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Land use is at the very backbone of the economy. Land is being used for infrastructure, housing, traffic or real estate. However, land use imposes also major impacts on the environment, such as the destruction or fragmentation of natural habitats and landscapes, the complete loss of soil functions and constraints of regeneration capabilities of groundwater.
Agriculture accounts for the by far largest amount of human land use, with 12 percent of global land surface under permanent cultivation at present. The share of agricultural use in overall land-use is, however, declining since many years. This retreat poses two major problems: intensive agriculture is concentrated in favoured areas, leading to greater discharges of pesticides and fertilisers. At the same time, the abandonment of extensive farming leads to a loss of landscapes with rich biodiversity, that are dependent on extensive use. Crop land is more and more turned into areas for housing and infrastructure, but also for regeneration.
As global population and the per capita consumption of goods and services continue to grow, sustainable land use planning is of vital importance. Europe is (together with Asia) the most densely populated continent in the world. This requires for careful planning, that takes into accounts not only needs for economic development, but also for environmental protection.
Land use planing and management is a core task of local or regional authorities. However, the the EU has implemented several measures for ensuring a more sustainable land use planning:
The European Commission has started the INSPIRE initiative (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) as well as the GMES initative (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). Both iniatives aim at improving information flows between policy-makers and public about land use issues.
The Directive on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) demands an assessment of environemntal impacts at the project level and the Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessement (SEA) requires an assessment of environmental impacts of policies, programs and plans. This shall help to take environmental concerns into account already at the early stages of planning which shall prevent negative environmental impacts from the very beginning.
The Sixth Environmental Action Programme proposes the development of a new Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment. Another step is the introduction of a coordinated policy for the Union's coastal zone regions.
According to the Impact Assessment Guidelines of the European Commission, the following key questions are of particular importance when examining the impacts of policy initiatives on land use:
- JRC: IA TOOLS. Supporting inpact assessment in the European Commission. 
This text is for information only and is not designed to interpret or replace any reference documents.