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February 2001

LCCS: Land cover classification system

John Latham

Officer, Environment and Natural Resources Service

Despite the high demand of natural resources information, many existing maps/digital databases are not developed to really meet multi-user requirements. One of the basic causes (generally underestimated) of such situation is the type of classification/legend used to describe basic information such as land cover and/or land use: many of these classifications/legends are generally not comparable one to another and very often single project oriented. Although there are many classification systems in existence throughout the world, there is no single internationally accepted land cover classification system.

Analysis of the physical and human resources information in many countries has revealed the following difficulties:

  • basic information on environment and natural resources are often limited in extent;
  • the quality of existing information is extremely variable and the way it is presented is often not optimal to support decision-making;
  • topographical maps and thematic maps, when available, are heterogeneous;
  • the information provided by the various institutions are often duplicated or inconsistent within the same country;
  • it is extremely difficult to integrate or compare the existing information made available by departments and organizations.

Decision-makers at local, national, sub-regional, public or non-governmental levels are now realizing the necessity to have access to reliable geo-referenced information systems on natural resources. Technically, the production and the rational and harmonized use of these information systems should necessarily go through the establishment of a geo-referenced and standardized thematic base which meets the common needs of natural resources information producers and users.

The FAO/UNEP Land Cover Classification and its software program (developed and finalized) is a comprehensive standardized a-priori classification system designed to be able to meet specific use requirements, and created for mapping exercises, independent of the scale or means used to map; any identified land cover anywhere in the world can be readily accommodated. The proposed classification uses a set of well-defined independent diagnostic criteria that allow correlation with existing classifications and/or legends. Therefore, this system could serve as a basis for a reference system.

Land Cover Classification System (LCCS): Classification concepts and user manual
Di Gregorio, A., and L.J.M. Jansen. Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN) , GCP/RAF/287/ITA Africover - East Africa Project and Land and Plant Nutrition Management Service (AGLN). 179 pages, 28 figures, 3 tables. CD-ROM included. FAO, Rome, 2000.

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