Putting nature on the map

December 16, 2022
Gregoire Dubois

Spatial data and tools will be foundational as countries determine how and where to safeguard the planet.

Gregoire Dubois

The proposed post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) outlines an ambitious global plan to bring about transformative change in our relationship with nature. Building on lessons learned from the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, its 24 targets aim to put biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 and to achieve harmony with nature by 2050. This ambition must be met with national-level planning driven by the best available spatial data and technology.

Pending formal agreement, Target 1 of the GBF will mandate countries signatory to the CBD, known as ‘Parties’, to conduct integrated biodiversity-inclusive spatial planning, and address land- and sea-use change. Spatial data and tools can provide critical support across many other GBF targets by indicating where to take action. However, many countries do not have a strong track record of using spatial data for biodiversity decision-making. A UNDP report released in 2017, ‘Are We Counting on Nature, indicated that lower and middle-income countries used an average of five maps in their Fifth National Reports on biodiversity to the CBD and four maps in their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). Of these maps, one typically represented the nation’s political boundaries, and another represented its protected area boundaries, maps that do not provide enough information to identify where or how to take needed action for nature.

A new UNDP report launched today at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), ‘Nature is Counting on Us: Mapping Progress to Implement the Convention of Biological Diversity builds from these analyses to survey trends in the use of spatial data and evaluate their impacts. The authors assessed the extent to which Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded Parties incorporated spatial data during the development of their Sixth National Reports on biodiversity to the CBD, as compared to the post-2010 NBSAPs and Fifth National Reports surveyed in the initial report. The analysis aimed to determine how to best support nations to harness the potential of spatial data to accelerate action on the GBF and other nature-related commitments.

The results suggest that increased access and capacity to use spatial data and tools help nations to make more informed decisions around nature, climate, and sustainable development. Access to accurate spatial data can facilitate the identification of nature-based solutions and inform data-driven policies and monitoring strategies. This can substantially improve impacts for people and the planet. To help achieve this outcome, decision makers need access to reliable and timely spatial data on biodiversity, its benefits to humankind, and the pressures affecting its decline. They also need the ability to access spatial data and conduct basic analyses without advanced technical training.

The Integrated Spatial Planning Workbook, also launched at COP15, provides a guide for decision makers to overcome many of the gaps described in Nature is Counting on Us. The workbook condenses insights from more than two years of work across 11 pilot countries with the Essential Life Support Areas (ELSA) methodology to support the uptake of spatial planning around the globe. With step-by-step explanations and case studies from diverse countries, the workbook demonstrates how spatial planning can be used to elevate and align the contributions of biodiversity with social and economic well-being during cross-sectoral planning.

The workbook provides practical advice on how to develop a community of practice around a common objective; reach a consensus on priority policy targets; collect, facilitate access to, and use spatial data; develop ‘Maps of Hope’; and integrate spatial insights into decision-making. Capitalizing on synergies between nature, climate, and sustainable development ambitions, this methodology can help countries identify where they can protect, manage, and restore their ecosystems for the GBF and a better future for all. 

Over the past three years, nations party to the CBD have worked through political, economic, and ecological differences to develop a new set of goals to guide global action on nature. When the GBF is finalized, an even larger challenge looms ahead: rapidly implementing the framework for transformative change. Spatial data and tools will be foundational as countries determine how and where to safeguard the planet.