Land consumption, sometimes also referred to as land take, can be defined as the loss of agricultural, forest and other semi-natural and natural land to urban and other artificial land development. This includes areas sealed by construction and urban infrastructure as well as urban green areas and sport and leisure facilities. According to data from the European Commission every year an area the size of Berlin, almost 1000 km2 of agricultural or natural land is converted into artificial areas. Demand for developed land is driven by new lifestyles that require more housing space per capita, large-scale commercial developments on main traffic routes as well as by competition between municipalities to attract new developments because of the assumed economic revenues. However, land consumption is not only an expression of a social desire but induce costs to society. Besides degradation processes such as erosion, salinization, desertification or contamination, land take is one of the main causes for soil damage and soil loss. The negative effects of land consumption are not limited to ecological consequences, however, but also include economic and social impacts. Decreasing settlement density due to urban sprawl influences the efficiency of technical and social infrastructures and leads to rising per capita costs for municipalities and end users. Migration of wealthy households to suburban communities erodes financial power of cities and while driving social disaggregation of the population. Moreover, growth of urbanized areas at the urban fringe impedes the accessibility of nearby nature recreation areas. According to the German Advisory Council on the Environment (Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen, SRU) land consumption is one of the most persistent environmental problems. Implementation of effective policy measures is impeded by both lacking public problem recognition and acceptance of policy interventions due to its complex drivers and creeping development.

Nevertheless, there are efforts on national and international level to reduce land consumption. For example, on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 (Rio+20), the United Nations declared stopping soil degradation and restoring damaged soils until 2030. In January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as political objectives of the United Nations came into force. Especially SDG 11 and 15 provide linkages with reducing land take:


SDG 11 aims at making “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable“.


The objective of SDG 15 is to “sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss”.

To some extent, land take is mentioned in the targets of these SDGs or is set as an indicator. While SDGs will be finally implemented at national level, the EU is addressing the SDGs with own strategies. For example, in 2011 the European Commission already demanded to achieve no net land take by 2050.

In its National Sustainability Strategy as of 2002 the German government has set the goal to reduce land take for residential and transport purposes to 30 hectares a day until 2020. A rework of this strategy in 2016 now specifies to restrict land consumption to less than 30 hectares a day until 2030, while in the years 2012-2015 land take was still at an average of about 66 hectares per day. Because of its explicit quantitative goal and extensive debate on policy options for implementation, Germany is one of the pioneers in dealing with land consumption. In addition, Germany is among the members of the High-Level Support Group that has committed themselves to a fast and ambitious implementation of the SDGs.

Sustainable Development Goals