Meeting biodiversity, climate, and water objectives through integrated strategies

We are collectively failing to conserve the world’s biodiversity and to mobilize natural solutions to help curb global warming. A new study carried out by the Nature Map Consortium, shows that managing a strategically placed 30% of land for conservation could safeguard 70% of all considered terrestrial plant and vertebrate animal species, while simultaneously conserving more than 62% of the world’s above and below ground vulnerable carbon, and 68% of all clean water.

In November, governments will convene in Glasgow under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Natural climate solutions for mitigation and adaptation will be high on the agenda, as illustrated by the recent G7 Nature Compact and the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature signed by 88 heads of government. In 2022, China will host the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to agree a new Global Biodiversity Framework, including proposed targets to conserve at least 30% of land and the ocean by 2030 and to apply integrated biodiversity-inclusive spatial planning to address land- and sea-use change.

To stop the decline of nature and meet the Paris Agreement objectives, strategies need to be designed and implemented for better managing land use for agriculture, infrastructure, biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, water provision, and other needs. As underscored by the draft Global Biodiversity Framework and current efforts in Costa Rica, China, and other countries, this requires spatial planning to assess where biodiversity conservation would bring the greatest benefits to other policy objectives.

To support such integrated strategies, a paper by the Nature Map consortium just published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution presents an approach for spatial planning. The paper set out to determine areas of global importance to manage for conservation to simultaneously protect the greatest number of species from extinction, conserve vulnerable terrestrial carbon stocks, and safeguard freshwater resources. This effort is the first of its kind to truly integrate biodiversity, carbon, and water conservation within a common approach and a single global priority map. Another distinct novelty of the work is the consideration of a comprehensive set of plant distribution data (about 41% of all plant species) in the analyses, and the setting of species targets for extinction risk.

“To implement post-2020 biodiversity strategies such as the Global Biodiversity Framework, policymakers and governments need clarity on where resources and conservation management could bring the greatest potential benefits to biodiversity. At the same time, biodiversity should not be looked at in isolation. Other aspects such as conserving carbon stocks within natural ecosystems should be considered alongside biodiversity, so that synergies and trade-offs can be evaluated when pursuing multiple objectives,” explains lead author Martin Jung, a researcher in the IIASA Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group.

“The new global priority maps developed as part of the study show that when it comes to identifying new areas to manage for conservation, such as protected areas or community-managed forests, quality (location and management effectiveness) is more important than quantity (global extent). To aim for quality of conservation and achieve the goal of safeguarding biodiversity, government and non-government agencies should be setting objectives and indicators for what they want: conserving species, healthy ecosystems and their services to people, and identify areas to conserve accordingly. Our study provides guidance on how to do that,” adds study coauthor Piero Visconti who leads the Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group at IIASA.

The researchers note that conserving a strategically located 30% of land could yield major gains for conservation, climate, and water provisioning. Specifically, it would safeguard more than 62% of the world’s above and below ground vulnerable carbon and 68% of all fresh water, while ensuring that over 70% of all terrestrial vertebrate and plant species are not threatened with extinction. As the work shows, meeting these objectives will require strategic placement of conservation interventions using spatial planning tools like Nature Map and, crucially, require enabling their stewards to effectively manage these areas.  

“This type of approach can support decision makers in prioritizing locations for conservation efforts, and shows just how much both people and nature could gain. To be successful long-term, these areas must be managed effectively and equitably. That includes respecting the rights of, and empowering indigenous peoples and local communities,” says co-author Lera Miles, Principal Technical Specialist – Planning for Places, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

“Maps for integrated spatial planning, as called for in the draft Global Biodiversity Framework, are necessary for meeting climate and biodiversity objectives. They are also critical for financing natural climate solutions, improving carbon markets, and greening supply chains,” says Guido Schmidt-Traub, an author of the paper who has also written a related commentary in the same issue of Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The study demonstrates that optimizing jointly for biodiversity, carbon, and water maximizes synergies that can be gained from conservation compared to placing emphasis on any individual asset alone. Through strategic action in selected locations, significant benefits can be achieved across all three dimensions. Conservation efforts however need to be greatly scaled-up by all actors in society to meet global biodiversity and climate objectives.

Jung points out that the analysis identifies the upper potential value of any given area to be managed for conservation at global scale. The team by no means suggests or implies that all areas with high value are to be placed under strict protection, recognizing that these management choices are decided by national and local stakeholders. 

The team’s analyses also quantitatively confirm many areas earlier described as biodiversity hotspots, which were previously based on expert opinion alone. By including selected data of the global tree of life that have so far been ignored in global prioritizations – such as reptiles and plants – the team identified new areas to be considered as important for biodiversity at a global scale. These include, for instance, the southeastern United States and the Balkans. The research has also been useful in updating and improving the information on all areas of global importance for biodiversity conservation.

“Our methods, data, and the global priority maps are meant to be used as a decision support tool for major conservation initiatives. Furthermore, the study lays the groundwork for a new generation of integrated prioritizations and planning exercises that all actors can use to inform conservation choices at the regional, national and sub-national levels,” Jung concludes.

The global priority maps can be explored interactively on the UN Biodiversity lab to support decision makers and generate insight and impact for conservation and sustainable development.


Jung, M., Arnell, A., de Lamo, X., García-Rangel, S., Lewis, M., Mark, J., Merow, C., Miles, L., et al. (2021). Areas of global importance for conserving terrestrial biodiversity, carbon, and water. Nature Ecology and Evolution DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01528-7

* The Nature Map project was launched by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the International Institute for Sustainability (IIS), the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Other partners include Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the Botanical Information and Ecology Network (BIEN), Global Assessment of Reptile Distributions (GARD), the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), iNaturalist, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, OpenLandMap, the UN Biodiversity Lab, and SYSTEMIQ Ltd. The Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment (KLD) provides financial support.


Researcher contact

Martin Jung
Research Scholar
Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group
IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program
Tel: +43 2236 807 316
[email protected]

Piero Visconti
Research Group Leader
Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group
IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program
Tel: +43 2236 807 427
[email protected]

Guido Schmidt-Traub
Senior Advisor
UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Partner,
Tel: +33 6 95 44 68 93
[email protected]

Press Officer

Ansa Heyl
IIASA Press Office
Tel: +43 2236 807 574
Mob: +43 676 83 807 574
[email protected]

About IIASA:

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

About the International Institute for Sustainability:

The International Institute for Sustainability (IIS) is an organization based in the city of Rio de Janeiro that is dedicated to promoting the transition to sustainability. IIS develops in line with the emerging field of Sustainability Science interdisciplinary research, provides assistance to governments, intergovernmental agencies, NGOs and businesses seeking solutions to their sustainability challenges and develops and implements projects. The main focus of IIS is sustainable land use, combining production requirements, environmental services and social development.  

About SDSN:

The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has been operating since 2012 under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General. It mobilizes global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement. SDSN works closely with United Nations agencies, multilateral financing institutions, the private sector, and civil society. 


The UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre is a world leader in biodiversity knowledge. It works with scientists and policymakers worldwide to place biodiversity at the heart of environment and development decision-making to enable enlightened choices for people and the planet.  

Additional information:

Full author list and affiliations

Martin Jung 1 , Andy Arnell 2, Xavier de Lamo3, Shaenandhoa García-Rangel2, Matthew Lewis 1,4, Jennifer Mark 2, Cory Merow5, Lera Miles 2, Ian Ondo 6, Samuel Pironon 6, Corinna Ravilious2, Malin Rivers 7, Dmitry Schepashenko 1,8, Oliver Tallowin2, Arnout van Soesbergen2, Rafaël Govaerts 6, Bradley L. Boyle9, Brian J. Enquist 9, Xiao Feng 10, Rachael Gallagher 11, Brian Maitner 9, Shai Meiri 12, Mark Mulligan13, Gali Ofer12, Uri Roll 14, Jeffrey O. Hanson15, Walter Jetz 16,17, Moreno Di Marco18, Jennifer McGowan 19, D. Scott Rinnan 16,17, Jeffrey D. Sachs20, Myroslava Lesiv 1, Vanessa M. Adams 21, Samuel C. Andrew22, Joseph R. Burger23, Lee Hannah24, Pablo A. Marquet 25,26,27,28,29, James K. McCarthy 30, Naia Morueta-Holme 31, Erica A. Newman9, Daniel S. Park 32, Patrick R. Roehrdanz 24, Jens-Christian Svenning 33,34, Cyrille Violle35, Jan J. Wieringa 36, Graham Wynne37, Steffen Fritz 1, Bernardo B. N. Strassburg 38,39,40,41, Michael Obersteiner 1,42, Valerie Kapos 2, Neil Burgess2, Guido Schmidt-Traub 43 and Piero Visconti 1

1Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program (BNR), International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria. 2UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Cambridge, UK. 3Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy. 4Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. 5Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Stamford, CT, USA. 6Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, UK. 7Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Richmondy, UK. 8Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk, Russia. 9Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA. 10Department of Geography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA. 11Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia. 12School of Zoology, Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel. 13Department of Geography, King’s College London, London, UK. 14Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology, Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Midreshet Ben-Gurion, Israel. 15CIBIO/InBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos da Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal. 16Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA. 17Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA. 18Department of Biology and Biotechnologies, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy. 19The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA, USA. 20Columbia University, New York, NY, USA. 21School of Geography, Planning and Spatial Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. 22CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 23Department of Biology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA. 24Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA. 25Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. 26Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad (IEB), Santiago, Chile. 27Centro de Cambio Global UC, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. 28The Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM, USA. 29Instituto de Sistemas Complejos de Valparaíso (ISCV), Valparaíso, Chile. 30Manaaki Whenua—Landcare Research, Lincoln, New Zealand. 31Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, GLOBE Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. 32Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA. 33Center for Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World (BIOCHANGE), Department of Biology, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark. 34Section for Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Department of Biology, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark. 35CEFE, Univ. Montpellier, CNRS, EPHE, IRD, Univ. Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, Montpellier, France. 36Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, The Netherlands. 37World Resources Institute, London, UK. 38Rio Conservation and Sustainability Science Centre, Department of Geography and the Environment, Pontifical Catholic University, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 39International Institute for Sustainability, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 40Programa de Pós Graduacão em Ecologia, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 41Botanical Garden Research Institute of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 42Environmental Change Institute, Centre for the Environment, Oxford University, Oxford, UK. 43UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Paris, France.

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