An opportunity to transform action on nature and climate

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The Didy forest of Madagascar is rich in biodiversity and home to several species of lemur and other critically endangered species. Traditional forest practices tailored to the local environment combined with modern approaches such as forest monitoring and mapping techniques can be highly effective for implementing actions that meet national and international biodiversity targets. Photo: UNDP Equator Initiative/Adidy Maitso Association

As we enter the final year of the United Nation’s Decade on Biodiversity, scientists around the world are sounding the alarm on a climate emergency and closely related biodiversity crisis. We are losing plants and animals at a rate 1,000 times greater than at any other time in recorded human history; and as a result, over one million species are facing extinction. Yet we have a unique chance to change this story.

This year is considered a ‘Super Year’ for nature. In September 2020, world leaders will convene on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly for a Nature Summit. In October 2020, at the UN Biodiversity Conference, 196 governments will agree to an international policy framework that will shape action on nature for the next 10 years. And in November 2020, at the UN Climate Conference, governments will have the final opportunity to increase the ambition of their Nationally Determined Contributions to combat climate change.

Spatial data are a powerful tool that can help us take action to achieve this global ambition by mapping the connections between nature, climate, and people. Over half of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are indivisible from nature, and the world’s natural capital provides ecosystem services without which life cannot exist. Forests supply timber and wood fibre, purify water, and regulate climate. River systems provide freshwater, power, and recreation. Coastal wetlands filter waste, mitigate floods, and serve as nurseries for commercial fisheries. We can use spatial data to determine where nature is providing a home to a high concentration of animals, helping to sustain water for cities, or supporting food production needs. Maps of nature can help guide us to identify coral reefs and mangroves that are reducing the impacts of tsunamis and storm surges, and forests that are sequestering large amounts of carbon. And this is just the beginning.

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A screenshot of a user working in UN Biodiversity Lab shows Peru’s protected areas in (light green polygons) and areas of high connectivity between intact forest landscapes (the lighter green the more important for connectivity). Maps such as this can be used by policymakers and other stakeholders to identify key areas for conservation through protected areas and other measures. Data Credit: WDPA — UNEP-WCMC & IUCN 2020 | Forest Connectivity — Hansen et al. 2013 & Potapov et al. 2017.

At UNDP we are committed to supporting governments to get the best quality spatial data to take action for nature and climate. As a part of this effort, we host the UN Biodiversity Lab in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Secretariat of the UN Biodiversity Convention, with funding from the Global Environment Facility. This provides governments and other key stakeholders with free access to over 100 of the world’s best spatial datasets on nature, climate, and sustainable development. Users can visualize global and national data, run basic analyses, and create maps, all in a free, online environment that does not require any previous mapping experience.

We have a partner who is helping us make this vision to connect science and policy a reality. The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is supporting us and top-tier research institutions to developed high-quality spatial data on forest condition, human pressure, forest integrity, and forest connectivity. They are also working with us to train governments on how to use these data to help identify the ‘best of the last’ tropical forests that are critical for mitigating climate change and conserving nature. We are also working with Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru to better understand how different climate and land use changes could affect forests, plant and animal habitats, and water supplies.

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Local fisherwomen, of the Mediterranean Conservation Society, using traditional and small-scale fishing gear in Gökova Bay, Turkey. UN Biodiversity Lab’s data on species richness can be used to inform biodiversity conservation and guide establishment of new protected areas.
Photo: UNDP Equator Initiative/Mediterranean Conservation Society

As part of this effort, UNDP is partnering with NASA’s Applied Remote Sensing Training Program (ARSET). It provides introductory to advanced remote sensing training to the general public both online and in person. Like the trainings themselves, all of the software, tools, and data used in the trainings are free and open to the public. Together, UNDP and NASA ARSET are offering a free, online webinar series: ‘Using the UN Biodiversity Lab to Support National Conservation and Sustainable Development Goals’. It will be offered in English, French, and Spanish, and is aimed at policymakers, academics, NGOs, and anyone interested in learning how spatial data can be used to support action on nature and climate. During the series, you will gain a better understanding of how to use spatial data, including from NASA satellites and sensors, to improve biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. We will help you access the types of spatial data that can help guide this work, such as information on forest integrity, protected areas, carbon sequestration, and species richness. You will also learn how spatial data can help you develop more effective actions to achieve commitments across the UN Biodiversity Convention, UN Climate Convention, and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

During this ‘Super Year’ for biodiversity, the world is moving towards making significant new commitments to address the climate and biodiversity crises. To help develop solutions, UNDP will continue to support countries to improve their access to spatial data for policy making. We invite you to join this movement.

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On the Kenyan coast, Kuruwitu’s diverse coral assemblages are populated by many species of ornamental fish, stingrays, turtles and a diverse range of other sea creatures. Mapping ecological regions with the purpose of identifying areas of high biodiversity value leads to improved management by guiding decisions about where restoration efforts needed to be intensified. Photo: UNDP Equator Initiative/KCWA

For More Information:

Dates and registration for the webinar series:

  • March 24, 2020: Using Spatial Data to Improve Biodiversity Policy
  • March 31, 2020: UN Biodiversity Lab: Introduction and Training
  • April 7, 2020: Case Studies in Using Spatial Data to Support Nature Conservation

This series is available in English, French, and Spanish:

· To register for the English sessions, click here:

· To register for the French sessions, click here:

· To register for the Spanish sessions, click here:

Brock Blevins is Training Coordinator, NASA ARSET.

Jonathan O’Brien is Technical Writer and Editor, NASA ARSET.

Christina Supples is Senior Technical Advisor, Sixth National Reports to the Convention on Biological Diversity, UNDP.

Anne Virnig is Coordinator, UN Biodiversity Lab, UNDP.

The authors would like to acknowledge the team members leading the development of the upcoming webinar series: David Barbato (NASA), Amber McCullum (NASA), Juan Torres Perez (NASA), Marion Marigo (UNDP), Diego Ochoa (UNDP), Prudence Raine (UNDP).

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