GIS for a Sustainable World: Bringing the Power of Maps to the SDGs
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A recent conference brought together participants to discuss their experiences in using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in many domains, sectors, and countries.

Case studies revealed the power of geographic data for contributing to the achievement of the SDGs; for example, mapping has been used to enable collaboration among actors working on sustainable finance, as presented by the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem through its work to map sustainable finance actors in Geneva.

There are not many conferences during which participants have the opportunity to collect data and contribute to GIS mapping of a park, but at the ‘GIS for a Sustainable World’ conference, this was possible! This three-day conference, which was co-organized by the UN Institute for Training and Research’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNITAR-UNOSAT) and Esri, focused on the use of intelligent maps and their applications for fostering the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Hundreds of participants attended the event, which took place at Campus Biotech in Geneva, Switzerland. They brought together their experiences in using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in many domains, sectors, and countries. As a project management intern from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), I had the opportunity to attend the conference’s panel discussions as well as peer-to-peer sessions, to learn more about best practices and challenges related to the use of this technology.

GIS applications have been used in a large number of situations and locations. In one case discussed during the conference, the Lebanese Red Cross used GIS to help with emergency readiness and response. UNITAR-UNOSAT is supporting the humanitarian community in Syria with geospatial data. The UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) use of Esri storymaps, which combine interactive maps with narrative text, conveyed the extent of the Rohingya refugee emergency at a glance. The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining showcased the use of GIS and its application for efficient and safe demining operations, and the IUCN “Red List of Threatened Species” uses GIS to produce spatial mappings of species.

Many other concrete cases discussed during the conference revealed the power of geographic data for contributing to the achievement of the SDGs. This conference also offered a place for participants to discuss common challenges, such as data sharing, data integration and data privacy. For example, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) presented its work to build an open data infrastructure for city resilience, and highlighted the importance of open data as a key enabler of city disaster resilience.

The power of maps and the importance of data for decision-making was also discussed during a special event titled, ‘Cartographie du Futur.’ This event was organised with the Canton of Geneva and featured many actors from Geneva. Presenters demonstrated how mapping is essential for reaching informed decisions in both the private and public sectors, from real estate to efforts to improve the efficiency of transportations services. Mapping has also been used to enable collaboration among actors working on sustainable finance, as presented by the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem through its work to map sustainable finance actors in Geneva.

As mentioned at the opening, concrete applications of GIS were also on the agenda. Participants had the opportunity to help collect field data at the Jardin Botanique using an ArcGIS collector app, and managed to map approximately one-fifth of the botanical garden’s trees!

This conference offered a unique opportunity for participants to be immersed in the GIS world and to discover the variety and powerful uses of this technology, as they relate to sustainable development. Perhaps most importantly, participants learned how intelligent mapping offers a new way to look at maps, by offering the possibility to interact, create,add content and share it! For more information, check out other participants’ insights here: #GIS4SDGs.


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