Back to search

Land systems at European level — analytical assessment framework

Land and soil provide vital resources to society such as food, feed, fuel, fibres and shelter. They also provide ecosystem services that support production functions, regulate the risk of natural hazards, and provide cultural and spiritual benefits. By using land, society alters and modifies the quantity and quality of these services, and the intrinsic potential for land benefits to mankind. To better manage its use of land and associated processes, society needs a systems (i.e. integrated) view on land.

Key messages

  • A number of land processes are related to environmental issues in Europe such as land take, soil degradation, biodiversity decrease, land abandonment and the decline in ecosystem services.
  • A comprehensive land systems approach is required to tackle the complexity of the problems associated with land processes.
  • Changes to land systems need to address both human and environmental aspects of land use and are better understood through integrating territorial, dynamic and functional assessments.
  • The land systems assessment approach needs clear policy drivers, such as a policy implementation cycle that combines drivers, pressures, state, impacts and responses (DPSIR) in a cause-effect framework.
  • Copernicus land monitoring products are progressively enhancing access to relevant spatio-temporal land use information.
  • Land use policies are essential to successful land management. Some European Union policies frame conditions for land use, e.g. the Common Agricultural Policy. Other policy initiatives will affect land use in the coming years, including the EC no-net-land-take policy by 2050, a new EU regulation for land-based carbon accounting (land use, land use change and forestry), renewable energy goals, the NATURA2000 network, the Water Framework Directive and the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 target to maintain and restore ecosystems and their services. At international level, the sustainable development goals (SDG), in particular SDG 15, will also have an impact on land use by, e.g. reducing land degradation to zero.
  • The proposed analytical framework applies systems thinking to the land topic. It uses the interdisciplinary concept of land systems and aims for an integrated assessment strategy for monitoring the state of land and its resources. Key challenges are related to constraints in data availability and scientifically sound methodological approaches to measuring the sensitivity level of trade-offs between environmental supply and socio-economic demands (i.e. biophysical and human subsystems of a land system). The outcomes of an operative land systems assessment approach should identify regional differences (territorial aspect), track changes over time (dynamic component) and provide information on the changing qualitative properties of land resources that are altered by important land processes (functional component). The properties of land systems are addressed by linking them to the land functions that are largely determined by soil functions and the inherent provision of ecosystem services
  • Read further from European Environment Agency