EU: No Net land Take ?

A new regulation is in the making in Europe: No net land take. PBL ( NL environmental assessment agency) recently organized a meeting on the topic.[1] It’s an interesting approach and wording, but what’s really the point? First, there is the assumption that no more land should be sacrificed to urbanization. In principle that sounds logic. And its easy, the density of habitation in cities in the Netherlands is very low, for example in Eindhoven it is 27 people per hectare, in The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht slightly higher, 63, 53 and 38 respectively. [2] However in the Parisian city center it is 220 per hectare (in ‘low-rise’ buildings), and we all love it. There’s plenty of room here in our cities, if we all settle in a bit, it can be done.

Unfortunately, in practice, it doesn’t work that way in the Netherlands: the Netherlands has relatively the most new land use per year of all European countries. Between 2000 and 2018, its about ten hectares per day. of housing, business parks, infrastructure, parks and other forms of land take. [3] While we already have the least land per capita within our borders (0.2 ha pp, all incl.) , we are still losing a lot of land from that scarce bit we have.

Then again, the Netherlands is of course an exception, as one of the most densely populated countries in the world, it is actually 1 big city. Which is exactly one of the discussions, with regard to the new law, endless discussions about what should be considered a city? Does it include, for example, cultivated land with greenhouses? or what about golf courses…? If these are included, the Netherlands can solve its space need easily, as I calculated earlier: on all the golf courses in the Netherlands there is enough room for 1 million new homes, at a density of about 57 homes per hectare. With the advantage that the infrastructure is already there, as are the community center and central parking. [4]

But in fact it would be better if we change the name of that law into: No Net Land Loss. We should absolutely lose no more land. Land to live on, land that is capable of generating a yield, for an inevitable upcoming period when we will have to live off the land again. [5] For food, materials and energy. The future without fossils is biobased, cq vegetarian, in everything. And bearing in mind that Havana during the harsh 1990s ‘special period’ grew 35% of its vegetables within its city borders, the question of what is urban is not so interesting, as is the actual question : is a hectare of land either consumptive or productive? What does a hectare, if we think for a moment in that unit, contribute to our resource needs, or is it occupied with only consumptive activities? Consumption of food, but also of building materials, of energy and goods and products,. Which unavoidably have caused land take elsewhere, via raw materials, (biobased) or energy (solar wind biomass).

So the evaluation per any hectare is important : is more consumed, in energy and raw materials , than it produces? And vice versa. That decides whats meant with urban area in this case.

In that case you could even reformulate the law as the Net land take law, but taken from cities! Instead of taking no land away from agriculture and nature (building) , just take land back from urban areas, make more land productive, no matter where.

But then again the related question is, what is productive? Because Dutch agriculture for instance does produce a lot , but a lot more goes into it, input versus output is about 7 to 1: it takes 7 times the land as input to produce 1 hectare of output. [6] [7] That’s mostly in raw materials and energy that comes from elsewhere, recalculated and converted into to land use. In fact, in the Netherlands we have long since run out of productive hectares, hectares with a net positive output of captured solar energy. All hectares are in fact consumptive.

But then , if we assume a society without fossil, (post-fossil [8]), as is current policy, in that case production of fertilizers and pesticides is no longer an issue, and the net result will improve. In the end its about what is effective coming of a hectare, directly based on the land solar relationship.

Simple example: you can source diesel for tractors and transportation from that land-sun relationship , as bio-diesel for example, based on rapeseed oil yield. One hectare will provide about 700 liters of diesel. Now you can calculate for yourself how many hectares are needed for the energy consumption of your own car. For the municipality/island of Schouwen Duiveland, I calculated that if 1/3 of the land was reserved for car fuel, then each family in SD could drive 2850 km annually…. That’s about it. Just to show how critical it is, regarding land use. [9]

The first creative attempts to lessen the impact from the new regulation are already brought up: Are ministries going to allow green roofs to count as offsets…? But then, where do you install the solar panels, I wonder, required for the net zero energy performance of the building? Those will again be moved to land use elsewhere. So you can already see the goat-trails ( dutch national hobby) and scandals before you.

And someone in the discussion remarked: “that new scheme doesn’t take into account societal demand” . But that is precisely the whole point, the land itself is being over-demanded … ‘societal demand’ are still getting the upper hand over ‘physical biological potential ‘ over what can be supplied on a sustainable continuous basis. . Man still does not see himself as part of the whole, but nature, land, ecology, biodiversity still have to withdraw, when societal cultural calls sound loudly.

For the time being every country is still busy convincing the EU that you have to look at things differently….

That discussion is then again mainly one of interests. If you don’t represent a target group, be it organic farmers or builders, or else it doesn’t matter. Then your input is seen as non-committal, and they feel free to go around that. Even if that input is scientific, based on hard data. Its not seen as having an interest. I wrote earlier that there is a need for a 4th power: the limiting power, which guards and secures planetary boundaries in the political debate, independent of any interest. [10]

But, there are also some real threats, like that we also have to give up land due to sea level rise ? Especially in the Netherlands. No net land take, but will the sea have to comply as well? If the sea takes some land away, that could still be seen as positive, that is, from the perspective of the earth. On the other hand, we are already short of land, and the sea is being ‘developed’ as well at an alarming rate. And the sea, is de facto also land, only with water above it instead of air. So the land take act should consider both together. Also No net sea take…!

In general, I hear too much discussion about what we want. But it is not about us. What we want has no limits, while what the land can provide is limited. Land is our capital (and biodiversity), and in a future without fossil fuels everything must come from the land: food, material and energy. And then every m2 is needed, as a productive medium between sun and biomass. So I am very curious to see how this land securing initiative will develop.



[1] pbl (Dutch) :


[2] density cities ( Dutch) inw/ha :


see also :


[4] golf :

[5] van land leven…article in ‘Landschap’ (Dutch):

[6] on the agriculture project :


[8] post fossil :

[9] on Schouwen Duiveland:

[10] 4e power needed:


Author: ronald rovers