New global map to boost greener business

Scientists have developed a first-of-its-kind global map of the state of the world’s terrestrial habitat to help both businesses and investors to protect precious habitats.

As published on the 24th July in Biological Conservation, the global data layer reveals for the first time whether each 1km² of land on Earth is classified as natural or modified.

Of the total global terrestrial area (excluding Antarctica), 37% is classified as likely Natural, 25% as potential Natural, 17% as potential Modified, and 22% as likely Modified.

The classification provides a more precautionary approach than that provided by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) assessment, which found that only 25% of the terrestrial environment remains unaltered by human actions. Habitats with some level of alteration can still harbour high levels of biodiversity in relatively natural conditions. This research adopts a broad definition of naturalness to account for this, helping to prevent near-natural habitats from being overlooked and damaged, and aligning with international business performance standards.

This news comes following a major new report from the United Nations Environment Programme identifying habitat destruction as one of the key drivers of the emergence and rapid spread of diseases such as Covid-19 from wildlife to people.

Jonny Hughes, WCMC Chief Executive Officer, UNEP-WCMC welcomed the research saying: 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us in stark terms that human health is inexorably bound to ecosystem health. As we now seek to build back better from the pandemic, this new research will equip governments, businesses and investors with the data needed to make more informed decisions about where and how to invest in nature to optimise positive impact.”

This new global data layer could help businesses identify natural terrestrial habitat early in screening processes, helping to prevent impacts on nature – and also to save money. For example, the map could be considered as businesses assess sites for potential developments, particularly in high-impact sectors such as infrastructure, agribusiness, forestry, energy and mining.

It could also help investors by improving investment screening and guiding decision-making in global and regional banks and international corporations. The map could support portfolio-level analysis of existing operations and analysis of supply chains to understand the scale of businesses’ presence in natural or modified habitats.

This new map includes swathes of land not previously covered by screening data. Current screening often relies on protected area and Key Biodiversity Area data, which cover just 15.1% and 8.8% of land respectively.

Joe Gosling, lead author of the paper, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), says:

“This global map is the first to reveal the degree to which all terrestrial habitats on each 1km2 on Earth may be natural or modified, filling significant gaps in current data and providing a holistic view of land’s biodiversity value. Building this data into decision-making will empower businesses and investors to better understand and reduce their impacts on nature."

 ‘A global mapping template for natural and modified habitat across terrestrial Earth’ was published in Biological Conservation.

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