Atlas of the Human Planet 2016.
19 October 2016
A detailed assessment of the affect people have on the planet has been made using Earth observations and the findings have just been released. GEO Secretariat Director, Barbara Ryan gives her view on this groundbreaking report, published to coincide with Habitat III where the world comes together to assess conditions, trends and development opportunities in urban areas.
“The world in 2016 is a very different place than it was when the first UN Habitat Conference was held in the 1970s, when the first data of the Global Human Settlement Layer baseline was being developed. This first edition of the Human Planet Atlas shows us just how much has changed since that time. In the mid-70s, the world’s population was 4.1 million and was mostly rural. Today, almost 4 million people are urbanites – more than half of humanity.
“Earth science has also changed since the ‘70s – the spatial resolution of satellite imagery has increased from around 80 meters to less than 1 meter, spatial and temporal coverages have increased, we have better analysis tools, we can process massive volumes of high-resolution verified data, share measurement techniques and collaborate at a global scale.
“The Human Planet Atlas provides the most comprehensive view of urbanization dynamics ever presented. Detailed, measurable and globally consistent descriptions of human habitat are now possible making it easier to understand the extent to which humans have changed our world, and also how that change affects us.
“This first Human Planet Atlas represents a body of knowledge derived from the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL), a reference of reliable, reproducible information on human habitations, from village to mega-cities. The baseline data, spatial metrics and indicators related to population and settlements, developed in the frame of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Human Planet initiative, provide users with a baseline data platform for monitoring and analysis.
“The GHSL resource is a remarkable example of the potential of public data to support global, national and local analyses of human settlements and in particular, support policy and decision making. This application of Earth observations is essential for evidence-based modeling of human and physical exposure to environmental contamination and degradation, as monitored through multilateral environmental agreements; disasters as encompassed by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction; the impact of human activities on ecosystems, as measured by the Convention on Biodiversity and human access to resources, assessed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The availability of high resolution, accurate and open data has enabled a Data Revolution and the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, but the current picture of the human footprint is incomplete. The majority of small and medium‐sized settlements, critical for accounting and understanding all the environmental impacts on all people, remain largely invisible.
“By the time of UN Habitat IV, two decades from now, I hope that even more data will be free and open, and that the GHSL framework will continue to enable us to address the challenges faced by society. For now, we are at last able to agree on the state of our environment, in order to make intelligent, evidenced-based decisions for sustainable and equitable solutions that recognize the linkages between behaviour and impact on the planet, for the benefit of all humankind.”
The Atlas of the Human Planet 2016 is available here: