Land resource efficiency (LRE)

European Topic Centre Urban Land and Soil Systems (ETC ULS) - Land resource efficienty

Land, and here in particular soil, is a finite resource. Land take, i.e. the increase of settlement area over time, and in particular soil sealing has already been identified as one of the major threats to soils/soil degradation processes in the 2002 EC Communication ‘Towards a Thematic Strategy on Soil Protection’ (Soil Thematic Strategy). EU-wide, land take consumes more than 1000 km² annually of which half is actually sealed and, hence, lost under impermeable surfaces. Other threats to soils are e.g. erosion, contamination or compaction. Since the regeneration of soil takes more than a human’s lifetime (1-2 cm soil formation in 100 years) soil can also be considered a non-renewable resource. 

Through the disruption of cycles, soil sealing contributes to the loss of valuable soil functions, such as biomass production, provision of raw materials and hosting the biodiversity pool, and thus the degradation of soil-based ecosystem services, such as food production (provisioning service). In 2011, the EU has announced its resource efficiency roadmap according to which ecosystems and their components (such as land in the sense of space for which different land uses compete) are considered a natural resource. The roadmap sets a milestone of no net land-take in the European Union by the year 2050. Similarly, the UN Rio+20 Summit highlighted soil degradation as part of land degradation and called for a land-degradation-neutral world in the context of sustainable development, a goal to which the EU subscribed and which is reiterated in the European Union’s Environment Action Programme to 2020 (7th EAP). This also includes an objective of no net land-take by 2050.

space4environment supports the EEA in elaborating and implementing a methodology that allows assessing impacts of a number of land cover flows on the potentials of soils to deliver a number of essential soil functions, such as biomass provision or acting as biodiversity pool. One of the outcomes of the activity has been selected as a key map in the European briefing on soil being part of the recent EEA State of Environment Report (SOER).


Image credits: Photo by JR P / CC BY-NC 2.0 & Photo by Wing1990hk / CC BY 3.0