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Land take in Europe

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: CSI 014 , LSI 001
Created 01 Aug 2019 Published 11 Dec 2019 Last modified 11 Dec 2019
14 min read
The land take indicator address the change in the area of agricultural, forest and other semi-natural land taken for urban and other artificial land development. Land take 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 as 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. Note: The reported land take change relates to the extension of urban areas and may also include parcels that were not sealed (e.g. urban green areas, and sport and leisure facilities). 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.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)

Rationale

Justification for indicator selection

Land is a finite resource and the way it is used is one of the principal drivers of environmental change, and has a significant impact on the quality of life and ecosystems. In Europe, the proportion of total land use occupied by production (agriculture, forestry, etc.) is one of the highest on the planet and conflicting land-use demands require decisions that involve hard trade-offs. Land use in Europe is driven by a number of factors, such as the increasing demand for living space per person, the link between economic activity, increased mobility and the growth of transport infrastructure, which usually result in urban uptake. Urbanisation rates vary substantially, with coastal and mountain areas among the most affected regions in Europe as a result of the increasing demand for recreation and leisure.

Land take occurs above all in peri-urban areas, where the demand for new infrastructure is high and soil quality, for historical reasons of human settlement, is good. The increase in artificial surfaces often causes the impairment or disruption of valuable ecological functions of soils, such as biomass provision, soil biodiversity and soil carbon pool, or water infiltration potential. This contributes to negative climate change impacts by decreasing the potential for carbon storage and sequestration, or increased surface run-off during floods (European Commission, 2014; Edenhofer et al., 2011) . 

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 population density. Land take by urban areas and infrastructure is generally irreversible and results in soil sealing, i.e. the loss of soil resources due to the covering of land for housing, roads or other construction work. Urban land take consumes mostly agricultural land, but also reduces space for habitats and ecosystems, which provide important services such as 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 emissions and impacts on ecosystem services are felt within urban areas as well as in regions far beyond them.

Scientific references

  • 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.
  • Climate Impacts in Europe - The JRC PESETA II Project. Ciscar JC, Feyen L, Soria A, Lavalle C, Raes F, Perry M, Nemry F, Demirel H, Rozsai M, Dosio A, Donatelli M, Srivastava A, Fumagalli D, Niemeyer S, Shrestha S, Ciaian P, Himics M, Van Doorslaer B, Barrios S, Ibáñez N, Forzieri G, Rojas R, Bianchi A, Dowling P, Camia A, Libertà G, San Miguel J, de Rigo D, Caudullo G, Barredo JI, Paci D, Pycroft J, Saveyn B, Van Regemorter D, Revesz T, Vandyck T, Vrontisi Z, Baranzelli C, Vandecasteele I, Batista e Silva F, Ibarreta D (2014). JRC Scientific and Policy Reports, EUR 26586EN.
  • Renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation: summary for policymakers and technical summary : IPCC, 2011 – Ottmar Edenhofer, Ramón Pichs-Madruga, Youba Sokona, Kristin Seyboth, Patrick Matschoss, Susanne Kadner, Timm Zwickel, Patrick Eickemeier, Gerrit Hansen, Steffen Schloemer, Christoph von Stechow (Eds.)  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1075 pp.Available from  Cambridge University Press , The Edinburgh Building Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge CB2 2RU ENGLAND.
  • Consumo di suolo, dinamiche territoriali e servizi ecosistemici. Edizione 2019 Il Rapporto “Consumo di suolo, dinamiche territoriali e servizi ecosistemici” è un prodotto del Sistema Nazionale per la Protezione dell’Ambiente (SNPA), che assicura le attività di monitoraggio del territorio e del consumo di suolo. Il Rapporto, insieme alla cartografia e alle banche dati di indicatori allegati elaborati da ISPRA, fornisce il quadro aggiornato dei processi di trasformazione della copertura del suolo e permette di valutare l’impatto del consumo di suolo sul paesaggio e sui servizi ecosistemici.

Indicator definition

The land take indicator address the change in the area of agricultural, forest and other semi-natural land taken for urban and other artificial land development. Land take 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 as 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.

Note: The reported land take change relates to the extension of urban areas and may also include parcels that were not sealed (e.g. urban green areas, and sport and leisure facilities). 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.

Units

The units of measurement used in this indicator are km2.

Results are presented as the change in the proportion of the area of the country (m2/km2) and as the percentage (%) and area (km2) of the various land cover types taken by urban development.

 

Policy context and targets

Context description

The 7th EAP and the EU Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe promote ‘No Net Land Take’ in the EU by 2050, aiming to mitigate the effect of urban sprawl. ‘No Net Land Take’ is addressed in the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) target of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), aiming to maintain the amount and quality of land resources. LDN is promoted by Target 15.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which, by 2030, strives to combat desertification and to restore degraded land and soil. Land and soil are also bound to goals that address poverty reduction (SDG 1), health and well-being through reduced pollution (SDG 3), access to clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), the environmental impact of urban sprawl (SDG 11) and climate change (SDG 13). The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 calls for restoring at least 15 % of degraded ecosystems in the Union and expanding the use of Green Infrastructure, e.g. to help overcome land fragmentation.

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 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.

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 the 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’.

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). 

Targets

While many European and national policies address land and soil to some extent, binding targets, incentives and measures are largely missing at the European level. The European Court of Auditors recommends to establish methodologies and a legal framework to assess land degradation and desertification, and to support the Member States to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030 (ECA, 2018).

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.

Meeting the 7th EAP objective for no net land take by 2050 would require investments in land recycling, as well as halting land take. Land recycling is one way to achieve a growing urban population that consumes less land per capita. Land recycling can be achieved by constructing between buildings (densification), by constructing on brownfields (i.e. already used sites, known as grey recycling), or converting developed land into green areas (green recycling) (EEA, 2018b). Setting up green infrastructure is an important means to re-establish and maintain unsealed areas, thus to allow patches and networks of urban ecosystems to function in more sustainable cities (Chapter 3 and Chapter 17 for the role of green infrastructure). However, currently there is no legal framework or incentive to recycle urban land, despite available funding for land rehabilitation under the EU Cohesion Policy.

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, 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 the recycling of artificial surfaces in several countries reaching 30 % or more if compared with the total land take area (CORINE Land Cover 2006 results). Stronger links between EU urban and soil policies could encourage this further.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • 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 COM(2011) 571
    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

Key policy question

How much were land take and net land take in Europe during the 2000-2018 period?

Specific policy question

What types of land were affected by land take in Europe?

Specific policy question

How do land take and re-cultivation compare among European countries?

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

The indicator is currently calculated from the Corine Land Cover Accounting Layers for the years 2000, 2006, 2012 and 2018 (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/corine-land-cover-accounting-layers#tab-european-data ). 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 areas (CLC class 1xx) are grouped according to the following methodology:

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).

For the Land Cover Flow (LCF) descriptions, see the table below. Net land take is calculated taking into account the 'reverse land take process', i.e. when urban areas are converted to semi-natural land. This can happen as, for example, land cover changes from mineral extraction site to forest. Net land take is hence the result of land take minus reverse land take.


Definition of the Land take indicator explained with Corine Land Cover changes included:

The table explains the land cover flows (LCFs), or land cover change categories, which contribute to the definition of the land take indicator.




Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

Data sources in latest figures

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Both for facilitating computation and visualising spatial change, land accounts are processed using a grid of 1x1 km. Each cell contains the exact Corine Land Cover 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.

Data sets uncertainty

Corine Land Cover maps 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. Furthermore, 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 might exist between Corine Land Cover derived 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. In the future, gaps will be filled using a new high-resolution database of transport infrastructure and calculations based on established coefficients for each type of transport.

Rationale uncertainty

Newly urbanised areas (land uptake) may also comprise non-artificial surfaces (private gardens or public green areas). Thus, there may be variations in their environmental conditions and provision of habitats or ecosystem services.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Eva Ivits-Wasser

Ownership

European Environment Agency (EEA)

Identification

Indicator code
CSI 014
LSI 001
Specification
Version id: 3
Primary theme: Land use Land use

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 6 years

Classification

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

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