Safeguarding mountain vegetation: FAO receives 2021 GEO Sustainable Development Goals Award

The organization’s work on measuring and monitoring SDG indicator 15.4.2, the Mountain Green Cover Index (MGCI), awarded at GEO Week 2021

FAO/Robert Atanasovski

Pine forest in the mountains of North Macedonia

©FAO/Robert Atanasovski


Rome - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has won an award for developing new methods to monitor a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator on the amount of green vegetation covering the world’s mountains, using satellite images and modelling.

The GEO Sustainable Development Goals Award in the Category SDG Custodian Agency was announced in a virtual ceremony held during the GEO Week 2021 under an initiative led by the Group on Earth Observations for the Sustainable Development Goals.

FAO’s  methodology to simplify and automatize the measuring and monitoring of the Mountain Green Cover Index (Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 15.4.2), is based on Earth Observation (EO) products from satellite images and reliable interpretation models.

The technique was developed in 2019 and has been pilot-tested in several countries. It and can now be used to monitor the Mountain Green Cover Index anywhere in the world.

The methodology, endorsed by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators, was published in 2021 in the Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (SPRS) International Journal of Geo-Information.

The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 SDGs and 169 targets, supported by 231 indicators. As the custodian agency for 21 of the indicators, FAO has consistently supported the adoption of Earth observation data and geospatial information as an important monitoring instrument.

Monitoring the health of mountain ecosystems

Monitoring the MGCI over time can provide information on the extent of vegetation change and general health of the mountain ecosystem.

“Our approach not only allows us to generate indicator values for all countries and territories of the world using global datasets, but also encourages countries to use their national data for reporting on this important indicator,” says Anssi Pekkarinen, Senior Forestry Officer and team leader of FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment.

Part of FAO’s work towards more accurate monitoring of SDG progress, includes actively working with member countries and partner organizations to further improve the indicator’s methodology and support national reporting with capacity building tools and materials.

FAO has entered into agreements with several data providers on using Earth observation images to monitor agrifood systems and help countries to achieve the SDGs. The collaboration includes supporting the validation of high resolution global land cover maps, which are key for monitoring land based SDGs. FAO, is also building capacity in countries for producing their own land cover datasets.

“Though not a panacea for solving all the challenges related to the immense SDG data needs, Earth observation data can significantly contribute both directly and indirectly to improving the availability, quality, and consistency of SDG indicators,” Pietro Gennari, FAO’s Chief Statistician, said.

The findings of a report by FAO in September showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has set back progress towards the SDGs, undermining decades of development efforts. But the analysis,  "Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators 2021" also pointed to several areas in which progress has been made in recent years, including sustainable forest management.

About the Awards

The Earth Observations for the Sustainable Development Goals (GEO SDG) Awards  recognize the productivity, innovation, novelty, and exemplary efforts in the use of Earth observations to support sustainable development. Launched in 2019, this annual award is presented to those making an impact on the monitoring of the 17 global goals put forth by the United Nations.


FAO News and Media (+39) 06 570 53625 [email protected]

Francis Markus FAO News and Media (Rome) [email protected]