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Land Cover and Land Use

Land cover represents the physical and biological cover of the Earth’s surface. Land use is the current and future planned management, and modification of the natural environment for different human purposes or economic activities.

Why is this theme fundamental?
Land Cover data is required, for example, for developing land management policy, understanding spatial patterns of biodiversity and predicting effects of climate change. It may also help to forecast other phenomena, such as erosion or flooding. It is critical data in national assessments of biodiversity, conservation efforts, and water quality monitoring.

The use of the land informs land management impacts, especially on changes in natural resources, agriculture, conservation, and urban developments. Land cover and land use affect the greenhouse gases entering and leaving the atmosphere and provide opportunities to reduce climate change. It is required at a disaggregated level to allow local planning to manage and monitor land use at land parcel level.

Which sustainable development goals (SDGs) will it help to meet?
The theme plays a role in SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

Geospatial data features in more detail
Land Cover includes artificial surfaces, agricultural areas, forest, semi-natural areas, wetlands and waterbodies etc. Land Use in some ways describes the human activities and the consequences of such activities on the landscape.

Both Land Cover and Land Use are separated into different classes based on an agreed classification schema which is usually hierarchical. The data can be represented either as polygons or as a raster. It may also be found as attributes of a land parcel.

Possible sources of data
  • Classified Earth observation (EO) data, potentially as a Data Cube;
  • National datasets relating to environmental information and land parcels; and,
  • International organisations, Regional United Nations Centre, different levels of public authorities (in particular municipalities) and the private sector.

Existing Data Standards
Note: This is indicative. Other lists of standards exist and UN-GGIM will seek to work with thematic experts to develop a list of relevant data standards.
  • ISO 19144-1:2009 – Geographic Information Classification system – Part 1 Classification system structure (last reviewed in and confirmed in 2015);
  • ISO 19144-2:2012 - Part 2 - Land Cover Meta Language (LCML) (there are limitations on this standard);
  • ISO 19115:2003 Geographic information – Metadata; and,
  • INSPIRE data specification on Land Cover and on Land Use.