Global maps to help governments operationalize targets for biodiversity conservation and restoration


Not too long ago, the Earth’s lungs were burning, leaving environmentalists all over the world very worried. According to Wikipedia, almost 906,000 hectares of Amazon forest land burned in the fire.

California wildfire is being seen as the world’s deadliest fire so far. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), in 2018, a whopping 8,527 fires burned a record 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha). This year, as of September 29, over 5,487 fires have been recorded according to Cal Fire and the US Forest Service, burning an estimated 157,923 acres (63,909 ha) of land.

This is alarming, destructive and deadly. Our future is being burned not just forest. It’s a high time where governments around the world need to take some serious action to cope up with the issue.

Keeping the scenario in mind, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Instituto Internacional para Sustentabilidade (IIS), the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), and the UN World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) have launched the Nature Map Earth initiative. This initiative will develop improved, wall-to-wall continuous, integrated maps on biodiversity, carbon, and other ecosystem values.

What is Nature Map Earth

With financial support from Norway’s International Climate Initiative (NICFI), Nature Map Earth initiative will synthesize the best available data using methodologies that are globally consistent and draw on local information through consultative evaluation and validation. It will help inform decision making at all levels (including CBD/UNFCCC, national, and sub-national) on what post-2020 biodiversity targets would imply.

To maximize policy relevance at national and sub-national levels the initiative will produce data with the highest possible resolution. Guido Schmidt-Traub from SDSN says, “these new maps are an important decision support tool for countries, as they prepare for the landmark climate and biodiversity conferences in 2020. We are ready to work with governments and their technical partners to support the design and implementation of ambitious national strategies for biodiversity and nature-based solutions. Nature Map can help countries integrate these policies into their national climate and biodiversity strategies.”

Piero Visconti from IIASA explains: “For this first version of Nature Map, we have consolidated unprecedented volumes of existing and new data using novel, cutting-edge scientific methods. We were able to include data from sources that were not previously available to policymakers. Our maps will be freely available and can be integrated with other spatially explicit information to support decision-making. This is an important step in helping bring better data to bear for improved policies. We will continue to develop and improve these products, as new data on land-use, biodiversity and carbon becomes available.”

Nature Map Earth will focus on synthesizing terrestrial data for biodiversity, carbon, and other ecosystem services. Building on the work of the Bending the Curve consortium of biodiversity modeling teams, which was launched by IIASA and others in 2017, the Nature Map Earth initiative will also explore geospatially explicit estimates of restoration potentials across the world. This initiative will also cooperate with National Geographic Society and other partners to combine terrestrial maps with geospatial data for ocean biodiversity and marine ecosystem services.

What will Natural Map Earth Do?

A particular priority of Nature Map Earth will be to enhance forest management data to support better policies for sustainable forest management and forest restoration that maximize benefits for biodiversity and climate change mitigation. To this end we will crowd-source forest management data through a Geo-Wiki as well as plant-species distribution data through a citizen-science campaign on iNaturalist. Together these campaigns will generate better forest management and species distribution data, which are both critical inputs for Nature Map Earth.

In coming months, Nature Map will release additional data layers. Says Neil Burgess from UNEP-WCMC: “We will soon launch a wider consultation on the data and maps. This will help identify gaps and weaknesses in the data, so that these can be filled. We are working with research groups around the world to ensure that additional high-quality spatial data on biodiversity and ecosystem services can be made available to policymakers to support ambitious policies and direct implementation. I am excited to see the mobilization in the scientific community and hope that we can contribute to breakthrough agreements at the CBD and UNFCCC in 2020.”

The information developed by the Nature Map Earth initiative can help prioritize areas for protection or restoration along a scale from minimum (zero) to maximum priorities. This information can then be used to identify areas to protect and/or restore in order to meet different quantitative biodiversity targets for consideration by the CBD. The analysis will allow visualization both of what the coverage might look like at global, regional, and national levels.


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