Urban and land

Urban areas are home to around 75% of the EU population and the main driver for economic growth and innovation, but their further sustainable growth represents a challenge both for internal management and planning as well as for the surrounding environment (land, soil, biodiversity) within the urban fringe and far beyond.

Land take by the expansion of residential, industrial/commercial and construction areas and the associated sealing of surfaces is the main cause for the increase in the coverage of urban land at European level. Agricultural zones and, to a lesser extent, forests and semi-natural and natural areas are disappearing in favor of the development of artificial surfaces. This affects biodiversity since it decreases habitats, the living space of a number of species, and fragments the landscapes that support and connect them. Land take and soil sealing further decrease the availability of valuable soil functions (e.g., biomass and raw material provision, storing and filtering of substances, or acting as biodiversity pool).

Reliable information on the extent and dynamics of land take by urbanisation and infrastructure development as well as soil sealing is a primary requirement for a range of environmental policies. The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe sets the target of “no net land take by 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). Many other policies and directives from the European to national and regional level (such as the Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection or the Urban Thematic Strategy), underline the importance to safeguard natural resources, to limit soil sealing and mitigate the effects of this irreversible transition of soil as a finite resource from (semi-)natural or agricultural use to built-up structures.

space4environment is involved in a number of projects that aim at providing the required spatial information and knowledge to support achieving the targets set in the different European policies. These projects are mainly implemented in the framework of the European Topic Centre Urban, land and soil systems (ETC ULS) in which space4environment is responsible for two tasks dealing with the development of an environmental city typology and the assessment of green infrastructure in urban and peri-urban areas. Next to this, space4environment is leading the task on land resource efficiency by assessing the impact of land use/cover changes on the availability of soil functions. At the interface between urban and biodiversity, space4environment manages and implements an ESA project, “EO in support of the City Biodiversity Index”, that employs satellite data to develop and map indicators in support of the City Biodiversity Index.