The world currently faces many significant and inter-related challenges, particularly the threat humans pose to biodiversity and the ecosystem services provided by natural ecosystems. Human pressures and land use change have led to significant loss of habitat, and the species that depend upon it. On current trends the Aichi targets for biodiversity and the 2020 biodiversity targets contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be missed by a wide margin. A failure to conserve habitats and halt species extinction would have knock-on effects on the objectives of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), since significant greenhouse gas emissions result from the destruction and degradation of forests, peatlands, wetlands and other high-carbon ecosystems. Such ecosystems can, if left intact or restored, absorb a significant share of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.

Addressing this challenge requires decision makers to understand long-term trends in land use, and to balance short-term gains with long-term tradeoffs. Most decision makers do not have the data they need to make these decisions. To solve this problem, we are launching Nature Map Earth.

Nature Map Earth will develop a global map of biodiversity, carbon storage, and other dimensions of nature by consolidating and crowd-sourcing data from many sources. Building on the work of the Bending the Curve Consortium of biodiversity modeling teams and others, the Nature Map initiative will also explore geospatially explicit estimates of restoration potentials across the world. We will also cooperate with other initiatives to combine terrestrial maps with geospatial data for ocean biodiversity and marine ecosystem services.

A particular priority of Nature Map 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. Similarly, we will source new distribution data for plant species through a citizen-science campaign on iNaturalist. Together these campaigns will improve the global maps developed through Nature Map.

This integrated map will allow decision makers at global, national, and sub-national levels to identify priority areas to operationalize targets for the conservation and restoration of nature, as well as pathways to achieve these targets. Preliminary results are expected in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2019. These preliminary findings will undergo extensive consultations in the run-up to the 2020 Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in China.

In the future, satellite data on land-use change can be combined with the Nature Maps to assess how biodiversity, carbon storage, and other ecosystem services change over time and to track progress towards meeting the objectives of the CBD and the UNFCCC related to biomass carbon as well as biodiversity. They will also identify knowledge gaps that the scientific community and other partners need to fill. For this reason, the data, methods, and findings will be shared openly and be submitted to independent peer review through highly ranked scientific journals.

The project is jointly implemented by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC), and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is supporting the analysis of plant taxa for this initiative. Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) provides financial support.

For more information visit the Nature Map website or write to info@naturemap.earth.