Land take by the expansion of residential areas and construction sites is the main cause of the increase in the coverage of urban land at the European level. 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, the living space of a number of species, and fragments the landscapes that support and connect them. The annual land take in European countries assessed by 2006 Corine land cover project (EEA39 except Greece) was approximately 108 000 ha/year in 2000-2006. In 21 countries covered by both periods (1990-2000 and 2000-2006) the annual land take decreased by 9 % in the later period. The composition of land taken areas changed, too. More arable land and permanent crops and less pastures and mosaic farmland were taken by artificial development then in 1990-2000. Identified trends are expected to change little when next assessment for 2006-2012 becomes available in 2014.
How much and in what proportions is agricultural, forest and other semi-natural and natural land being taken for urban and other artificial land development?
The largest land cover category taken by urban and other artificial land development was agriculture land. On the average, almost 46 % of all areas that changed to artificial surfaces were arable land or permanent crops during 2000-2006. However, compared to the previous decade (1990-2000) in 21 countries covered both by Corine Land Cover (CLC) 1990-2000 and 2000-2006 it increased to 53 %. This dominant land take was particularly important in Denmark (89 %), Slovakia (87 %), Switzerland (77 %) and Italy (74 %).
Pastures and mixed farmland were, on average, the next category being taken, representing 31.9 % of the total. It was approximately 6 % less then in 1990-2000. However, in several countries or regions, these landscapes were the major source for land uptake (in a broad sense), i.e. in Luxembourg (78 %), Albania (73 %), Bosnia and Herzegovina (72 %) and Ireland (70%).
The proportion of forests and transitional woodland shrub taken for artificial development during the period was 13 %. It was significantly higher in Finland (75 %), Norway (70 %) and Slovenia (62 %).
The consumption of natural grassland, heathland and sclerophylous vegetation by artificial land take was 7.3 % of the whole area, but in Iceland (74 %) it was the largest taken class and significant proportions occurred also in Cyprus (23 %), Belgium (22 %) and Austria (21 %).
Open space with little or no vegetation contributed to taken land with 1.2 %. Larger proportions were in Iceland (7 %), Turkey (5 %) and Norway (5 %).
The least taken classes were water bodies (0.6 %) and wetlands (0.3 %). However, water bodies' contribution in Turkey (3 %) and Finland (2.4 %) was relatively high. Similarly, more wetlands were taken in Estonia (7 %), Iceland (5 %) and Norway (3 %).
In general, more forests, natural grasslands and open spaces were taken by artificial land development then in the previous decade. This meant a higher loss of natural ecosystems in 2000-2006.
Land accounts 2000-2006: http://dataservice.eea.europa.eu/PivotApp/pivot.aspx?pivotid=501
What are the drivers of uptake for urban and other artificial land development?
At the European level, housing, services and recreation made up 43.2 % of the overall increase in urban and other artificial area between 2000 and 2006. Compared to the previous decade (1990-2000), in 21 countries covered in both periods this driver decreased from 52 % to 40 %. However, the proportion of new land for housing was significantly higher in Albania (95 %), Kosovo (86 %), Bosnia and Herzegovina (77 %) and Cyprus (63 %) . The building of new sport and recreation areas (including also permanent facilities for artificial snowing) was an important driver in mountain or Nordic countries as Norway (46 %), Austria (46 %), Switzerland (32 %), Iceland (28 %), Finland (27 %) and Sweden (27 %).
The second largest area (21.4 %) was taken by construction sites. These sites represent transitional areas that will turn into other newly urbanised classes in future. Thus large coverage of construction sites indicates a potential of further artificial development. This driver increased three times compared to period 1990-2000 (in 21 countries). Construction was a dominant driver in Slovenia (50 %), Lithuania (44 %), Spain (43 %), the Netherlands (40 %), Iceland (38 %) and Montenegro (38 %).
Land take for industrial and commercial sites covered 15.5 % of the whole newly developed land. In 21 countries covered in both periods it decreased from 23 % (1900-2000) to 17 % (2000-2006). The construction of new industrial and commercial sites was particularly important driver in Italy (40 %), Luxembourg (37 %), Slovakia (36 %) and Belgium (33%).
The proportion on newly created mines, quarries and dumpsites was 12.8 % in 38 European countries, but it was significantly higher in Serbia (52 %), Bulgaria (50 %), the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (39 %), Estonia (38 %), Latvia (35 %) and Montenegro (33 %). In 21 countries it remained stable around 13 % during both periods.
Although land take for transport infrastructures is underestimated in surveys that are based on remote sensing as Corine Land Cover, it covered 7.1 % of the taken area. However, its more than a double increase (from 3 % to 7 % in 21 countries covered by both periods) supports the importance of this driver. In fact, the proportions of land taken for transport were rather high in countries as Croatia (60 %), Luxembourg (17 %), Slovenia (17 %), Poland (18 %), Portugal (16 %) and Sweden (15 %). Land take by linear features with a width below 100 m (majority of roads and railways) is not included in the statistics, which focus mostly on areal infrastructures (airports, harbours...). Soil sealing and fragmentation by linear infrastructures therefore need to be observed by other means.
Where have the more important artificial land uptakes occurred?
Intensity of land take 2000 - 2006
Note: Based on Corine Land Cover 2006 and changes between 2000 and 2006, the map shows the land take distribution and intensity for development of urban and other artificial area
- 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 observed by comparing it with the initial extent of urban and other artificial areas in 2000 gives another picture (Figure 3). From this perspective, the average value in 38 European countries covered by CLC 2000-2006 ranges up to an annual increase of 0.5 % (in 21 countries covered by both periods it also slowed down from 0.6 % to 0.5 %). Urban development is fastest in Albania (4.6 % increase in urban area per year), Iceland (3.2 %), Spain (2.8 %), Cyprus (2.3 %) and Ireland (2.1 %). Compared to the previous period 1990-2000, Estonia doubled its speed to 0.7 %, as did the Czech republic and Hungary (both to 0.4 %), on the other hand, some countries slowed their land take speed down 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 23.5 % (Spain) to 0.001% (Malta), with intermediate values in France (12.2 %), Germany (9.5 %) and Italy (6.8 %). Differences between countries are strongly related to their size and population density (Figure 4).
Land uptake by urban and other artificial development in 38 European countries as identified by Corine land cover amounted to approximately 636 900 hectares in 6 years. It represents 0.1% of the total territory of these countries. This may seem low, but spatial differences are very important and an artificial sprawl in many regions is very intense (Figure 5). Due to its methodological restrains (its scale and minimum mapping unit), Corine land cover tends somewhat lowering the land take, when compared to more detailed estimates. However, the identified trends in land take are similar and proportional to other land use/cover data sources in the countries or in Europe (e.g., LUCAS - Land use/cover area frame survey).
Indicator specification and metadata
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.
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.
Corine Land Cover 2006 raster data
provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
Corine Land Cover 2000 - 2006 changes
provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
Land use (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CSI 014
- LSI 001
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoBranislav Olah
EEA Management Plan2010 2.6.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
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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