Land is a valuable and limited resource. The environmental impact of land used for building new roads, houses or energy grids should be better integrated into European Union policies, according to a report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA).
A preliminary review on how land is used in the EU found that more attention should be paid to environmental concerns.
The direct and indirect impacts of EU policies on land looks at key aspects of land use, including land take, which is when land is ‘taken’ or developed for infrastructure such as roads, or rail networks. Land take can lead to land degradation and have a negative impact on the natural functioning of soils. Land take involves soil sealing, which can lead to soil biodiversity loss. Land degradation includes erosion and the loss of organic matter in the soils. These have a knock-on effect on ecosystems, food production and the regulation of water.
The EEA report checks the EU’s four biggest policies covering cohesion, transport, energy and the Common Agricultural Policy to see how they affect land use across Europe. The analysis was carried out based on an approach or methodology that looked at a set of evaluation criteria, including evidence of impacts, relevance, coherence, effectiveness, and EU added value.
The initial evaluation found that the policies would be more effective if they better balance environmental concerns with other priorities. This can be done with the use of targets to improve the balance between demand and supply of available land. This would also help EU-wide efforts to protect land and the environment.
The report also considers EU objectives related to land take and land degradation under the EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme, which aims to protect land and soil for future generations. EU objectives include setting a target of ‘no net land take’ by 2050; reducing soil erosion; increasing soil organic matter; remediating contaminated sites; and integrating land use concerns into all levels of government, including via the adoption of targets on soil and land as a resource.
The analysis draws on two in-depth case studies, assessing the impacts of EU Cohesion Policy, and specifically spending for transport on land in Poland, and the role of EU policies in land take and land degradation impacts in the region of Andalusia, Spain.
- The evaluation highlights the need to further integrate EU land objectives in the four policy areas. The report identified the increased covering up of soil by concrete or pavement (soil sealing), the fragmentation of the landscape due to transport networks, and land degradation due to intensive agriculture and biofuel production, as key challenges
- The four EU policies have major impacts on land use. And all four provide an opportunity to integrate better land use practices across the entire EU, and across borders. Without these EU policies, coherent and effective integration of land use practices cannot be possible
- Future policy making on land should consider setting targets on better land use as part of new EU policy on land as a resource. These can help prevent degradation and other negative impacts. The use of environmental impact assessments should be reinforced
- Placing a monetary value on the ecosystem services lost through land take and land degradation should also be considered as part of an EU policy making, assessment and evaluation process.