Navigation path

High level navigation

Additional tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Print version
  • Decrease text
  • Increase text

Land as a resource

Conference 'Land as a resource' - Brussels, 19 June 2014

The conference is part of the European Commission's work on land as a resource.

The European Commission hosted a conference on 'Land as a resource' in Brussels on 19 June 2014, with the objective of highlighting the importance of good land management to address European and global challenges, particularly in view of an increasing world population. It also tackled the shortcomings of the current European land use model, including conflicting policy drivers.

Keynote introductory speeches

Janez Potočnik, Environment Commissioner, European Commission

  • Commissioner Janez Potočnik set the scene by describing the key trade-offs we are facing in land resource management, and enumerating possible avenues for action at EU level: this would involve acknowledging that land is a finite resource that should be used for as many purposes as possible – environmental, economic, social. It would also require avoiding land wastage by preventing land degradation and reinforcing the potential for multi-functional land-use. This will not be possible unless we halt the degradation of the basic component of land, which is soil. The EU actively needs to restore degraded land and encourage land recycling, in particular by supporting the regeneration of brownfields. Finally the EU must ensure its policies do not cause land degradation in other countries.
  • Speech

Lester E. Brown, President, Earth Policy Institute, Washington D.C., USA - The importance of land in the 21st Century

Lester E. Brown underlined that we find ourselves in the middle of a transition period, from a past time of "abundance" to a future time of "scarcity", which will affect the availability of several raw materials and natural resources such as water, soils and food. In front of the current trend which includes about 3 billion people seeking better living standards, the soils should be carefully managed and used. Our production and consumption habits should be re-shaped, in particular for what concerns meat production or the cultivation of biofuel crops, which compete with food crops. Furthermore, the eradication of poverty in developing countries assumes a fundamental role for controlling the demographic pressure and avoid both over-cropping and over-grazing, which account among the main global causes of soil degradation.

Session 1: What are the issues at stake?

Stefan Bringezu, Director, Wuppertal Institute, Wuppertal, Germany

A finite world and increasing land demands: a global perspective

Stefan Bringezu provided a detailed and quantified picture of the gap between global demand for land (for food, energy or settle-ment) and the actual supply. He presented the results of the report "Assessing Global Land Use" recently published by the International Resource panel, including the proposal for a "safe operating space" in terms of global cropland area. He also enumerated possible ways for a more efficient management of the land resource within the limits of our planet, such as cutting food waste and moving to lower protein di-ets, better land use planning to avoid building on fertile soils, reducing the EU’s biofuel target and restoring degraded and abandoned land.

David Ludlow, European Urban Research, University of the West of England, Bristol, United Kingdom

Tackling urban sprawl: towards a compact model of cities?

David Ludlow spoke about the problems caused by urban sprawl and the need of compact, resilient cities, with increased use of public transport and made the link with financial sustainability of infrastructures.

Winfried Blum, Rural Investment Support for Europe (RISE) Foundation, Brussels, Belgium

Potential and limits of sustainable intensification of agriculture

Winfried Blum presented the first results of a study from the RISE Foundation on the potential for sustainable agricultural intensification in the EU, showing the relevance of soil quality parameters. He suggested that sustainable intensification is possible only in limited areas (in Europe 41%) and on the need to take into account other parameters such as water resources.

Millán M. Millán, Honorary Director, CEAM, Valencia, Spain

Land use changes and their impacts on extreme events

Millán Millán closed the morning session highlighting the trans-boundary impacts of deforestation and soil sealing. He explained how land-use changes in the Mediterranean alter local weather patterns but can also cause extreme weather events in central Europe. He urged politicians to realize the seriousness of the situation and to act accordingly.

Session 2: National and regional experiences

Günther Bachmann, Secretary-General, German Sustainability Council, Berlin, Germany

The German land take reduction target – is it working?

Günther Bachmann talked about the German land take reduction target. He suggested to base policy to reduce land take or promote land recycling not just on ecological argument, but also on an assessment of the true costs of urban sprawl and its impact on the competitiveness of the regions and cities.

Frank Evans, Land Regeneration Programme Manager, National Grid Property, Warwick, United Kingdom

Land recycling in the United Kingdom

Frank Evans described the work undertaken to recycle brownfields from former energy supply installations. He mentioned the important benefits in term of boosting local economy and creating jobs, but also highlighted the need to better quantify the costs of rehabilitation, which are often linked to the degree of contamination and the new functions to be given to these parcels of land.

Dominique Petigas-Huet, Ministère de l'égalité des territoires et du logement, Paris, France

The French approach to balancing different land uses

Dominique Petigas-Huet Head of Office for Urban and Rural Planning at the Ministry of Housing and Equality of the Territory in France, explained the French approach to balancing different land uses taking into account the different levels of governance to implement policies. Spatial planning schemes (SCOT) are being implemented at sub-regional level, a right scale for the planning and integration of sectoral policies. Priority is given to sensitive areas where pressures are higher: coastal areas, mountains, peri-urban areas.

Anna Starzewska-Sikorska, CircUse Project Coordinator, Institute for Ecology of Industrial Areas, Katowice, Poland

Results and insight of the CircUse Project

Anna Starzewska-Sikorska introduced the concept of "circular land use management" and the results of the CircUse project, which studied, from an economic and social point of view, land recycling and compensation strategies in several EU test areas.

Session 3: Exploring possible EU answers


Alexander Müller, Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam, Germany

Are EU policies drivers of global land use?

Alexander Müller explained that EU land footprint is also an opportunity to influence global land use policies. He therefore called for an EU coordinated response, and explained the importance of strong references to land and soils in the UN sustainable development goals being drawn up for the post-2015 period.

María del Carmen García Bueno, Sindicato de Obreros del Campo (SOC), Andalucía, Spain

Land concentration and impacts on jobs and rural communities in Europe – the hidden side of land efficiency?

María del Carmen García Bueno explained how socially and ecologically problematic agriculture soil uses, especially linked to large capitalistic farms or public infrastructure projects, negatively impact the quality of soils as well as the livelihood of both small farmers and farm workers. She called for an application of FAO guidelines on land tenure.

Simone Ombuen, Dipartimento di Architettura, Università Roma Tre, Rome, Italy

Urban policies and increasing land take – a reflection from an urban expert

Simone Ombuen highlighted the connections between urbanization processes, structural changes in the property sector and economic and financial cycles. He explained the need to work on the drivers of urban sprawl (in particular in the banking system) and to strengthen the link with local sustainability goals and soil policies.

Marie-Alice Budniok, -Director of legal and administrative affairs - European Landowners' Organisation (ELO), Brussels

Land multi-functionality and the role of landowners

Marie-Alice Budniok insisted on the need to recognize that land use should be decided through a bottom-up approach, especially taking into account the participation of landowners in the decision process.

Pekka Pesonen, Secretary-General, COPA-COGECA, Brussels

Increasing agricultural land prices and urban land competition – what should be the EU's answer?

Pekka Pesonen insisted on the need not to look at problems in isolation, and highlighted the fact that especially young farmers are hit by land prices which are higher than their productive value. Moreover, farmers in general are not sufficiently motivated and rewarded for the ecosystem services they provide. He questioned the need for land or soil policy at EU level.

Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy, BirdLife International, Brussels

How to reconcile land management and the environment?

Ariel Brunner insisted on the need to stop wasting land through EU policies, in particular biofuel and biomass. He explained that there is scope for a better implementation of existing environmental policy instruments (Water, nature, EIA/SEA). He insisted on the need of an integrated approach to tackle soil sealing issues

These stakeholder statements were followed by a panel discussion chaired by Karl Falkenberg, Director General Environment, European Commission, on the role of EU policies, which was followed by questions & answers from the audience.