Land use trends since 2000 remain the same as in the previous decade but most have slowed down somewhat. Urban areas, infrastructure and forest cover are still increasing at the expense of agricultural land. Farmland is often managed more intensively partly due to growing demand for bio-energy crops. Biodiversity-rich natural and semi-natural areas continue to decline, mostly becoming forested.
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. In turn, environmental change will increasingly influence the way Europeans use land as communities work to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Land uptake by urban development and transport infrastructure has been slightly faster than in the previous decade. This continues the trend of landscape fragmentation and increases other environmental impacts. Urbanisation rates vary substantially, with coastal and mountain areas among the most affected regions in Europe.
Land use decisions involve trade-offs between the current high attention to food and energy security, and more policy emphasis on multi-functionality taking into account ecosystem and natural resource management objectives. The diversity of land resources and the sustainable use of territorial assets is an aspect of the EU territorial cohesion objective. This will require targeted goals and measures, supported by spatial data and analysis.
The understanding of the relationship between land use and environmental impacts must be improved. There is a need to assess inherent trade-offs and feed-backs between land use and ecosystem services, including indirect land use effects (Europe’s external footprint) and climate change.
Current land use trends are likely to continue though possibly at a lower rate, with built-up area increasing at the expense of agricultural land uses and natural areas. Within agriculture, arable land for food and energy crops is likely to gain share at the expense of grassland and permanent crops over the next decade. This would have significant environmental implications.
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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