Land use

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Page Last modified 21 Feb 2017
Europe is one of the most intensively used continents on the globe, with the highest share of land (up to 80%) used for settlement, production systems (including agriculture and forestry) and infrastructure. Conflicting land-use demands often arise, requiring decisions that will involve hard trade-offs. There are several important drivers for land use in Europe: the increasing demand for living space per person and the link between economic activity, increased mobility and growth of transport infrastructure usually result in land take. Land is a finite resource: how it is used constitutes one of the principal reasons for environmental change, with significant impacts on quality of life and ecosystems, as well as on the management of infrastructure.

Europe is a mosaic of landscapes, reflecting the evolutionary pattern of changes that land use has undergone in the past. Changes continue to alter our landscape and environment today, leaving large and often irreversible land-use footprints. Tensions are rising almost everywhere as society’s need for both resources and space, conflict with the capacity of the land to support and absorb these needs. The state of affairs is leading to overuse and increasing degradation in landscapes, ecosystems and the environment. It requires a long-term management perspective.

EU policies

Land-use planning and management are essential if we are to better reconcile land use with environmental concerns. It is a challenge that involves various policy levels and different sectors. Monitoring and mediating the negative environmental consequences of land use while sustaining the production of essential resources is a major priority for policy-makers around the world.

Land-use planning and management decisions are usually taken at local or regional level. However, the European Commission has a role to play in ensuring that Member States take environmental concerns into account in their land-use development plans and practice integrated land management.

European economies depend on natural resources, including raw materials and space (land resources). The Roadmap for a resource-efficient Europe presents the issue of land use and land resource management as a crucial element in tackling unsustainable resource trends. European Union policies on climate change adaptation are directly relevant to current and future land-use practices and economic sectors depending on these. Land-use is also important consideration for many other policy areas, such as territorial cohesion, urban planning, agriculture, transport and nature protection.

EEA activities

EEA activities focus mainly on Europe's landscape and spatial change assessments by using land and ecosystem accounting tools and Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis. The EEA has also been tasked developing an environmental data centre for land use as a contribution to the Shared Environmental Information System for Europe (SEIS).

The main EEA data source is the Corine Land Cover data set that was produced for 1990, 2000 and 2006. It is based on established cooperation with EEA member countries and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES/Copernicus) system. Additional GMES/Copernicus data sets, such as selected high-resolution thematic layers and the Urban Atlas are under development to complement the Corine land cover data sets.


Several environmental and regional policies e.g. the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 or the EU Soil Thematic Strategy are relying on sound land-use information as a fundamental reference layer. The GMES/Copernicus land monitoring service is part of the 2011 to 2013 initial operations that handles the update and improvement of continental land cover monitoring and examines local land cover processes in greater detail. 

Geographic coverage

Filed under:
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100