EEA report examines the effects of urban sprawl in Europe

10 May 2022

Article: 56/1811

On 5 May 2022, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published an assessment, which analysed new data from the Urban Atlas of the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service. The data focuses on land use changes and socio‑economic trends in 662 functional urban areas, that is, cities and their commuting zones, in the EU and the UK, which represents 23% of the land territory, and host 75% of the population of the EU and UK.

The data show that, between 2012 and 2018, land take in the urban areas of the EU and UK increased by 3,581 km² and soil sealing increased by estimated 1,467 km², mostly at the expense of croplands and pastures. The soil sealing caused a loss of potential carbon sequestration, estimated at 4.2 million tonnes of carbon during the monitoring period.

Almost 80% of land take took place in commuting zones, which are often important for wildlife, carbon sequestration, flood protection, and supply of food and fibres, the EEA report reminds. Commuting zones have much more artificial areas per person than cities, which means that their land use is less efficient. Adding to pressures on nature, habitats in urban areas get fragmented because of land take and, with an average size of 0.25 km², they are about four times smaller than in rural areas.

The EEA report warns that continuing land take destroys biodiversity and makes Europe increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters. Stopping land degradation and restoring wetlands, peatlands, coastal ecosystems, forests, grasslands, and farmland are key to preventing biodiversity decline and adapting to climate change. Similar messages are raised most recently in the second Global Land Outlook report by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

Currently, there is no legally binding policy target in relation to land take and soil sealing at the EU level. However, the new EU soil strategy for 2030 calls on member states to set land take targets for 2030, with the aim of reaching land take neutrality by 2050.

Source: EEA, 5 May 2022