The direct and indirect impacts of EU policies on land


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

The 2011 Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe states, in its milestone of actions to address land as a resource, that 'By 2020, EU policies take into account their direct and indirect impact on land use in the EU and globally …' (EC, 2011d). This report presents a methodology for the assessment of European Union (EU) policies in terms of their land-related implications in Europe and provides an initial testing of the methodology across key EU policies and two in-depth case studies, which focus on Cohesion Policy spending on transport in Poland and Spain.

Trends and drivers
Land take (1) for urban, infrastructure and industrial purposes exceeds 1 000 km2 per year in the EU, with over half of this surface being defined as 'sealed', according to the European Commission's 2011 Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe and The European environment — state and outlook 2015 (State of the environment report (SOER) 2015) thematic fiche on land systems (2). Land take is often used as a proxy for soil sealing, which interrupts the contact between the pedosphere and the atmosphere, and thus changes the gas, water and material (including nutrient) fluxes, therefore influencing the natural functioning of soils. Land take is, in turn, also linked to land degradation, in particular via soil sealing, which tends to result in infiltration and soil biodiversity loss. Other land degradation processes include erosion and the loss of organic matter. Land take, soil sealing and land degradation processes affect the delivery of ecosystem services, such as water regulation, food production and carbon retention.

Several underlying causes of land take and land degradation have been identified (3). Some of the most important in Europe are outlined below.

  • Population: while Europe's population growth is slow overall (and negative in some countries), internal migration, in particular, can lead to an increase in the demand for land use in some parts of Europe, and, at the same time, contribute to the decline of cities and villages elsewhere and the abandonment of farms in rural areas. Migration from outside Europe can also be a pressure for land use, in particular in urban areas. Nonetheless, land take is also seen in EU Member States with overall stable or declining populations, such as Portugal.
  • Economic growth and affluence: growth stimulates commercial, industrial and service activities, which, in turn, can fuel demand for construction — and, in turn, land take (JRC, 2013a). Growth, in particular household affluence, influences the demand for food and other land-based products, as well as for larger homes and second homes and, potentially, increases the use of private transport, which, in turn, can influence preferences for housing location.
  • Markets and trade: these link EU food production to global demand, and thus can influence agricultural practices and their impacts on land.
  • Technological change: this can affect land-related developments in a range of sectors via, for example, changes in the costs of infrastructure and the methods used in agriculture.
  • Awareness: along with culture and lifestyle, which influence where people wish to live, the food they buy and more, awareness issues are often addressed as consumption patterns.
  • Policy and governance.

This report focuses on the last factor in the above list; in particular, it focuses on EU policies, together with national, regional and local policies, as well as the contexts that influence the implementation of EU policies, and the overall impact of policies and their implementation on land.

Assessing EU policies
EU policies can have a pervasive influence on land in Europe; their impacts need to be considered in terms of Europe's complex, multi-level governance system, from EU to national, regional and local levels. The specific contexts, including the policies and institutions within each Member State, play a key role in shaping the impacts of EU policies.

The methodology presented here uses a conceptual framework that considers the 'chain' of policy documents and actions from EU to Member State level.

Figure ES.1 presents this framework, which incorporates the following elements:

  • policy objectives, which are the strategic goals and targets that an intervention is seeking to achieve — and which seek to address one or more economic, social or environmental needs;
  • policy inputs, including instruments such as EU funding, legislative requirements and strategic documents, including their reference (or lack thereof) to land use and assessments;
  • policy outputs comprising implementation of the policy instruments in the Member States, for example national strategies and programmes and the actual spending;
  • sectoral policy results in the form of the completed investments; these results are related to a varying degree both to EU sectoral policy objectives and to the objectives on land;
  • impacts, including intended and unintended impacts, and direct and indirect impacts, of EU policies on land use.

Within this policy framework, and especially at the level of outputs (implementation in the Member States), at least three factors are of crucial importance (4):

  1. the context in which these instruments are put in place — which can include a range of national as well as regional and local factors, including the spatial planning framework, key national policies, institutional structure and capacities of government, as well as the role of key stakeholders;
  2. interactions with other EU policies;
  3. the role of assessment tools, such as strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and environmental impact assessment (EIA) tools.

In terms of impacts, these will be direct (e.g. the soil sealing by a new industrial park), as well as indirect (e.g. EU funding support for roads that provide a 'seed' for urban sprawl).

The methodology presented in this study also identifies key steps, data and information sources, as well as methods of analysis for use in the assessment of land-related implications of EU policies. This overall methodology will need to be tailored to the specific objectives (and available resources) that apply to individual assessments.

The EU has established a framework of objectives related to land take and land degradation, through a series of policy documents and, in particular, the Seventh Environment Action Programme. Key elements of this framework include:

  • progress towards the target of 'no net land take' by 2050;
  • reducing soil erosion;
  • increasing soil organic matter;
  • remediating contaminated sites;
  • integrating land use into all levels of government, including via the adoption of targets on soil and land as a resource.

The conceptual framework presented above can be used to assess the impacts of EU policies on land. It can also be taken further and used to evaluate how EU sectoral policies have contributed to EU land objectives.

Results from testing: an overview of key EU policies and their impact on land
The study tested the methodology on a set of key sectoral policies at EU level: Cohesion Policy, Transport Policy, Energy Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The evaluation results for these four policy areas, which in turn refer to selected policy instruments within each area and should not be considered comprehensive, are presented in Table ES.1.

These results also draw on two in-depth case studies, which analysed how one area of EU policy — Cohesion Policy spending on roads — influenced land take. The case studies were carried out in two of the main recipient countries of Cohesion Policy resources, namely Spain and Poland. The Spanish case study focuses on one region, Andalusia, as governance in this Member State is highly decentralised. The case study of Poland focuses on the national level; it also considers the region of Lower Silesia, which has relatively high economic growth and substantial land degradation problems.

Evidence of impacts
The review has shown that all four policy sectors have important impacts on land take and land degradation in Europe: while many of these are negative, the review also identified potential positive impacts. Overall, quantitative results across the EU as a whole were not found; moreover, such evidence may be difficult to gather for future assessments, as the impacts on land depend greatly on the context in each Member State. Another important issue is that EU policy in each of these areas has evolved over time; assessments will need to address these changes in policy design.

All four policy sectors are highly relevant with regard to land take and land degradation, given their roles as drivers of land-related impacts.

The review found that coherence of policy and legislative documents with the EU's land objectives varies across the four areas considered. Notably, coherence seems to be strongest, or at least more explicit, for the CAP, perhaps because of the political controversy over its environmental impacts, including the impacts on soil quality and land degradation. In contrast, coherence appears to be relatively poor for Cohesion Policy, the other major area of EU budget spending, with potentially major impacts on land.

In the study's methodology, effectiveness is considered in terms of actions to limit land take or land degradation. This is apparent in some policy actions, such as Cohesion Policy spending for brownfield redevelopment.

The CAP's cross-compliance requirements, as well as its new 'greening' component, seek to reduce impacts from direct payments; new rules on indirect changes in land use may reduce the impacts of renewables targets related to the promotion of intensive biofuel cultivation. In other areas, including Cohesion Policy, explicit actions to reduce potentially negative impacts were not identified.

EU added value
All four policy sectors can have major impacts on land. For all four sectors, there is a strong interaction between EU and Member State actions. Consequently, all four provide an opportunity to integrate and disseminate EU land objectives much more effectively than via separate Member State action. This opportunity is of particular importance in the case of cross-border impacts on land.

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