Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea
Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. | Credit: Vika Chartier on Unsplash

Natural Climate Solutions: How Spatial Data Can Help Prioritize Land-Based Climate Mitigation Investments

By Ioana Bouvier, Janet Nackoney, Christine Urbanowicz

USAID’s Sustainable Landscape Opportunity Analyses (SLOAs) provide an overview of options available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land conservation, management, and restoration. SLOAs are created through a collaborative process with USAID Missions to help develop programming that aims to reduce carbon emissions and/or increase carbon sequestration. They provide an assessment of land-based climate mitigation opportunities at the national and sub-national level, reflecting the biophysical potential of the land, as well as potential priorities and constraints on different mitigation pathways.

To accompany the SLOA for Papua New Guinea (PNG), USAID has developed a new Geospatial Companion that can assist USAID/PNG in leveraging its SLOA findings for spatial planning, as described below. The Geospatial Companion is a visual tool that brings the maps and data included in the SLOA, as well as additional datasets as applicable, to life as dynamic resources that can be updated to reflect changes in information or priorities. Its user-friendly maps and data can be manipulated and combined to help decision makers visualize and identify where investments in land-based climate mitigation can be most effective, as well as help decision makers integrate climate outcomes with other development priorities. This Geospatial Companion can also serve as a model for the development of other SLOA Geospatial Companions in assisting USAID Missions and partners in leveraging SLOA findings.

SLOA Geospatial Companion: Papua New Guinea

The island of New Guinea hosts the third largest expanse of tropical rainforests on the planet, among other geographically diverse terrestrial and aquatic environments. PNG comprises the eastern half of the island and is the largest Pacific Island country both by landmass and population. The country has pledged to completely end deforestation by the year 2030 to combat climate change. At the same time, it is undertaking large road and electricity infrastructure projects to spur economic growth and address widespread poverty. 

Understanding where to prioritize investments in PNG to most effectively make advancements in land-based climate mitigation efforts is complicated. There are a wide variety of land governance systems that exist for different types of land resources—from protected areas to agriculture concessions. Furthermore, among the country’s population of over 10 million people, more than 850 languages are spoken and there are more than 600 distinct tribes, each with their own traditional land governance rules.  


To effectively support both PNG’s economic development and the country’s international commitment to protect its forests, USAID’s Geospatial Companion integrates and analyzes land-based climate mitigation datasets together with USAID geographic and programming priorities. It features maps of datasets that are referenced in the PNG SLOA and also includes additional information, such as the forest cover loss “hotspots” shown in Figure 1. 

Looking at the SLOA data alongside complementary datasets allows users to visualize trade-offs or opportunities to develop programming that combines emissions reductions with other priority outcomes, such as biodiversity conservation (Figure 2) or infrastructure development. Dedicated climate change mitigation programs, as well as contributions from other development sector programs, are necessary for achieving USAID’s target of reducing, avoiding, or sequestering six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2030.

The Geospatial Companion data and maps are part of a larger package of support that can be provided to USAID Missions. The scenario map shown in Figure 2 is one example–iIt is based on a spatial model that considers multiple criteria to identify locations where the potential for both climate mitigation and conservation benefits are highest.


Figure 2: By combining and strategically weighting different datasets in a spatial model, locations are identified where the potential for both climate mitigation and conservation benefits is highest.
Figure 2: By combining and strategically weighting different datasets in a spatial model, locations are identified where the potential for both climate mitigation and conservation benefits is highest.
The Power of Geospatial Information

Understanding the geographic scope of where the most effective mitigation opportunities might exist under a variety of scenarios can be extremely complex and difficult to conceptualize. In addition, a number of important local factors that are critical to sustainable and resilient development programming could be overlooked without proper analysis. Maps and spatial data are powerful tools to visualize this kind of complex information in space and time.

The SLOA Geospatial Companion helps guide USAID decision-making and is designed to improve the efficacy of USAID programming related to land-based climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation on the ground. Its scenarios can help USAID Missions and operating units identify pathways for reducing emissions while also responding to other development challenges. In PNG, the Geospatial Companion shows at a glance where climate mitigation potential, biodiversity, and land rights intersect. In other regions, governance, health, livelihoods, population, agriculture, water stress, energy, infrastructure, or other types of data might be used to determine further opportunities for increased climate action.

Biodiversity Conservation, Carbon, Climate Change Integration, Climate Risk Management, Climate Strategy, Conflict and Governance, Deforestation and Commodity Production, Forest/Forestry, Land Use, Land Tenure, Mitigation, Natural Climate Solutions, Natural Resource Management
Ioana Bouvier headshot

Ioana Bouvier

Ioana Bouvier is a senior geospatial adviser in the Land and Urban Office at USAID, where she leads the development of fit-for-purpose, participatory approaches that empower communities and have the potential to improve efficiency and to reduce costs associated with land documentation. She focuses on building capacity to leverage data, geospatial analysis and sustainable technology to advance land and resources governance, support resilient cities and foster integrated development planning. She also uses geospatial analysis to generate and apply evidence for programs that support biodiversity conservation and sustainable landscapes, increase land transparency, identify rural-urban links, promote responsible land investments and safeguard vulnerable populations. Ioana has a master’s degree in Geographic Information Science for Development and Environment from Clark University, Worcester, MA.

Janet Nackoney

Janet Nackoney is a Land and Resource Governance Officer in USAID’s Land and Resource Governance Division, where she leads efforts to promote equitable and inclusive access to land and resource rights around the world. She has a background in geospatial data and analysis and works in the areas of land tenure, gender and social inclusion, climate change mitigation, tropical forest and carbon monitoring, ecological conservation, and food and livelihood security.

Christine Urbanowicz headshot

Christine Urbanowicz

Christine Urbanowicz is a Senior Geospatial Data Scientist in the USAID GeoCenter. She has a background in ecology and conservation biology and provides technical geospatial expertise to USAID Missions and Operating Units on topics like climate change, biodiversity, and health.

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