Screening for Critical Habitat – new publication and global-scale data layer

In a paper published last week, UNEP-WCMC and colleagues from partner institutions explore the availability of spatial data for companies to screen for terrestrial Critical Habitat. The paper is accompanied by the launch of the new “Global Critical Habitat screening layer”, for both the terrestrial and marine realms.  

Improving the sustainability of business practices is increasingly seen as a global priority, and there is growing pressure on the business community to identify and manage their impacts on biodiversity.

Critical Habitat, as defined by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standard 6 (PS6) represents areas of high biodiversity value. Critical Habitat is identified based on five criteria that address habitat of significant importance to threatened, endemic, congregatory and migratory species, threatened or unique ecosystems, and key evolutionary processes. It is increasingly used by the finance and private sector as part of their risk based approach to biodiversity management.

IFC PS6 requires projects in Critical Habitat to achieve a net gain in biodiversity. As such, the presence of Critical Habitat can have substantial implications for companies, influencing access to finance and mitigation effort. Having an early indication of the potential occurrence of Critical Habitat can therefore help businesses assess potential risk and focus their efforts in subsequent on-site assessments.

In 2014 UNEP-WCMC produced the first Critical Habitat screening layer for the marine realm but until now, no tools have existed that help businesses to identify Critical Habitat on land.

The new paper identifies 12 biodiversity datasets that align with at least one of the criteria defined by IFC PS6 for Critical Habitat. The analysis indicates that at least 15% of the global terrestrial environment can be considered as either likely or potential Critical Habitat, based on available data. As well as providing a methodology to assess the relevance of biodiversity data in screening for terrestrial Critical Habitat, the article also reveals important gaps in data, and highlights the need to incorporate new and improved global spatial datasets as they become available.

The terrestrial screening layer presented in the paper has been combined with the existing marine layer to form a single "Global Critical Habitat screening layer". The resulting layer enables access to an array of information supporting development decisions. While it doesn’t preclude the need for a Critical Habitat assessment, the screening layer can help businesses screen potential development sites for Critical Habitat at the early project phase, informing subsequent, more detailed Critical Habitat assessments. 

Global screening layer for terrestrial habitat

Global Critical Habitat screening layer

The data layer is made openly available under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0). See the Creative Commons website for details. For any further queries please contact

The Screening Layer is an evolving product and we are keen to explore alignment with national- or regional-scale datasets. Please contact

Image: czuback -

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