Land use reduction

green meadowClick to enlarge
Increasing amounts of open space are being used for human settlement and transport infrastructure.
Source: Detlef Grimski

We need to reduce the amount of land that we pave over. To do this, innovative concepts should be developed that allow for efficient and environmentally sound land use for homes, businesses, industrial and commercial areas, public buildings, sport and recreational areas, roads, shipping and aviation.

Table of Contents


Land use and land use reduction strategies in Germany

What’s land use all about? And what does the 30 hectare limit entail?

Over the past six decades the amount of German land that has been paved over for roads and residential and commercial areas has more than doubled. In 2011 an average of 74 hectares of land daily – the equivalent of 113 soccer fields – were paved over in Germany, mainly at the expense of arable and other fertile land.

What the seemingly banal term “land use” actually represents is rezoning areas of great ecological value for purposes such as sewage treatment plants, airports, roads and rail lines. The inevitable result of these activities is environmental degradation, as well as undesirable urban development, economic and social outcomes.

Objective: slowing land use

This situation has prompted the federal government to set a goal, as part of our national sustainable development strategy, of reducing land use to an average of 30 hectares a day – a substantial improvement over the 120 hectares a day average that prevailed from 1993 to 2003.

Moreover, the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) and the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) have all urged that greenfield land use be reduced to zero by 2050.

In addition, a report by the UBA’s soil conservation commission titled Flächenverbrauch einschränken – jetzt handeln maps out how the government could allocate the 30 hectare objective among Germany’s regional states, five of which have in any case already set qualitative goals that will help them to meet the 30 hectare objective.

In the interest of determining whether we are in fact moving toward meeting the 30 hectare objective, the UBA has set an interim goal of 80 and 55 hectares a day for 2010 and 2015 respectively. As the graphic shows, prior to 2000 land use for roads and residential areas increased at a rate of 129 hectares; but this rate of increase has slowed substantially since then. Our 2010 goal of 80 hectares a day was undercut for 2009, 2010 and 2011, but was not met in terms of the four year average for 2007 to 2011.

Increased land use and deterioration of land is unsustainable and unacceptable in the long run and simply has to stop. And such land use and its undesirable consequences are also irresponsible in view of worldwide population growth and the limited amount of arable land and fertile soil available in Germany and elsewhere – not to mention our debt to future generations.

Graph shows the daily amount of used land:  81 hectare in 2011. A maximum of 30 hectare/day is the setted goal for 2020.
Daily increase in the amount of land used for human settlements and the transport infrastructure
Source: Umweltbundesamt

Measures and instruments

Greater inner urban development and the clearing and use of derelict sites are key elements in reducing land-take. Therefore, concrete measures and instruments have been proposed which focus on curbing the expansion of settlement area and associated transport connections. Many coordinated measures are needed to reduce land-take for settlement purposes. In addition to these, existing settlement areas should be used with the environment in mind and the need for construction of trunk roads should be reduced.

Targeted measures and instruments aimed at saving land and promoting inner urban development and brownfield redevelopment comprise the following:

  • Strengthen state and regional planning and use existing spatial planning instruments in a targeted way towards limiting greenfield development
  • Reduce harmful subsidies which encourage greenfield development, like commuter allowances or funding for industrial estate development on greenfields
  • Apply the set of instruments provided by the Building Code and target funding at activating inner urban development and brownfield redevelopment potentials
  • Create, to this end, inter-office organizational structures in administrations which facilitate effective land management
  • Further improve the framework needed to activate unused inner-city building plots
  • Minimise pressures brought on by further urban sprawl through appropriate property tax reform, including introduction of a zoned municipal statutory law for property tax which enables a targeted mobilization of properties that are ready for building or unused. Framework conditions can also be improved via the land transfer tax and/or by establishing a levy on allocation of land for building or a charge on greenfield development
  • Reduce new construction of buildings, federal trunk roads and other transport infrastructure and instead maintain and upgrade existing buildings and infrastructure
  • Raise awareness of the disadvantages and risks which land consumption entails, highlight the opportunities which land saving brings and inform each and every actor and citizen about how they can help save land.

Strategies und measures proposed by the Federal Environment Agency

Detailed proposals on how the trend in land-take can be reversed were made by the Federal Environment Agency in a strategy paper from 2003. In 2009, the Federal Environment Agency and the Federal Nature Conservation Agency (BfN) jointly reviewed these proposals and – where necessary – updated, supplemented and prioritised them. The two Agencies then reported the result to the Federal Enviroment Ministry (BMUB). On this basis, the Federal Environment Agency is advising the Federal Environment Ministry within the scope of current legislative projects and other land policy activities.

The Federal Environment Agency has carried out various research projects dealing inter alia with the cost and benefits of urbanisation and brownfield redevelopment, with the aim of deriving criteria for an efficient settlement development, or with approaches aimed at focusing planning law and planning instruments even more on efficient land use and inner urban development.

Trading of land planning permits is a new, innovative instrument to promote land saving. It is currently being tested in a pilot project commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency. Similar to trading of CO2 emission allowances, it aims to set financial incentives for municipalities which redevelop brownfield sites and use land efficiently.

  • Draft decree by ARGE Bau

    issued 26 September 2001, considering areas with floor loading, in particular with toxic waste, in case of urban land-use planning and process on the granting of permission

    Mustererlass der ARGE Bau

  • Regional Planning Law (Raumordnungssetz [ROG])


  • Federal Building Code (Baugesetzbuch [BauG])

    Economical and considerate handling of land , see § 2 Abs. 2, Nr. 8 Regional Planning Law (ROG) and § 1a Abs. 2 Federal Building Code (BauGB)

    § 2 ROG Federal Building Code (BauGB) § 1a Federal Building Code (BauGB)

  • Data on population and land use

    Data on environment

  • Manifest

    Manifest of architects, engineers and urban planners on a sustainable architecture and engineering architecture – Protection of the climate demands a new way of thinking, 2009

    Association of German Architects (BDA)

  • UN Conference on Nature Conservation

    The Umweltbundesamt (UBA) demands limits for asphalt and concrete, 2008

    Grenzen setzen für Asphalt und Beton

  • Ministry of the Environment Rhineland-Palatinate

    The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Consumer Protection reports on a common event by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Consumer Protection, the Ministry of Interior and Sports and the Competence Center for land management policy on the topic of considering soil conservation in spatial planning, 2008

    Ministry of the Environment Rhineland-Palatinate

  • Promotion of infrastructure close to economy

    The promotion aims at compensating locational handicaps in economically underdeveloped regions through strengthening the economy' s competitiveness and adaptability as well as creating and securing permanent jobs, 2008

    Federal Ministry of economics and energy

  • Press-background paper

    Protection of biological variety and conservation of resources - why we have to treat land care and intelligent, 2008

    Schutz der biologischen Vielfalt und Schonung von Ressourcen

  • Key figures 2007

    Survey on settlement and transport-related areas on the type of actual use

    Federal Statistical Office

  • Common claims from agriculture and nature conservation

    Position paper from agriculture and nature conservation, 2006

    Verringerung der Flächeninanspruchnahme durch Siedlungen und Verkehr

  • Saxon-Thuringian days on soil conservation in Gera, 2005

    Ministry of Environment Saxony

  • Conference on soilm conservation and land use

    The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Consumer Protection Rhineland-Palatine reports on a conference on activities regarding the caring soil conservation as well as land use on 18 November 2004. Proposals on reduction of land consumption were introduced and discussed.

    Ministry of Environment, Forests and Consumer Protection Rhineland-Palatine

  • Umweltbundesamt background paper

    "Land use, an environmental problem with economic effects", 2004

    Flächenverbrauch, ein Umweltproblem mit wirtschaftlichen Folgen

  • REFINA project

    The programme "Research for the Reduction of Land Consumption and for Sustainable Land Management" funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) was part of the German National Strategy for Sustainable Development.

    REFINA project

  • Strategic paper

    „Reduzierung der Flächeninanspruchnahme durch Siedlungen und Verkehr", Erich Schmidt Verlag, Berlin 2004. ISBN 3-503-07852-5; Materialbald mit ausführlicher Hintergrundinformation zu Handlungsfeldern, Strategien, Maßnahmen und Instrumenten

    Reduzierung der Flächeninanspruchnahme durch Siedlung und Verkehr

  • Biodiversity Conservation Union Germany (NABU) symposium on land use

    Documentation of NABU-symposium on 8 & 9 November 2001 in Erfurt "Intelligent land use - Strategies for a sustainable settlement development".
    The documentation contains the lecture of Dr. Andreas Torge, then UBA president (p. 8-17)
    Academy for sptial research and planning (ARL) Hannover: Nachhaltigkeitsprinzip in der Regionalplanung - Handreichung zur Operationalisierung - Forschungs- und Sitzungsberichte. Hannover 2000. ISBN-3-88838-041-3. insbes. Kapitel 2.2.3 Bodenschutz.

    Conference documentation Academy for sptial research and planning

  • Bavaria

    Bavaria presents in the travelling exhibition "Wie wohnen - wo leben? Flächen sparen - Qualität gewinnen" good examples for living in the city, the renovation of existing settlements and up-to-date modernization of older buildings


  • Lower Saxony

    The Ministry of Environment Lower Saxony commits itself to a communal grey and brownfield-management aiming to actively manage the inner development and improve the implementation of development goals.

    The Ministry of Environment Lower Saxony

  • Baden-Wuerttemberg

    The Ministry of Environment Baden-Wuerttemberg presents its activities and promotion programs on reduction of land consumption and re-use of settlement fallows.

    The Ministry of Environment Baden-Wuerttemberg

  • Berlin

    The Senate Administration of the City of Berlin runs the activation of potential building land in the interior via a building lot management system.

    The Senate Administration of the City of Berlin

  • Flächenkonstanz Saar

    REFINA project

  • Wallmerod

    „Leben im Dorf - Leben mittendrin”