- Land take as a result of the expansion of residential areas and construction sites is the main cause of the increase in urban land coverage in Europe.
- Agricultural zones and, to a lesser extent, forests and semi-natural and natural areas are disappearing in favour of the development of artificial surfaces. This affects biodiversity since it decreases habitats and fragments the landscapes that support and connect them.
- Between 2006 and 2012, the annual land take in the European countries (EEA-39) assessed in the 2012 Corine land cover (CLC) project was approximately 107 000 ha/year. The figure for the 2000-2006 period was approximately 118 000 ha/year.
- In the 28 countries1 covered by all three CLC assessment periods (1990-2000, 2000-2006 and 2006-2012), annual land take decreased by 10.5 % between 2000 and 2006, and by 13.5 % between 2006 and 2012.
- In absolute values, the annual land take in these 28 countries was 114 000 ha/year (1990-2000), 102 000 ha/year (2000-2006) and 98 500 ha/year (2006-2012).
- Between 2000 and 2006, more arable land and permanent crops were taken by artificial development than between 1990 and 2000, while fewer pastures and less mosaic farmland were taken over the same period. In fact, between 2006 and 2012, the types of land most taken for artificial development were arable land and permanent crops, followed by pastures and mixed agricultural areas.
1 The 28 countries covered by all three CLC assessment periods are AT, BE, BG, CZ, DE, DK, ES, EE, FR, GR, HR, HU, IE, IT, LT, LU, LV, ME, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, RS, SI, SK, TR and UK.
How much is agricultural, forest and other semi-natural and natural land being taken for urban and other artificial land development?
Urban and other artificial land development was responsible for more agricultural land take than any other land cover category. Between 2006 and 2012, an average of 46.2 % of all land areas in the EEA-39 countries that changed to artificial surfaces was arable land or permanent crops. However, in the 28 countries covered by the three Corine Land Cover (CLC) assessment periods (1990-2000, 2000-2006 and 2006-2012), the figure increased to 48.4 %. This dominant land take was particularly significant in Lichtenstein (100 %), Denmark (88 %), Slovakia (78 %), Italy (76 %) and the Czech Republic (71 %).
Pastures and mixed farmland were, on average, the next biggest category, representing 26.7 % of total land take between 2006 and 2012. This figure was approximately 5.2 % less then during the 2000-2006 period. However, in several countries or regions, these land cover types were the major target of land take, e.g. Ireland (85 %), Luxemburg (63 %), the Netherlands (53 %) and Latvia (49 %).
The proportion of forests and transitional woodland shrub taken for artificial development during the 2006-2015 period was 16.3 %. It was significantly higher in Finland (81.6 %), Norway (70.7 %) and Slovenia (69.5 %).
Artificial land take was responsible for 7.2 % of the total consumption of natural grassland, heathland and sclerophylous vegetation, but in some countries this figure rose. For example, in Malta (100 %) and Iceland (61.8 %) it was the largest land take class. Figures were significant proportions also in Greece (27.3 %) and Cyprus (23.2 %).
Artificial land take was responsible for 2.1 % of the consumption of open space with little or no vegetation. The figures were higher in Turkey (10.6 %), Montenegro (5.5 %), Norway (4.8 %), Iceland (3.7 %) and Albania (3.3 %).
The least taken land classes were water bodies (0.9 %) and wetlands (0.6 %). However, water bodies represented 4.8 % of land taken in the Netherlands followed by Iceland (4.4 %) and Belgium (3.7 %). Similarly, above average amounts of wetlands were taken in Iceland (17.2 %), Estonia (7.4 %) and Norway (6.25 %).
In general, between 2006 and 2012, more forests, natural grasslands and open spaces were taken by artificial land development than in the previous assessment period. This meant a higher loss of natural ecosystems 2006 and 2012.
Land accounts 2000-2006: http://dataservice.eea.europa.eu/PivotApp/pivot.aspx?pivotid=501
What are the drivers of land take for urban and other artificial land development?
At the European level, construction sites accounted for one third of the overall increase in urban and other artificial areas between 2006 and 2012. These sites represent transitional areas that will become other newly urbanised land classes in future, i.e. the large areas covered by construction sites indicate a potential for further artificial development. Compared with the previous assessment period (2000-2006), this driver increased from 29 % to 32 % of total land take on average in the 28 participating countries. In nine countries, the figure for this driver rose above 40 %. It was greatest in Luxembourg (69 %), the Netherlands (58 %), Lithuania (56 %) and Portugal (50 %).
Industrial and commercial sites were responsible for the second largest land area. This driver increased from 15 % to 22 % compared to the 2000-2006 period. The construction of new industrial and commercial sites was particularly an important driver in Liechtenstein (100 %), Germany (43 %), Italy (43 %), Switzerland (34 %) and the United Kingdom (31 %).
Newly created mines, quarries and dumpsites accounted for 21 % of all land take in the EEA-39 European countries, up from 15 % between 2000 and 2006. The figure was significantly higher in Montenegro (100 %), the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (63 %), Bosnia and Herzegovina (62 %), Estonia (56 %) and Serbia (51 %).
Land take as a result of housing, services and recreation — the most important driver during the previous assessment period — decreased from 34 % of total land take to 19 % over the two periods. For eight countries, this figure was over 30 % for housing only in both assessment periods; Denmark (49 % and 32 %), France (31 % and 28 %), Czech Republic (35 % and 27 %), Sweden (32 % and 23 %) and Kosovo1 (23 %). The construction of sport and recreation facilities (including facilities for artificial snow) was an important driver for Norway (64 % and 46 %), Iceland (46 % and 42 %), Austria (43 % and 29 %), Cyprus (34 % and 18 %) and Denmark (48 % and 16 %).
Although land take for transport infrastructure is underestimated in surveys such as CLC that are based on remote sensing, this driver is stable at European level where it accounts for 6 % of land taken. However, this driver increased by more than 10 % in five countries (Ireland, Albania, Romania, Slovakia and Kosovo) and decreased by less than 10 % in just two counties (Luxembourg and Croatia).
Furthermore, the proportions of land taken for transport were rather high in Ireland (28 %), Croatia (24 %), Albania (19 %), Hungary and Romania (15 %), Slovenia (14 %), Slovakia (13 %) and Poland (13 %). Land take for by linear features with a width below 100 m (i.e. the majority of roads and railways) is not included in the statistics, which focus mostly on infrastructures (airports, harbors, etc.). Soil sealing and fragmentation by linear infrastructures should be observed by other means.
1 Kosovo (under UNSCR No. 1244 (1999))
Where has the most significant uptake of land by artificial land occurred?
Intensity of land take 2006-2012, per km²
Note: Based on Corine Land Cover 2012 and changes between 2006 and 2012, the map shows the land take distribution and intensity for development of urban and other artificial areas.
- Corine Land Cover 2000 - 2006 changes provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
- Corine Land Cover 2006 raster data provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
The pace of land take, which is observed by comparing the situation in 2012 with the initial extent of urban and other artificial areas in 2006 gives different picture (Figure 3). From this perspective, the average value in the 39 European countries covered by CLC 2006-2012 decreased slightly from an annual increase of 0.53 % to 0.46 %. For no countries was the pace of land take greater than 1.5 % per year for the 2006-2012 period, while between 2000 and 2006, it was the case in five countries.
However, the pace urban development is quickest in Spain (1.5 % increase in urban area per year), followed by Kosovo (1.4 %) and Turkey (1.3 %). Land take slowed down in Albania (from 4.8 % to 0,4%), Iceland (from 3.2 % to 0.4 %), Cyprus (from 2.5 % to 0.6 %), Ireland (from 2.1 % to 0.2 %), Bosnia and Herzegovina (from 1.4 % to 0.5 %), Spain (from 2.4 % to 1.4 %) and Portugal (from 1.4 % to 0.5 %). In other countries, the pace of land take increased; Kosovo (from 0.6 % to 1.4 %), Turkey (from 0.6 % to 1.3 %), Portugal (from 3.1 % to 1.4 %), Luxembourg (from 0.8 % to 0.3 %) and Germany (from 0.7 % to 0.4 %).
Considering the contribution of each country to new total urban and infrastructure sprawl in Europe, mean annual values range from 17.2 % of total land take in Spain to 0.003 % in Malta, with intermediate values in France (13.3 %), Germany (6.8 %) and Italy (5.4 %). Four countries contribute more 50 % of total new urban and infrastructure sprawl in Europe, while 11 contribute more than 75 % and 17 more 90 %. The differences between countries are strongly related to their size and population density (Figure 4).
Land take as a result of urban and other artificial development in the 39 European CLC countries amounted to approximately 639 000 hectares over the 6 years. This represents 0.1 % of the total territory of these countries. This may seem low, but spatial differences are very important and artificial sprawl in many regions is very intense (Figure 5). Due to methodological restraints (scale and minimum mapping unit), CLC tends to lower the amount of land take, when compared to more detailed estimates. However, the identified trends in land take are similar and proportional to other land use/land cover data sources in the 39 countries or in Europe (e.g., LUCAS, the land use/ land cover area frame survey).
Indicator specification and metadata
This indicator looks at the change in the amount of agricultural, 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.
The units of measurement used in this indicator are hectares or km2.
Results are presented as average annual change, percentage of total area of the country (%) and percentage of the various land cover types taken by urban development (%).
Note: Surfaces relate to the extension of urban systems and may include parcels not covered by constructions, streets or other sealed surfaces. This is, in particular, the case for discontinuous urban fabric, which is considered as a whole. Similarly, monitoring the indicator with satellite images leads to the exclusion of most linear transport infrastructures, which are 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' (Sixth Environment Action Programme (6th EAP, COM(2001)31)). EU 6th EAP 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 the subsidiarity principle assigns land and urban planning responsibilities to national and regional government 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 these challenges needs the completion of a comprehensive knowledge base and better awareness of the complexity of the problems as currently expressed in the discussion on 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), imply compliance with the precautionary principle, the efficient use of natural resources and the minimisation of waste and pollution, and need to be vigorously pursued and, in particular, implemented.
The importance of multi-functional 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 the 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, using measures aimed 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 a 'no net land take by 2050' initiative 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 it has 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 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 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 with total area of land take (CORINE Land Cover 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)
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
Summary European land take statistics for the 2006-2012 period are calculated on CLC seamless data coverage (version 18.5 released in June 2016). CSI014 was processed according to the 2016 EEA land accounting methodology and updated country boundaries. The Land take indicator for the 2006-2012 period is calculated for the EEA-39 countries. Summary European land take statistics for the 2000-2006 period were calculated for all EEA-39 countries including Greece, which was not available in previous CLC releases.
The indicator is currently calculated from Corine Land Cover 1990, 2000, 2006 and 2012 data mapped from Landsat, SPOT, IRS and RapidEye satellite images (CLC 2006-2012 change database version 18.5). Changes from agricultural (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 the same indicator to be computed 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 infrastructure development will be integrated in a further step on the basis of a high resolution geographical database of transport infrastructures.
Methodology for gap filling
There is a 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.
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, 2006-2012):
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 the CLC 1990-2000 changes dataset. On the other hand, isolated changes below 25 ha could not be mapped by this technology. In CLC2000-2006 and CLC2006-2012, 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 at the 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 infrastructure and calculations based on established coefficients for each type of transport.
28 EU member states are covered with all CLC 2000, 2006 and 2012 results. Land cover changes in Liechtenstein remained below the detection level of Corine Land Cover change methodology. In all countries, the number of years between two CLCs is 6 years.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina (1998-2006)||6|
|Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia||6|
|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 metadata.
Newly urbanised areas (land uptake) may comprise also non-artificial surfaces (private gardens or public green areas) and thus they may vary in their environmental conditions and provisioning of habitats or ecosystem services.
Corine Land Cover 2006 - 2012 changes
provided by European Commission
Corine Land Cover 2012 raster data
provided by European Commission
Corine Land Cover 2006 raster data
provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
Corine Land Cover 2000 - 2006 changes
provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CSI 014
- LSI 001
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoDaniel Desaulty
EEA Management Plan2016 1.8.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/land-take-2/assessment-1 or scan the QR code.
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