Primary tabs

Land use

Quotation: Stratos Arampatzis (2013): Introduction to the environmental Impact Area Land use:



With on average 117.5 people living on each of the EU's 3 million square kilometres, it is easy to see why land use planning and management is such an important environmental issue for the Union.

Land is being used for infrastructure, housing, transport, production and recreation. The use of land is closely interlinked with social, environmental and economic well-being. Land use can therefore impose major impacts on the environment. These can be direct, such as the destruction or fragmentation of natural habitats and landscapes, the complete loss of soil functions and constraints of regeneration capabilities of groundwater. Or they may be indirect, such as increasing the amount of traffic on our roads leading to more congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Agriculture is the largest human land use, with 12 percent of global land surface under permanent cultivation at present. At the same time agricultural land is the largest land cover category taken by urban and other artificial land development. Thus, the share of agriculture in overall land-use has continuously declined. This decline poses two major problems: First, intensive agriculture is concentrated in specific areas, leading to great discharges of pesticides and fertilisers. Second, intensification and the abandonment of extensive farming leads to a loss of landscapes with rich biodiversity.

As global population and the per capita consumption of land based goods and services continue to grow, sustainable land use planning is of vital importance. Careful planning needs to take into account the need for economic development of different sectors’ stakeholders, societal aspects of people living on and from the land as well as environmental consideration and provision of ecosystem goods and services.

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

This impact area is further specified by the taxonomy terms: Land use creation, Land use protection, and Land use change.

The EU adopted “Europe 2020” in June 2010. This strategy for sustainable growth and job emphasizes the need to increase competiveness by stimulating innovation and green growth. Sustainable growth will be supported by a flagship initiative for a resource efficient Europe that emphasizes the decoupling of economic growth from resource and energy use by reducing the resource intensity of what we use and consume.

For more information on the treaty provisions and relevant policies adopted by the community, please refer

For the strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources please see also the Communication from the Commission of 21 December 2005 - Thematic Strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources [COM(2005) 670 - not published in the Official Journal]

The European Commission has started the INSPIRE initiative (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) as well as the GMES initative (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). Both iniatives aim at improving information flows between policy-makers and public about land use issues.

The Directive on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) demands an assessment of environmental impacts at the project level and the Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessement (SEA) requires an assessment of environmental impacts of policies, programs and plans. This shall help to take environmental concerns into account already at the early stages of planning which shall prevent negative environmental impacts from the very beginning.

The Sixth Environmental Action Programme proposes the development of a new Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment. Another step is the introduction of a coordinated policy for the Union's coastal zone regions.

Land-use decisions generally reflect adopted policy. A good part of this policy originates in the European Union as Directives (e.g. on Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment) which are then implemented through national legislation which transposes their provisions into national law. Other policy originates nationally in addition to those Directives, in some cases through adoption of wider international conventions such as the Covention of Biological Diversity and in some cases through Land Use Planning legislation that is not specifically regulated at EU level.

A land-use strategy of a national or regional government and its assessment of impacts will usually involve consultation with those living and working in the area, as well as government agencies with relevant responsibilities. Land-use decisions are subject to a variety of governance processes and involve many parties who need environmental information on the right scale and in accessible form, making scientists and information suppliers, including the interested public, a part of the process.

Users of land may be directly regulated, or subject to funding conditions, as a result of governmental policy, for example through regulations under the Water Framework Directive or subsidies provided by Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, the decisions about what to grow in field or forests, how to manage that growth, or what species to encourage (and harvest) or discourage, are based on many other factors including topography, weather, markets and cultural interests, as well as characteristics of the cultivated, domesticated or wild species concerned. 

Web Resources

DG Environment

European Environment Agency on land use

EEA Report: Land use — SOER 2010 thematic assessment

EEA land use maps



IA Practice

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.

Related Terms

Land use creation

Land use protection

Land use change

Publications and applications

Titel Type of practice Updated date
Estimation of the impact of fertilisation rate on nitrate leaching in Finland using a mathematical simulation model Publication 2013-03-26 16:59
A Rural Typology for Strategic European Policies Publication 2014-07-28 14:51
An Assessment of the Impact of Climate Adaptation Measures to Reduce Flood Risk on Ecosystem Services Publication 2014-07-14 16:21
An institutional analysis of the use of modelling tools within the European Commission Publication 2013-12-09 15:49
Assessing climate change and associated socio-economic scenarios for arable farming in the Netherlands: An application of benchmarking and bio-economic farm modelling Publication 2014-04-09 21:08
Assessment of Policy Interrelationships and Impacts on Sustainability in Europe - The APRAISE 3E method Project 2014-02-19 11:29
Challenges for Land System Science Publication 2014-07-14 16:18
Embedding an Ecosystems Approach? The Utilisation of Ecological Knowledges in Decision Making Publication 2014-04-14 15:15
European Research for Impact Assessment Tools Publication 2014-04-17 14:41
Ex Ante Impact Assessment of Policies Affecting Land Use, Part A: Analytical Framework Publication 2014-07-25 12:39
Ex Ante Impact Assessment of Policies Affecting Land Use, Part B: Application of the Analytical Framework Publication 2014-07-25 12:53
How, when, and for what reasons does land use modelling contribute to societal problem solving? Publication 2013-12-20 15:41
IA Report: Communication - Energy Roadmap 2050 (2011) Application of a Model or Method 2013-07-27 12:11
IA Report: Communication on future EU transport policy Application of a Model or Method 2013-09-05 09:40
IA Report: Communication on Winning the Battle against Global Climate Change Application of a Model or Method 2013-09-05 11:40
IA Report: Energy Efficiency Plan 2011 (2011) Application of a Model or Method 2013-07-27 13:30
IA Report: General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 "Living well, within the limits of our planet" (2012) Application of a Model or Method 2013-07-25 18:26
IA report: Mid-term review on the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme Application of a Model or Method 2013-09-03 22:29
IA Report: On the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (2012) Application of a Model or Method 2013-07-25 18:14
IA Report: Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment (2012) Application of a Model or Method 2013-07-25 18:31
IA Report: Proposal for a Regulation establishing the Connecting Europe Facility (2011) Application of a Model or Method 2013-07-30 12:45
IA Report: Renewable Energy Road Map Application of a Model or Method 2013-09-03 20:22
IA Report: Specific provisions for the support from the European Regional Development Fund to the European territorial cooperation goal (2011) Application of a Model or Method 2013-07-30 13:01
Impact Assessment of Land Use Policies Publication 2014-04-09 21:11
Impact assessment tools applied to impact assessment of EU policies in agriculture and environment. Publication 2014-04-14 15:49
Integrated Approaches for ex-ante impact assessment tools - the example of land use Publication 2014-08-25 16:25
Integrated assessment of future CAP policies: land use changes, spatial patterns and targeting Publication 2013-12-08 17:09
Integrated assessment of the determinants of the maize yield gap in Sub-Saharan Africa: towards farm innovation and enabling policies Project 2014-11-19 16:48
Land use functions - a multifunctionality approach to assess the impact of land use changes on land use sustainability Publication 2013-04-15 21:02
Landscape Scenarios and Multifunctionality: Making Land Use Impact Assessment Operational. Publication 2014-04-14 15:40
Mainstreaming ecosystem services into EU policy Publication 2014-04-14 15:45
Methods and tools for integrated assessment of land use policies on sustainable development in developing countries Publication 2014-03-24 12:12
Multicriteria analysis for grouping and ranking European Union rural areas based on social sustainability indicators Publication 2014-12-01 18:25
Policy Reform and Agricultural Land Abandonment in the EU Publication 2014-07-09 16:38
Screening decisions concerning the likely impacts of plans and projects on Natura 2000 sites Publication 2013-12-17 08:21
Simulating Land Use Policies Targeted to Protect Biodiversity with the CLUE-Scanner Model Publication 2014-07-28 14:50
Socio-economic scenario development for the assessment of climate change impacts on agricultural land use: a pairwise comparison approach Publication 2013-03-22 18:20
Spatially Explicit Computation of Sustainability Indicator Values for the Automated Assessment of Land-Use Options Publication 2014-07-09 16:55
SUSMETRO Project 2013-10-21 11:16
The challenge of embedding an ecosystem services approach: patterns of knowledge utilisation in public policy appraisal. Publication 2014-04-14 15:21
The Policy-Relevancy of Impact Assessment Tools: Evaluating Nine Years of European Research Funding Publication 2014-07-09 16:32
The role of farmers’ objectives in current farm practices and adaptation preferences: a case study in Flevoland, the Netherlands Publication 2014-11-19 16:57
The use of ex-ante modelling tools in European impact assessment: what role does land use play? Publication 2013-12-09 15:57

Content for this term

Title Type Updated date
Diehl, Katharina Expert 2013-02-14 14:40
E3ME Model 2014-04-23 15:36
Farm System Simulator(Part of SEAMLESS) Model 2013-11-26 08:29
Intertemporal Computable Equilibrium System Model 2013-11-26 08:29
Kontio, Panu Expert 2013-10-07 09:31
Kuldna, Piret Expert 2014-03-05 09:47
Land use Impact Area 2014-03-04 13:21
LINTUL4 crop growth simulation model Model 2013-11-26 08:29
Mari Jüssi Expert 2014-03-17 12:26
Nendel, Claas Expert 2013-01-15 19:37
Nõmmann, Tea Expert 2014-03-05 09:47
Panu Kontio Expert 2013-10-09 10:36
Peterson, Kaja Expert 2014-03-05 09:38
Reidsma, Pytrik Expert 2014-04-08 17:04
TechnoGIN technical coefficient generator Model 2013-11-26 08:29
Werntze, Andreas Expert 2014-03-28 11:11
WOFOST crop growth simulation model Model 2013-11-26 08:29