Tropical forest deforestation for oil palm plantations in Costa Rica

Land consumption as part of human resource consumption is the conversion of land with healthy soil and intact habitats into areas for industrial agriculture, traffic (road building) and especially urban human settlements. More formally, the EEA[1] has identified three land consuming activities:

  1. The expansion of built-up area which can be directly measured;
  2. the absolute extent of land that is subject to exploitation by agriculture, forestry or other economic activities; and
  3. the over-intensive exploitation of land that is used for agriculture and forestry.

In all of those respects, land consumption is equivalent to typical land use in industrialized regions and civilizations.

Building construction in Olsztyn, Poland
Road construction in Olsztyn, Poland

Since often aforementioned conversion activities are virtually irreversible, the term land loss is also used. From 1990 to 2000, 1.4 million hectares (3.5×10^6 acres) of open space were consumed in the U.S.[2] In Germany, land is being consumed at a rate of more than 70 hectares (170 acres) every day (~250 thousand hectares (620,000 acres) per 10 years).[3] In European Union, land take is estimated approximately about to 1.2 million hectares in 21 EU countries over the period 1990–2006.[4]

Urban growth reduces open space in and around cities, impacting biodiversity and ecosystem services

— McDonald et al.[2]

Land loss can also happen due to natural factors, like erosion or desertification - nevertheless most of those can also eventually be tracked back to human activities. Another slightly different interpretation of the term is the forced displacement or compulsory acquisition of a native people or settlers from their original land due to land grabbing, etc. Again, in most cases, this will be due to economic reasons like search for profitable investment and commodification of natural resources.

Reducing global land loss, which progresses at an alarming rate, is vital since the land footprint, the area required both domestically and abroad to produce the goods and services consumed by a country or region, can be much larger than the land actually used or even available in the country itself.[3][5]

While land prices have surged in the first few years of the 21st century, land consumption economy still lacks environmental full-cost accounting to add the long-term costs of environmental degradation.

Consequences of land consumption

The major effects of land conversion for economic growth are:

See also

Land conversion in Wörrstadt, Germany


  1. ^ "The concept of environmental space". European Environment Agency EEA. 1997.
  2. ^ a b Robert I. McDonald, Richard T. T. Forman, and Peter Kareiva (2010-03-03). "Open Space Loss and Land Inequality in United States' Cities, 1990–2000". PLOS ONE. 5 (3: e9509): e9509. Bibcode:2010PLoSO...5.9509M. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009509. PMC 2831069. PMID 20209082. Nationally, 1.4 million ha of open space was lost, and the amount lost in a given city was correlated with population growth((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b ""Limit land consumption worldwide!" The Soil Atlas 2015 has been released". 2015. About 60 per cent of the land used to meet European demand is located outside the EU. This makes Europe the continent that is most dependent on land beyond its borders to sustain its lifestyle, its agricultural industry and its hunger for energy.
  4. ^ Gardi, Ciro; Panagos, Panos; Liedekerke, Marc Van; Bosco, Claudio; Brogniez, Delphine De (2015-05-04). "Land take and food security: assessment of land take on the agricultural production in Europe". Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. 58 (5): 898–912. Bibcode:2015JEPM...58..898G. doi:10.1080/09640568.2014.899490. ISSN 0964-0568. S2CID 154996453.
  5. ^ "The true cost of consumption - The EU's land footprint" (PDF). FOE Europe. 2016. The European Union uses more than its fair share of global land. In 2010, the amount of land used to satisfy our consumption, solely of agricultural goods and services, amounted to 269 million hectares – that's 43% more agricultural land than is available within the EU itself and an area almost the size of France and Italy used outside of our borders.