Land use conflicts necessitate integrated policy
Demand for land in Europe is high. Food and biomass production, housing, infrastructure and recreation all compete for space, with impacts on our climate, biodiversity and ecosystem services. In a recent assessment, the European Environment Agency (EEA) analyses land use change in Europe, concluding that we need an integrated policy approach based on reliable data to balance sectoral demands and manage land sustainably.
The land use assessment published as a part of the EEA's flagship report The European environment – state and outlook 2010 (SOER 2010) covers 36 European countries and a total area of 5.42 million km2.
It shows that the spread of urban areas and transport infrastructure has been accelerating. Artificial land cover increased by 3.4 % in Europe in the period 2000–2006, by far the largest proportional increase in all land use categories.
Contrastingly, farmland is decreasing in terms of area but is often managed more intensively, partly due to growing demand for bio-energy crops. Wetlands and biodiversity-rich natural and semi-natural areas also continue to decline, although at a slower rate than observed in the period 1990–2000.
Land use changes in Europe have significant environmental implications, including polluting soil and water, and releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Landscape fragmentation and habitat destruction exert strong pressures on biodiversity.
Decisions about land use involve trade-offs between diverse sectoral interests, including industry, transport, mining, agriculture and forestry. Managing these trade-offs in a way that maximises society’s wellbeing — both today and in the years ahead — requires an integrated policy approach incorporating environmental considerations.
Of course, designing and implementing an integrated policy approach is impossible without accurate information, including accessible data on land cover and analysis of land use changes. The EEA provides a range of tools for this purpose.
New and updated tools for land use analysis
- Corine Land Cover 2006 is a family of products based on satellite imagery. Launched in 2010, this land cover inventory includes 44 different land cover classes and presents changes between the years 2000 and 2006.
- On 29 March 2011, the EEA published 36 land cover country analyses based on CLC 2006 data. Each of the country reports provides graphs and maps that characterise land cover changes concisely.
- The expansion of residential areas and construction sites is the main reason for the increase in urban land coverage in Europe. A new land take assessment published in February 2011 shows that the annual land take in 36 European countries was 111 788 ha/year in the period 2000–2006.
- A raster data set of built-up and non-built-up areas is available for assessing soil sealing.
- The Urban Atlas provides comparable land use and land cover data for more than 300 major cities in Europe. The city data are also displayed as maps in a viewer, which will be improved gradually to include all major EU cities by the end of 2011.
- The main purpose of land cover accounts is to understand changes over time. The land accounts data viewer 2000–2006 allows users to display and download land cover statistics derived from the land accounts methodology.