Living Earth: Implementing national standardised land cover classification systems for Earth Observation in support of sustainable development

Christopher J. Owers*, Richard M. Lucas, Daniel Clewley, Carole Planque, Suvarna Punalekar, Belle Tissott, Sean M.T. Chua, Pete Bunting, Norman Mueller, Graciela Metternicht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (SciVal)
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Earth Observation (EO) has been recognised as a key data source for supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Advances in data availability and analytical capabilities have provided a wide range of users access to global coverage analysis-ready data (ARD). However, ARD does not provide the information required by national agencies tasked with coordinating the implementation of SDGs. Reliable, standardised, scalable mapping of land cover and its change over time and space facilitates informed decision making, providing cohesive methods for target setting and reporting of SDGs. The aim of this study was to implement a global framework for classifying land cover. The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Land Cover Classification System (FAO LCCS) provides a global land cover taxonomy suitable to comprehensively support SDG target setting and reporting. We present a fully implemented FAO LCCS optimised for EO data; Living Earth, an open-source software package that can be readily applied using existing national EO infrastructure and satellite data. We resolve several semantic challenges of LCCS for consistent EO implementation, including modifications to environmental descriptors, inter-dependency within the modular-hierarchical framework, and increased flexibility associated with limited data availability. To ensure easy adoption of Living Earth for SDG reporting, we identified key environmental descriptors to provide resource allocation recommendations for generating routinely retrieved input parameters. Living Earth provides an optimal platform for global adoption of EO4SDGs ensuring a transparent methodology that allows monitoring to be standardised for all countries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)368-390
Number of pages23
JournalBig Earth Data
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2021


  • environmental descriptors
  • Land cover
  • open data cube
  • sustainable development goals


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