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Sustainable use of land, nature based solutions

Overall definition and context of the topic

Land is a finite and essential natural resource. It is subject to competing pressures from e.g. urbanization, infrastructure, increased food, feed, fiber and fuel production while at the same time land is expected to continue providing key ecosystem services. Almost 1000 km² of agriculture or natural land disappears every year in the EU, as it is converted into artificial areas. More EU land is affected by degradation all the time, and ecosystem services are lost as a result. There is well-documented recognition and awareness that nature helps providing efficient solutions that use and deploy the properties of natural ecosystems and the services they provide in a smart, sometimes 'engineered' way. These nature-based solutions provide sustainable, cost-effective, multi-purpose and flexible alternatives in support of reaching various objectives. Working with nature, rather than against it, can further pave the way towards a more resource-efficient, competitive and greener economy. It can also help to create new jobs and economic growth, through the manufacture and delivery of new products and services, which enhance natural capital rather than depleting it.

In terms of spatial and peri-urban planning there is also a growing effort to minimize the additional land take and to limit, mitigate or compensate soil sealing. This calls at the same time for a more efficient use of land that has been previously taken, and its restoration, especially in the urban environment. The guidelines with best practices to reduce the impact of soil sealing, published by the Commission, can provide inspiration to policy makers .  

To help tackle those challenges, various European policies promote land and biodiversity protection, sustainable urban development, and the involvement of Stakeholders, such as the 7th Environment Action Programme, the EU Soil Thematic Strategy , the EU Biodiversity strategy , and the green infrastructure strategy . Very recently, the Commission also adopted an "Action Plan for Nature, People and the Economy" , whose aim is to boost the Contribution of other policies to nature conservation. In the framework of the Urban Agenda for the EU, the partnership on Sustainable Use of Land and Nature-based solutions is working on the definition of an action plan.

Relevance for and role of urban authorities:

Cities have a high concentration of people who could profit from improvements in urban planning including, among other, more opportunities to get in contact with nature to improve e.g. health and well-being. They have limited space which needs to be better used in a multi-functional way; they suffer from air, soil and water pollution, and from effects of climate change such as heat islands and heat waves and flash floods - all which are impacting cities' economy, social security and nature. Improving biodiversity and the provision of multiple ecosystem services through Green Infrastructure help, improving quality of life, health and human well-being; protecting against the negative effects of climate change and sealing helps to prevent or minimise natural disasters, for example, through increased absorptive capacity of the soil in case of heavy rainfall, or providing a cooling effect in case of heat wave; regenerating cities and diversifying local economies; creating innovative and sustainable jobs, innovative business models and governance tools and improving citizen's health and well-being. Implementing blue and green infrastructure  and nature-based solutions towards inclusive urban regeneration in regional, urban and peri-urban areas also creates a greater sense of community and helps combat social exclusion, reduce gentrification and inequalities within and between cities and regions. Renaturing urban and peri-urban areas with systemic nature-based solutions need therefore to be increased to promote cities and regions as actors of open innovation.

The sustainable City model implies efficient land use and discouragement of urban sprawl. It focuses on “inward” development, which implies restoring degraded land, using, recycling and retrofitting land. Such approach entails natural physical, social and economic regeneration and often goes hand in hand with nature-based solutions for the simultaneous environmental benefits.

Prompts for urban authorities:

Without being prescriptive in terms of the types of projects expected, cities are invited to consider in particular the following themes and issues:
a) Incorporation of blue and green infrastructure and promotion of systemic nature-based solutions for inclusive urban regeneration and sustainable urban development, aimed at:

  • improving quality of life, health and well-being (e.g noise reduction, carbon sequestration, recreation opportunities, clean water, reduced pollution, etc.) for local economies, the social fabric and the broader environment
  • reducing soil pollution, improving water infiltration and protecting from the impact of soil sealing
  • renaturing the cities through conservation, restoration, regeneration and expansion of biodiversity and ecosystems, and through enhancing ecological connectivity between urban and peri-urban areas
  • creating jobs and enhancing social cohesion and social innovation, diversifying local economies and creating innovative and sustainable business and governance models
  • improving urban and up-stream territorial/regional planning

As in the 3rd UIA Call for Proposals several projects will have been selected under the topic “Adaptation to climate change” which has several similarities with the abovementioned themes and issues, it is recommended that applicants look at the projects approved. Information on the projects will be available on the UIA website following their selection in October 2018.

b) Innovative approaches to sustainable land use and land use planning including but not limited to:

  • remediation, restoration and prevention of formation of brownfield (uncovering the potential of brownfields to provide beneficial services and developing a vision for overall sustainable and successful economic and social redevelopment)
  • limitation, mitigation or compensation of soil sealing
  • adaptive reuse of vacant and underutilised land, regeneration and increase of the multi-functionality of already built-up areas and conversion of old infrastructure
  • renaturing urban spaces to contribute to climate change mitigation (e.g. creating “carbon sinks”) and adaptation (e.g. mitigating flood risks, urban heat island effect)
  • tackling the existing urban sprawl and preventing further urban sprawl
  • promotion of sustainable urban farming
  • set-up of a long term strategy for urban planning to decide which land use functions are preferred, help define different economic regeneration drivers and activities, other than public subsidy, creation of innovative and financial  and business models, e.g. through the innovative combination of local fiscal and spatial urban planning and design

It is expected that submitted projects promote sustainable land use through the implementation of nature-based solutions, bringing together social, cultural and community benefits, as well as environmental and ecosystem benefits.

If innovative solutions require an urban-rural interface or functional area approach, it will be possible under this topic to include local administrative units defined as rural according to their degree of urbanization within a project partnership. This exception to UIA eligibility rules, specific to this given topic, will be further specified in the Call’s Terms of Reference to be published in October 2018.