We led a global effort to develop mapping methods adopted by the United Nations that make it easier for countries to track land cover change.

Land degradation affects the health and livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people around the world.  ©iStock.com/Totajla

Hundreds of agencies are working towards achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 15 to protect 'life on land'. This includes tackling the problem of land degraded by factors such as over-grazing, drought and contamination.

However, there was no consistent way of measuring or reporting Sustainable Development Goal indicator 15.3.1: Proportion of land that is degraded over total land area.

This meant that countries' progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal, as well as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the Land Degradation Neutrality initiative, could not be tracked and compared across the globe.

New techniques for measuring land cover change

Earth observation technology, including satellites circling the planet and sending back data, can help by effectively measuring landscape changes over time.

We worked with more than 80 expert contributors and reviewers to develop global standards and tools for understanding and reporting land degradation using satellite technology.

The resulting guidelines, which make it easier for countries to track and compare their progress in addressing land degradation, have been rapidly adopted. More than 140 countries now report on the indicator.

This rapid adoption is due in part to a collaboration between CSIRO and Conservation International, to make the satellite data and models accessible through an open-source software product called Trends.Earth.

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