Mapping Change: Applying spatial data to create innovative conservation solutions

This post has been co-authored by Jamison Ervin (Global Programme on Nature for Development Manager, UNDP) and Kifah Sasah (Costa Rica Sustainable Development Programme Officer and Green Commodities Programme Senior Advisor, UNDP). It was originally published on the New York Declaration on Forests website on 7 June 2018:

Environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive, but achieving both outcomes calls for innovative approaches to identifying new problems and finding solutions to existing ones. When it comes to climate protection and changing the tide of biodiversity loss, spatial data can play a central role in creating policy and motivating action due to its visual illustration of environmental change. As nature is the the foundation for achieving many of the broader Sustainable Development Goals, protecting nature not only leads to improved environmental outcomes, but improved social ones as well.

In Costa Rica, a country plagued by deforestation associated with agricultural production, the opportunity to map humanity’s use of nature at precise scales provided both improved problem identification and pathways for protection. In response to the rapid expansion of pineapple production and increased illegal deforestation, environmental groups countrywide called for government action. However, given the high costs of traditional monitoring systems, the lack of readily available evidence made it impossible for the government to act. Similarly, companies wishing to buy deforestation-free commodities lacked the ability to verify where their products were grown according to sustainable practices. As a result, UNDP Costa Rica created MOCUPP (Monitoreo de cambio de uso en paisajes productivos), an innovative tool using satellite technology to monitor land use changes in productive landscapes. MOCUPP is the result of years of work of the Green Commodities Programme in Costa Rica, and with funding and support from UN-REDD and GEF-6.

MOCUPP is a strategic rather than technological innovation. It uses existing technologies to empower interested parties with the necessary information for abiding by and enforcing forestry law. It provides farmers, policymakers, and companies with real-time images of commodity production and forest cover changes overlaid with property records. This helps to streamline and simplify the identification of landowners who may have violated law or who should benefit from payment for ecosystem services programs due to their adoption of sustainable land management practices. This portal makes Costa Rica the first country in the world to annually monitor forest gains and losses associated with agricultural commodities on specific property units.

Building on the success of this innovation, UNDP Costa Rica plans to work with the Green Commodities Programme and the Nature for Development programme, and UNDP’s Good Growth Partnership and New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) Global Platform, to launch an ambitious global scale up of MOCUPP through the UN Biodiversity Lab. The UN Biodiversity Lab, set to launch July 2018 (beta version at, hopes to democratize access to information for low- and middle-income countries in a low-cost, easy-to-use, and replicable platform.

The initial phase of the UN Biodiversity Lab is powered by MapX and will synthesize cutting-edge geospatial data from NASA, UN agencies, and research institutions for policymakers. UNDP and UN Environment will use this platform to support 140 countries to monitor the state of biodiversity in their countries, launching a global challenge to encourage countries to double the amount of spatial information included in their Sixth National Reports to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) by using the data and analytics facilities of the UN Biodiversity Lab. Using a combination of tools and targeted capacity building support, the UN Biodiversity Lab will help revolutionize access to best available spatial data and help ensure that biodiversity planning can harness the power of the digital revolution.

The second phase of the partnership will build on the data and functionality of the UN Biodiversity Lab by offering automated monitoring of land use change using satellite images and machine learning to scale-up MOCUPP’s approach to the global level and to make this freely available to all countries. This kind of automatically-generated information allows policymakers at the national level to understand how land use change is affecting their ability to deliver on their commitments to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other key international agreements. It is also useful to major corporations who desire to de-risk their supply chains of factors from illegal deforestation to mining, and allows them to deliver on the goals of the New York Declaration on Forests.

2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the CBD. In 2020, Parties to the CBD will set a new global biodiversity framework, including new target setting for the world’s biodiversity. Likewise, countries will continue to take action to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its associated 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Essential for both these international agendas is the free, open, and productive flow of spatial data through innovative, accessible platforms to enables both people and planet to thrive.

Learn more about UN Biodiversity Lab and follow updates on its launch here.

This blog was written as a reflection of “Innovation Conversation with Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator #NextGenUNDP,” on June 8, by Jamison Ervin and Kifah Sasa.


About the Authors

Kifah Sasa is a UNDP Costa Rica Sustainable Development Programme Officer and Green Commodities Programme Senior Advisor.
Jamison Ervin is the Global Programme on Nature for Development Manager at UNDP. Follow her on Twitter at @jamisonervin




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