Geographic Information Systems
in Sustainable Development

prepared by the Geographic Information Systems Group
Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN)
FAO Research, Extension and Training Division


 World Soil Resources: For further information or to download the dataset, follow this link
Most sustainable development decisions are inherently multidisciplinary or cross-sectoral, because they require trade-offs between conflicting goals of different sectors. However, most natural resource development agencies are single-sector oriented. Geographic Information System (GIS) technology can help establish cross-sectoral communication - by providing not only very powerful tools for storage and analysis of multisectoral spatial and statistical data, but also by integrating databases of different sectors in the same format, structure and map projection in the GIS system.

The importance of this integrated approach to development and management of natural resources have been emphasised in many international fora on sustainable development. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) devoted Chapter 10 of its Agenda 21 to this topic, noting that:

"...Expanding human requirements and economic activities are placing ever increasing pressures on land resources, creating competition and conflicts and resulting in suboptimal use of both land and land resources. If, in the future, human requirements are to be met in a sustainable manner, it is now essential to resolve these conflicts and move towards more effective and efficient use of land and its natural resources. Integrated physical and landuse planning and management is an eminently practical way to achieve this. By examining all uses of land in an integrated manner, it makes it possible to minimise conflicts, to make the most efficient tradeoffs and to link social and economic development with environmental protection and enhancement, thus helping to achieve the objectives of sustainable development. The essence of the integrated approach finds expression in the coordination of the sectoral planning and management activities concerned with the various aspects of land use and land resources."

This Special provides a general introduction to Geographic Information System technology, explores some of its most common applications (including FAO's use of GIS), and supplies a page of links to digital datasets available worldwide.

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