Mapping Hope: Putting Nature at the Heart of Development Planning


  • Cornelia Miller-Granados, Director, PRIAS Laboratory, CeNAT
  • Rafael Monge, Director, National Center of GeoEnvironmental Information, Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica
  • Christina Supples, Senior Policy Advisor on Biodiversity, UNDP
  • Annie Virnig, Special Advisor on Spatial Planning, UNDP

Costa Rica is becoming more vulnerable to climate disruptions, and is considered a hot spot for natural disasters fueled by a changing climate. We are already experiencing substantial losses in the agriculture sector and infrastructure interruptions due to storm surges, flooding, and landslides. Poverty exacerbates exposure to these environmental hazards. During the COVID-19 pandemic, national poverty soared above 26 percent, and unemployment reached over 18 percent.

As we confront this new reality, we invite you to imagine with us another path, one where we transform our relationship with the planet. We invite you to co-create a new vision with us. From 4-6 October 2021, the virtual Nature for Life Hub, coinciding with the 76th United Nations General Assembly, is calling all of each and every us – activists, philanthropic leaders, businesses, scientists Heads of State, and Indigenous representatives – to make the transformational changes needed for a nature-positive future.

Day 1 of the Hub, on 4 October 2021, Transforming our Relationship with the Planet, offers powerful examples of initiatives that are beginning this transformational change at the local, global, and national levels. As a contribution, Costa Rica is participating to share how maps are helping us bring together people all over our county to put nature at the heart of sustainable development. We are working with local communities, the world’s leading scientists, and our government to, together, create a map of hope that charts where to act for nature, climate, and humankind.

Maps help us see where nature is thriving, where it is being destroyed, and where it is contributing to economic development. In Costa Rica, we are using maps to guide citizen-driven transitions towards a nature-positive development model. Gathering national experts for virtual consultation series helped us to make these decisions. We have worked together to identify a cohesive set of top national policy targets related to nature, climate, and sustainable development. Using spatial data to represent these ideas, we identified a series of essential life support areas – or ELSAs – that, if protected, restored or sustainably managed, can provide our citizens with the ecosystem services that are critical to mankind’s wellbeing, such as carbon storage, food, fresh water, water filtration, and disaster risk reduction. After perfecting this process through several iterations, and producing maps of hope for specific themes, we are now embedding the results into national policies for nature, climate, and development.

The ELSA maps are a key tool to help us build consensus on how and where to act, aligning policy makers around the common goal of safeguarding our planetary safety net. The results are helping us organize action to achieve a zero net emissions economy by 2050 under Costa Rica’s groundbreaking National Decarbonization Plan, in line with the objectives of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The ELSA maps are also aiming to guide the implementation of Costa Rica’s new Payments for Environmental Services program. This national initiative compensates landowners who protect, manage, or restore the essential ecosystems on their land. The maps will also support the management of Costa Rica’s Protected Area system and will address environmental, agricultural, and territorial planning challenges, including urban planning. [

During Day 1 of the Nature for Life Hub, hear from unique voices mapping hope in Cambodia, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and South Africa. You can also journey to a world where indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon can map the lands they have safeguarded for millennia on a mobile app, even without internet connectivity. Learn how a satellite skimming the sky can document deforestation, and alert community and government enforcement via their mobile phones when it occurs. See how UNDP’s UN Biodiversity Lab 2.0 enables access to over 400 maps and datasets on nature, climate change, and human development to generate insight for transformative policy and action. 

Each day is a chance to act. Join us at Day 1 of the Nature for Life Hub on 4 October to learn how we are using data to put nature at the heart of development planning. Get inspired to co-create a nature-positive future. Together, we can transform our relationship to the planet and shape the quality of our future together on Earth.