urban and infrastructure is generally irreversible and results in soil sealing – the loss of soil resources due to the covering of land for housing, roads or other construction work. Converted areas become highly specialised in terms of land use and support few functions related to socio-economic activities and housing. Urban land take consumes mostly agricultural land, but also reduces space for habitats and ecosystems that provide important services like the regulation of the water balance and protection against floods, particularly if soil is highly sealed. Land occupied by man-made surfaces and dense infrastructure connects human settlements and fragments landscapes. It is also a significant source of water, soil and air pollution.
In addition, lower population densities – a result of urban sprawl - require more energy for transport and heating or cooling. The consequences of urban life styles, such as air pollution, noise, greenhouse gas emission and impacts on ecosystem services, are felt within urban areas as well as in regions far beyond them.
Although, land use trends since 2000 remain the same as in the previous decade (1990-2000) and most have slowed down, land uptake by urban development and transport infrastructure has been slightly faster than in the previous 10 years and it follows the continuing trend, observed already during the 1980s (EEA, 2002).
Next Corine land cover update with reference year 2012 is being produced and it is expected to be available in 2014.
- Changes in ecosystems processed induced by land use: Human appropriation of aboveground NPP and ist influence on standing crop in Austria. Haberl H., Erb K.-H., Krausmann F., Loibl W., Schulz N, Weisz H. 2001. Changes in ecosystems processed induced by land use: Human appropriation of aboveground NPP and ist influence on standing crop in Austria. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 15(4): 929-942.
- Proceedings of the Technical Workshop on Indicators for Soil Sealing. Turner, S., 2002. Proceedings of the Technical Workshop on Indicators for Soil Sealing. Copenhagen, 26 - 27 March, 2001. Technical Report 80. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.
- OECD Key environmental indicators (KEI) No indicator on land take
- OECD Core Environmental Indicators (CEI) Habitat alteration and land conversion from natural state L to be further developed (e.g.. road network density, change in land cover, etc.)
- UNCSD 1996 Land use change; Changes in land conditions. methodology sheet
- UNCSD 2001 Area of Urban Formal and Informal Settlements methodology sheet
- IRENA12 Land use change This indicator uses the same methodology for uptake of agriculture land by urban sprawl.
Change of the amount of agriculture, forest and other semi-natural and natural land taken by urban and other artificial land development. It includes areas sealed by construction and urban infrastructure as well as urban green areas and sport and leisure facilities. The main drivers of land take are grouped in processes resulting in the extension of:
- housing, services and recreation,
- industrial and commercial sites,
- transport networks and infrastructures,
- mines, quarries and waste dumpsites,
- construction sites.
Units of measurement are hectares or km2.
Results are presented as average annual change, % of total area of the country and % of the various land cover types taken by urban development.
Note: Surfaces relate to the extension of urban systems that may include parcels not covered by constructions, streets or other sealed surfaces. This is in particular the case of discontinuous urban fabric, which is considered as a whole. Symmetrically, monitoring the indicator with satellite images leads to exclude most of the linear transport infrastructures, too narrow to be observed directly.
Policy context and targets
The main policy objective of this indicator is to measure the pressure from the development of urban and other artificial land use on natural and managed landscapes that are necessary 'to protect and restore the functioning of natural systems and halt the loss of biodiversity' (6th Environment Action Programme – 6EAP COM(2001)31). EU 6th Environmental Action Programme addresses land resources and land use mainly through the thematic strategies on natural resources, the urban environment and soil protection (plus the Commission's proposal for a soil framework directive).
Other important references can be found in A Sustainable Europe for a Better World: A European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development (COM(2001)264), and the thematic documents related to it, such as the Commission Communication 'Towards a Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment' (COM(2004)60), Cohesion Policy and cities: the urban contribution to growth and jobs in the regions (COM(2006)385), Europe 2020 (COM(2010)2020), general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 as well as the concept of territorial cohesion. In the context of land use it is relevant to mention the role of the European Landscape Convention (Council of Europe, 2000) that deals with the protection, management and planning of all landscapes in Europe.
Policy decisions that shape land-use involve trade-offs between many sectoral interests, including industry, transport, energy, mining, agriculture and forestry. These trade-offs are eventually implemented through spatial planning and land management practice in the Member States. Although subsidiarity principle assigns land and urban planning responsibilities to national and regional levels, most European policies have a direct or indirect effect on urban development. In particular, the effective implementation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Environmental Impact assessment (EIA) Directives has shown that they can improve the consideration of environmental aspects in planning projects, plans and programmes, contribute to more systematic and transparent planning, and improve participation and consultation. The far-reaching consequences of European and other policies for spatial impacts are, however, only partially perceived and understood. Tackling the challenges needs completion of a comprehensive knowledge base and better awareness of the complexity of the problems as currently expressed in the discussion towards a ‘territorial impact assessment’ instrument (Territorial, 2010).
Initiatives towards such an integrated approach, as requested in the Community strategic guidelines on cohesion 2007–2013 (COM(2005)0229), implying compliance with the precautionary principle, efficient use of natural resources and minimisation of waste and pollution, need to be vigorously pursued and, in particular, implemented.
The importance of multi-functionality land is also massively reinforced by the emerging policy and scientific consensus on the importance of land management practices for mitigating and adapting to climate change, as stated by United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change activities on Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). However it may often be difficult to estimate greenhouse gas removals by and emissions from land use and forestry resulting from LULUCF activities (UNFCCC). EU climate change policy addresses land use in its White paper for climate change and adaptation by measures aiming at increasing the resilience of land-based production and ecosystems in general (COM(2009)469).
Although, there are no quantitative targets for land take for urban development at the European level, different documents reflect the need for better planning to control urban growth and the extension of infrastructures (policies relating explicitly to land-use issues, and especially physical and spatial planning, have generally been the responsibility of the authorities in Member States). The European Commission's Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM(2011) 571) introduces for the first time an initiative 'no net land take by 2050' that would imply that all new urbanisation will either occur on brown-fields or that any new land take will need to be compensated by reclamation of artificial land.
European policy, although having no spatial planning responsibility, sets the framing conditions for planning. At the European level, the 1999 European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), a non-binding framework that aims to coordinate various European regional policy impacts, already advocates the development of a sustainable, polycentric and balanced urban system with compact cities and strengthening of the partnerships between urban and rural areas; parity of access to infrastructure and knowledge; and wise management of natural areas and the cultural heritage. The 2008 Green Paper on territorial cohesion, and the 2007 EU Territorial Agenda and Action Plan by the Territorial Agenda of the EU and the Action programme for its implementation (COPTA, 2007) build further on the ESDP. Specific actions relevant in the field of ‘Land’, in particular are action 2.1d: ‘Urban sprawl’ and action 2.2 ‘Territorial impact of EU policies’.
Demand for new urban areas may be partly satisfied by brown-field remediation. Its environmental advantages of are clear: relieving pressure on rural areas and green-field sites, reducing pollution costs, and more efficient energy use and natural resource consumption, facilitating economic diversification and emerging habitat (housing) requirements. Europe has several examples of regional strategies for economic regeneration and brown-field development (The OECD Territorial Outlook 2001) and recycling of artificial surfaces in several countries reach 30 % or more if compared to total area of land take (CORINE LC 2006 results). Stronger links between EU urban and soil policies could encourage this further (e.g. following up respective 6th EAP Thematic strategies).
Related policy documents
COM(2010) 2020 final, Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth
European Commission, 2010. Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. COM(2010) 2020 final.
European Landscape Convention
European Landscape Convention
European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP)
European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP). Towards Balanced and Sustainable Development of the Territory of the European Union. Informal Council of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning in Potsdam, May 1999.
Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe. COM(2011) 571
Sixth Environment Action Programme
DECISION No 1600/2002/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 22 July 2002 laying down the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme
Methodology for indicator calculation
The indicator is currently calculated from Corine Land Cover 2000 and 2006 mapped from Landsat and SPOT satellite images (CLC 2000-2006 change database version 16). Changes from agriculture (CLC class 2xx), forest and semi-natural/natural land (CLC class 3xx), wetlands (CLC class 4xx) or water (CLC 5xx) to urban (CLC class 1xx) are grouped according to the land cover accounts methodology. Land cover change values are converted to grid cells which are aggregated by countries. In addition to comparable results between countries, the use of the CLC geographic database allows computing the same indicator for smaller units such as regions or river basins. When the indicator refers to country surface, areas are calculated for consistency reasons from the same CLC database as used for the indicator; it may lead to small differences with official country surface numbers due to the use of a single geographical projection system.
Land take = LCF2 (21+22) + LCF3 (31+32+33+34+35+36+37+38) + LCF13 (development of green urban areas over previously undeveloped land) - part of LCF38 (conversion of sport and leisure facilities from previously developed land)
Only polygonal transport areas are recorded in the indicator; land uptake by linear transport infrastructures development will be integrated in a further step on the basis of a high resolution geographical database of transport infrastructures.
Methodology for gap filling
Need to map transport infrastructure or artificial areas currently under CLC's minimum mapping unit (25 ha or 100m) by combining CLC with high resolution datasets or modelling transport infrastructure coverage.
- See documents provided under Methodology section of the data set "LEAC final report 2003" and "Short explanation of data files"
- Land Accounts for Europe 1990-2000 LEAC methodology description. EEA Report No 11/2006.
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
Data sources in latest figures
CSI014 has been processed according to the land accounting methodology. Both for facilitating computation and visualising spatial change, land accounts are processed using a grid of 1x1 km. Each cell contains the exact CLC values but spatial aggregations are made of entire grid-cells, which may lead to some very limited marginal uncertainty for the border of a given national or regional land unit.
Differences in CLC change mapping technology (1990-2000 and 2000-2006):
In CLC1990-2000 changes were mapped by countries usually by intersecting CLC1990 and CLC2000 stock layers. The results were not always cleaned and non-changed parts might have remained in CLC 1990-2000 changes dataset. On the other hand, isolated changes below 25 ha could not be mapped by this technology. In CLC2000-2006 changes were mapped directly. This way all changes exceeding 5 ha were mapped and non-changed areas were better excluded from CLC-Changes.
Data sets uncertainty
Geographical and time coverage on EU level
Surfaces monitored with Corine Land Cover relate to the extension of urban systems that may include parcels not covered by construction, streets or other sealed surfaces. This is particularly the case for discontinuous urban fabric and recreation areas, which are considered as a whole. Monitoring the indicator with satellite images leads to the exclusion of small urban features in the countryside and most of the linear transport infrastructures, which are too narrow to be observed directly. Therefore, differences exist between CLC results and other statistics collected with different methodologies such as point or area sampling or farm surveys; this is often the case for agriculture and forest statistics. However, the trends are generally similar. The gap will be filled in at a further stage on the basis of a new high resolution database of transport infrastructures and calculations based on established coefficients for each type of transport.
Geographical and time coverage at the EU level:
All the EU-27 member states (except Greece) are covered with both CLC 2000 and 2006 results. Land cover changes in Liechtenstein remained below the detection level of Corine Land Cover change methodology. In most countries number of years between two CLCs is 6 years (with exception of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Spain):
|Bosnia and Herzegovina (1998-2006)||8|
|Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1996-2006)||10|
|Kosovo under UNSCR 1244/99||6|
Representativeness of data on national level
At the national level, time differences between regions may happen in most countries and these are documented in the CLC meta data.
Newly urbanised areas (land uptake) may comprise also not artificial surfaces (private gardens or public green areas) and thus they may vary in their environmental conditions and provisioning of habitats or ecosystem services.
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Work descriptionIn order to be able to estimate and evaluate the potential environmental impact of the transport infrastructure development and the increase of built-up areas, the main improvements foreseen for this indicator are: a) Implementation of a reliable spatial database of linear transport structures over European countries corresponding to types previously used in statistical datasets. Regarding the statistics already used, complete the national transport infrastructure statistics for certain countries. b) Update by comparable spatial data on transport for all countries, namely length according to various infrastructure types. c) Compare the statistical results of built-up changes with the results obtained through the analysis of spatial data. d) Data collection and analysis at national level. Storage of historical data is needed to allow calculations over time, instead of momentary status descriptions only.
Update and identification of new transport segments in spatial databases
More frequent update of land cover based information
Transport data in real size (direct and indirect land take)
Deadline2015/12/15 12:00:00 GMT+1
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoBranislav Olah
Frequency of updates
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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