The role of geospatial in achieving national sustainability goals

Sharing new data and achieving interoperability hold exciting possibilities to support businesses and government to deliver ever more pressing sustainability goals

5 minute read
Sharing new data and achieving interoperability hold exciting possibilities to support businesses and government to deliver ever more pressing sustainability goals.

Why sustainability is top of the agenda

The stark realities of the climate crisis are becoming more and more apparent. With the continued retreat of the polar ice caps, increase in destructive forest fire activity around the globe and the collapse of the great barrier reef, the urgency of the ecological emergency is placing additional demands on governments, societies and our international systems.

As we head towards next year’s COP26 global climate-change conference, new ambitious national sustainability commitments have been established. Last week the UK government published their Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which puts the UK’s legally binding obligation to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the centre of its ambition. The UK plans to reduce emissions by 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2023 and 2032, aligning with COP26’s main decarbonising objectives. To hit the 2015 Paris Agreement’s aim to mitigate global warming, the UK government has now highlighted the importance of collectively reaching net zero carbon emissions before 2050; the speed at which our climate is changing demands an urgent global solution.

From GeoComm’s discussions last week on the One Planet Living® principle founded by Pooran Desai to the work of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team in mapping human vulnerability to natural disasters, how geospatial data can support this agenda - and our own sustainability goals - is at the front of our minds.

Manchester tram
Transport is the UK’s biggest contributor to carbon emissions - so it is a priority to prepare for electric and self-driving vehicles, upgrade existing public transport, and make it easier and safer to walk or cycle.

The role of geospatial in response to these aims

Geospatial data unlocks a world of data analysis and interconnectivity that is an enabler for plans to achieve these sustainable goals. Location data can especially support the COP26 decarbonising ambitions by streamlining public services to be more energy efficient.

The five critical target areas outlined by the UK Government align with trends and missions found in the UK Geospatial Strategy. The targets are evident in the Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN and on a global basis, they are supported by the Integrated Geospatial Information Framework developed and adopted by the UN’s Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM).

  • Clean energy - Transitioning towards cleaner and more sustainable energy eg. water and air energy. Location data can direct new energy with addressing and land use data.
  • Clean transport – As the UK’s biggest contributor to carbon emissions, it is a priority to prepare the UK infrastructure for electric and self-driving vehicles, upgrade existing public transport, and make it easier and safer to walk or cycle.
  • Nature-based solutions – Developing more efficient use of bio-crops and safeguarding natural resources by mapping areas for habitat restoration and protecting biodiversity.
  • Adaptation and resilience – Mapping disaster mitigation and response, as well as developing geospatial skills for a range of industries.
  • Finance – Helping industries to minimise the production of waste and save time and costs for more sustainable growth, efficient supply chains and risk management.

How is Ordnance Survey supporting these objectives?

Ordnance Survey provides trusted and authoritative location data that is essential in supporting the government’s sustainability aims and more broadly underpinning 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

A selection of OS projects supporting sustainable development:

  • Under the PSGA, OS MasterMap offers expanded access to quality geospatial data for both public and private sectors and additional support for developers and start-ups to encourage innovation in sustainability.

  • OS MasterMap Greenspace dataset layer identifies areas of urban open space to meet demand for ground-source heat energy.
  • Supplying government delivery agencies, such as DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the MET Office, with data to deliver projects to improve air quality, waste management and prepare for natural disasters.

  • OS is building solutions to map utility assets to help build and maintain the infrastructure needed to support our changing energy use.

  • Offering nations effective land administration with a national basemap helps to explicitly achieve 5 of the 17 SDGs by supporting responsible investment, planning and taxation.
  • Through Geovation and with support of Omidyar, OS is delivering the Benchmark Initiative, creating guidance around the ethical and responsible use of location data.


Our industry has a real opportunity and collective responsibility to inform our decisions and deliver solutions to enable our sustainable future.

With the UK government accelerating plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible, maximising the value of quality location data and building trusted interoperability systems to connect data sets has never been more important. Geospatial data can help to develop a change in mindset and behaviour by offering sustainable alternatives.

It gives us the ability to analyse the world around us and make informed decisions to deliver against sustainability objectives. With this capability also comes a duty to use the data responsibly and provide assurance in the protection of both the citizen and the environment and this must be a part of the worldwide sustainability conversation.

Trusted and high-quality geospatial information, datasets, analyses and applications have the power to drive forward this sustainable revolution and positively impact our economies, societies and the natural world.

How can we continue to work together to tackle these common global challenges?

Headshot of David Henderson
By David Henderson

Chief Geospatial Officer