The European Topic Centre on Urban, Land and Soil systems, ETC/ULS, is supporting the European Environment Agency ( ) in supporting monitoring of urban development in Europe, creating seamless European wide spatial reference data and develop and analyse various land related indicators.
Urban areas are home for most of the EU population and 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).
Urban, land and soil systems is therefore a new strategic line of the EEA MAWP 2014-2018 reflecting an evolution towards a more integrated approach to environmental issues, including societal challenges mirrored on the inclusion of urban areas.
The three topic areas are interconnected from a systemic and functional perspective:
Soil is the biophysical basis for ecosystems, but also for most of the human activities and socio-economic developments.
Land is the terrestrial space, supported by soil, where the interaction between ecosystems and human activities happen. Land cover provides the potential for various service provisions, while the land use reflects how this potential is actually used. Any change in land use has an immediate impact on the soil functions.
The urban system is characterised by high intensity of land use, leading to the loss of many soil functions – soils becoming more mono-functional. Soil sealing, in particular, can also cause increased water run-off, and floods, decline in biomass production (and C sequestration), increase in the heat-island effect,
Already, the EU Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe mentions that EU policies have to take into account their direct and indirect impact on land use in the EU and globally with an aim to achieve no net land take by 2050. This is in line with EU contributions to the Rio+20 target ‘land degradation neutral world’.
Recently, the European Green Infrastructure and Climate Change Adaption Strategies, in their respective scope, place spatial structure of natural and semi-natural areas (but also other environmental features) at the core of multiple services to societies and economies. Urban areas, regions, and cities belong to such structures; stronger urban-rural cooperation, through efficient multi-scale land use and planning, brings benefits through better management of natural resources (e.g. water supply, flood control) and enhanced provision of services (e.g. public transport, health, recreation).
All these elements together link with the implementation of the EU territorial cohesion policy, and contribute to improving the monitoring of territorial trends, as requested by the EU Territorial and Urban Agenda to 2020.
Beside these analysis we provide expertise in regional assessments for rural, mountainous, urban or coastal areas and impact analysis of policies where needed.
Finally a substantial part of our work is dedicated to collect, manage, analyze and display land use related spatial data. The ETC is involved in developing open source solutions to follow the Inspire directive and the European policy on SEIS fitting into a network of distributed recourses and simplifying the data access for the public.
The ETC is embedded and part of the European Environmental Information and Observation Network (Eionet) and is cooperating with other European institutions like the Joint Research Centre ( ), Eurostat ( ), the different DGs of the European Commission andESPON (European Spatial Planning Observation network).