Are EU countries following the “no-net-land take in 2050” recommendation?

Despite non-binding targets, some countries and regions are taking action to limit urban sprawling



Nathan Sourisseau

Publication date

May 2, 2024

In 2011, the European Commission announced the objective of ‘no-net-land take in 2050’ as a recommendation to preserve soil, protect biodiversity, and enhance everyone’s quality of life. Indeed, land conversion to artificial surfaces in Europe, primarily occurring in urban and commuting zones, disrupts ecological functions and reduces ecosystem resilience. Croplands, pastures, and forests are the most affected. Achieving the EU’s “no-net-land take by 2050” goal requires taking concrete actions to significantly reduce land conversion by 2030. This loss impairs carbon storage, and biodiversity, and increases flood risk and heatwaves in cities.

In 2021, ten years later, this target was confirmed as part of the European Union Soil Strategy but it is still a non-binding one. Even though there is no obligation to implement this measure, a few member states and regions have decided to follow the recommendation to limit urban sprawling. Even if densely populated, the Belgian Flanders are carrying out measures to preserve nature. On the contrary, Eastern countries are prioritising their economic development. But now, let’s see a few concrete, positive cases!

France and Belgium: ambitious policies with binding targets

France seems the only EU state that is adopting a binding no-net-land take target. According to the law approved in 2021, all French territories have to halve their urbanization during the 2020-2030 period compared to the previous decade. Naturally, there are some exemptions for projects with a specific national and regional dimension.

In the federal Belgium, the approach is regional. In 2023, the Flemish parliament voted in favour of a gross zero land take by 2040. It is the most radical measure currently implemented all over Europe. The Flemish government decided compensation of up to 80% of the value of the plot for all owners who would see their land become unbuildable. The question of how to finance this measure is still open. The Wallonia region has a policy similar to the French one completed by a non-binding objective to concentrate new constructions in cities identified as “centralities”.

Germany and Italy: some regional measures

Although neither Germany nor Italy has a binding target, some regions have decided to take action. In Bade-Wurttemberg (Germany), the Lander government is committed to a very ambitious target of net-zero-land take by 2035 but this announcement hasn’t led to the approval of a law yet.

In Emilia-Romagna (Italy), a regional law adopted in 2017 sets up the European objective of no-net- land take by 2050, allowing new urbanization of only 3% of the territory of each commune before 2050 and only for public-interest projects.

What about cities?

When we speak about urban sprawling, local governments are on the front line. Indeed, they must respect the national or regional framework while dealing with a public opinion polarised between those supporting nature preservation and those willing to capitalize on their land by building on it. In  Wallonia, each city must revise its urban development plan to include the new objective. In France, inter-municipal urban plans should restore many natural or agricultural plots of land that were previously classified as “to be urbanised”.

Anyway, even if their country or region has not developed policies against urban sprawling yet, European cities have for the most part the right to take their own initiative, proving that a different kind of development is possible.

Energy Cities supports cities in this challenge and promotes the idea that economic development is not necessarily linked with urban development.

Want to learn more? Check our sufficiency manifesto, asking for a net-zero-land take binding target at the EU level!