SDG6 and beyond: international group maps out nature’s contribution to achieving sustainable development goal for water

A new paper from an interdisciplinary, multi sectoral group maps out the role of ecosystem services in meeting SDG6 globally.

This project is led by King’s Geography’s Mark Mulligan and colleagues Arnout van Soesbergen, David Hole, Thomas Brooks, Sophia Burke and Jon Hutton and demonstrates the important role sustainably managed ecosystems can play in achieving the SDGs and the value of accessible, data-driven, spatial mapping policy support tools such as Co$ting Nature.

Why is this research  needed?

Wild nature contributes to human livelihood and development in a multitude of ways. Various of the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework recognise nature’s contribution to sustainable development. Spatial mapping of nature’s contributions to the SDGs at the global scale has the potential to support the implementation of sustainable land management in priority areas for the conservation of ecosystem services that underpin nature’s contribution to people. This research used earth observation and spatial ecosystem service modelling, based on the Co$tingNature tool, to examine nature’s contribution to sustainable development targets under SDG 6 (Water).  We mapped out the global priority areas in which nature contributes most to the delivery of SDG 6 (water quality and quantity) for the most people.  We also highlighted synergies that sustainable management of these areas would have for other key SDGs, as well as trade-offs with the value of this land for agriculture. 

Nature’s contribution to SDG 6.1 (by 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all). Priority 30% of land, by country. Normalised 0 to 1. Values are highest where there are most beneficiaries locally or downstream.

What knowledge gaps has this research addressed?

Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals necessitates countries knowing which land areas provide the greatest quantity and quality of water to their citizens and to facilitate conservation of the natural infrastructure that sustains water quantity and quality derived from these areas and benefitting populations locally and downstream.  A globally consistent approach is required, especially as data for many countries is of variable accessibility, quality and currency. No such global level SDG 6 target level analyses are available to date.

Our global analysis, based on earth observation data provides a global prioritisation and a tool by which countries can run the analysis at national or subnational scale to feed into prioritisation activities for protected areas, ecosystem restoration or sustainable management outside of protected areas.  We use a wide range of remotely sensed and globally available datasets (for land cover, climate, soil, population, agriculture) alongside the existing and widely used spatial ecosystem services assessment tool, Co$tingNature.

Within the SDG 6 priority areas footprint, we assess the synergies and trade-offs provided by this land for SDG 15 (biodiversity) and SDG 13 (climate action) as well as SDG 2 (zero hunger).

How can the results be used?

Results highlight the co-benefits of sustainably managing nature’s contribution to SDG 6, such as the protection of forest cover (for SDG target 15.2), carbon storage as a contribution to the Paris climate agreement and nationally determined contributions (SDG 13) and biodiversity (for SDG target 15.5) but also trade-offs with the zero hunger goal (for SDG 2). Such analyses allow for better understanding of land management requirements for realising multiple SDGs through protection and restoration of green infrastructure. We provide a freely available tool, within the Co$tingNature platform, based on a variety of remotely sensed products, that can be used by SDG practitioners to carry out similar analyses and inform decision-making at national or sub-national levels, globally.  A global visualisation tool is available at and analyses can be run to define priority areas within a country in the free version of Co$tingNature 

Paper link:

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Blog authored by Mark Mulligan and colleagues