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Abstract

We cannot live without healthy land and soil. It is on land that we produce most of our food and we build our homes. For all species — animals and plants living on land or water — land is vital. Soil — one of the essential components of land — is a very complex and often undervalued element, teeming with life. Unfortunately, the way we currently use land and soil in Europe and in the world is not sustainable. This has significant impacts on life on land.

The EEA Signals 2019 ‘Land and soil in Europe’ explains key pressures — such as urban sprawl, contamination, intensive use of agricultural land, landscape fragmentation — impacting Europe’s land and soil. Today, artificial surfaces (buildings, roads, urban facilities) cover less than 5 % of the wider EEA territory and continue to grow despite slowing down in recent years. Almost three quarters of Europeans live in urban areas and continued urban sprawl is often threatening productive land used for farming as well as forests and other areas home to wildlife and vital ecosystems.

The report underlines that we need to preserve and protect these key resources better. For example, the way we build and connect cities should prioritise ‘land recycling’, which consists of re-using and re-purposing existing urban areas such as old industrial sites and avoid new land to be covered by concrete and asphalt. Europe’s urban population is projected to grow by 30 million by 2050. Given these projections, compact cities with well-connected mobility options will need to play a key role to provide better quality of urban life with fewer impacts on the environment.
New tools, like the European Union’s Earth observation and monitoring programme, Copernicus, which is revolutionising the way we understand and plan for the more sustainable use of our valuable land and soil resources.

A healthy and sustainable use of our land and soil resources will help the Europe Union achieve many of its policy targets ranging from climate change mitigation to halting biodiversity loss, as well as Sustainable Development Goals.