JRC analysis of EU human settlements, land-use and resource efficiency, as well as modelling work addressing options for urban and regional development have fed into the 6th Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion, released on 23 July by the European Commission. The report examines the state of cohesion of the Union and highlights challenges faced by national, regional and local authorities in overcoming the impact of the financial and economic crises.
The work carried out by the JRC on human settlements shows that cities are more efficient in terms of land and resource consumption compared to rural areas. According to the report, the amount of built-up land (i.e. land with a building on it) per person in urban areas is four times lower than that in rural or peripheral areas. This analysis is backed by the first ever map of European settlements from satellite imagery, which offers a comprehensive overview of all built-up areas at an unprecedented detailed scale, reporting on the location and surface area of buildings across urban and rural agglomerations.
The map was produced using an innovative technology and method developed by the JRC – the Global Human Settlements Layer (GHSL) – which is able to automatically analyse a huge amount of data coming from different satellite sensors, at different resolutions, from anywhere in the world and taken at different moments in time. A land-use efficiency analysis was also carried out through the JRC's Land Use based Integrated Sustainability Assessment (LUISA) modelling platform, coupled with another JRC tool, the Regional Economic Model (RHOMOLO). A particular focus was given to urban growth since the mid-20th century, including the creation of inner-city density profiles and impact assessments of different spatial planning options on future urbanisation patterns.
JRC work has also included analysis on the use of renewable energies and capacity to cope with natural hazards. It has shown that vast areas within the EU – besides the southern regions – have the potential to produce electricity using solar radiation. The risk analysis of the vulnerability of cities to heat waves and river floods has identified regions that are particularly lacking in adaptation capacity.
Within its support to the estimate of the regional impact of Cohesion policy investments (2014-2020) in infrastructure, human capital and R&D, as well as in the field of sustainable growth, JRC economic and bio-physical models and databases have provided a coherent overview of the options for regional and urban development in the EU. Road congestion, pollution, agglomeration, production-based and consumption-based emissions and the use of resources are among the considered topics.