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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
Agricultural land and forest & natural vegetated (F&NV) areas are the largest land groups in the EU, each one accounting for more than 40% of the EU territory. They are expected to marginally shrink between 2015 and 2030, while built-up areas are likely to expand by more than 3%, reaching 7% of the EU territory by 2030.
In 2015 France had the largest absolute built-up area in the EU – more than 5 million ha, 17% of the EU total, followed by Germany (4.2 million ha, 14%) and Italy (2.9 million ha, 10%). In relative terms (built-up as share in total territory), the densely populated Malta, Belgium and the Netherlands topped the list with 35%, 22% and 21% respectively.
By 2030 built-up will proportionally expand across the EU. Italy will see the largest absolute increase (+144 thousand ha), followed by Germany (+128 thousand ha) and Poland (+121 thousand ha). The highest relative growth of around 6% is expected for Romania and Belgium. A more substantial contraction of about 1% is likely in Bulgaria and Croatia.
At regional level, high built-up shares are observed where capitals and other major cities are located, in traditional touristic hotspots and in heavily industrialised zones. Built-up is projected to continue expanding in and around most capitals and other major cities, albeit at different extents. Spain, France, Greece, Croatia, Ireland and Estonia will see large inter-regional differences, i.e. regions with more than 10% growth or decline in built-up. Shrinkage in built-up
is also projected for vast areas in Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria. Many regions in Northern Romania, Hungary and Southern Poland are likely to experience a noticeable expansion of built-up.
F&NV areas are widely presented in less populated and/or mountainous and/or cold climate zones, where other land covers are less suitable. Consequently, the F&NV cover is particularly dominant in Sweden (17% EU share) and Finland (13%), with more than 70% of their territories being allocated to F&NV areas in 2015. Together with Spain and France, they accounted for more than 50% of the whole EU's F&NV cover. Estonia, Latvia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece had more than half of their territories covered by F&NV areas.
Within 2015-2030 forests will expand (especially due to afforestation) at the expense of natural vegetated areas, but the cutback in the latter (-4.8 million ha) will be greater than the growth in the former (+1.4 million ha). Hence, the F&NV cover will shrink in a number of EU Member States, including in all the leading ones. The decline in Spain and France will be particularly pronounced – around 1 million ha in each of them. The F&NV cover is projected to significantly expand only in Poland (+3.7%). The deepest relative decreases are expected in the group with the lowest (below 15%) share of F&NV areas: Malta (-17.5%), the Netherlands (-10.6%) and Denmark (-8.4%).
The general trends at regional level will largely follow the ones at national level.
Nearly 600 thousand ha of abandoned land are projected to re-cultivate into F&NV areas.