Geoinformation, monitoring and assessment Environment

Updated October 1998

Land cover and land use

The Problems of Current Land Cover Classifications: Development of a New Approach

by Louisa J.M. Jansen (FAO/AGLS) and Antonio Di Gregorio (GCP/RAF/287/ITA Africover East Africa Project, SDRN). From Land Cover and Land Use Information Systems for European Policy Needs: Proceedings, Eurostat Seminar, 21-23 January 1998, Luxembourg


Despite the high demand for environment and natural resources information, many existing maps and digital databases are not specifically developed to meet the various user requirements. One of the main causes, though generally underestimated, is the type of classification or legend used to describe basic information such as land cover and land use. Many of the existing classifications are generally not comparable with one another and are very often single project oriented or taking a sectoral approach. Though many classification systems exist throughout the world, there is no single internationally accepted land cover or land use classification system.

The FAO developed a new Land Cover Classification System (LCCS) to try to address this situation. This system is a comprehensive standardized a-priori classification system, designed to meet specific user requirements and to assure a high geographic accuracy. The classification takes a parametric approach and uses a set of well-defined independent diagnostic criteria, the so-called classifiers, that allow correlation with existing classifications and legends. Thus, this system could serve as a reference base for land cover. The developed methodology is applicable at any scale and comprehensive in the sense that any identified land cover anywhere in the world can be readily accommodated. Furthermore, the system can also be used to analyse the consistency of existing classifications. Because of the complexity of the classification and the need for standardization, a software program, of which the beta version has been developed, will assist the interpretation process. This program facilitates the standardization of the interpretation process as well as contributing to its homogeneity.

The next step will be to develop a reference base for land use, being based upon the arrangements, activities and inputs people undertake on the land. At present efforts are being made to develop a methodology to describe land use in a comprehensive and consistent way taking a multi-user oriented approach. This should result in a first approach for a land use classification.

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