© Kent Mason

Global Development Threats

Development sectors driving future land use change

Global economic output is expected to double in the next two decades, and trillions of development dollars will be invested in new energy, mining, and infrastructure projects around the world. These investments can help fuel economic growth, improve quality of life, and lift people out of poverty, but they also can bring large environmental and social impacts, especially when sited in pristine natural areas. As each project is developed, the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts contribute to a footprint that reduces the capacity of landscapes and watersheds to support people and nature. With the hopes to direct the global conservation priorities of The Nature Conservancy and partners (University of Minnesota and McGill University), we predicted where in the world is the greatest development potential of 9 sectors associated with 5 main categories:

Oakleaf JR, Kennedy CM, Baruch-Mordo S, West PC, Gerber JS, Jarvis L, Kiesecker J (2015) A World at Risk: Aggregating Development Trends to Forecast Global Habitat Conversion. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0138334. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0138334

Agricultural Expansion

Currently the largest driver of natural lands conversion.

Fossil Fuels

80% of the worlds energy will still be supplied by fossil fuels in 2035.


World demand for minerals is expected to rise by 60% by 2050.


Energy from renewable sources is project to quadruple by 2035.

Urban Expansion

Expected to triple by 2030 globally with an estimated 1.8 million km2.

© Joe Kiesecker

World at Risk

Identifying future lands threatened by development

In the future, high threat to habitat conversion from the expansion of new development will be dispersed across the globe, which has the potential to impact 20% of the Earth’s remaining natural lands. Our results suggest that the risk of conversion follows existing patterns of development with the three most converted regions, Central America, Europe and South Asia, remaining the most converted after accounting for future development risk. Africa and South America, which are currently among the least converted regions, have the highest amount of land under potential development risk (8.18 and 4.32 million km2 for Africa and South America, respectively); if developed, this will result in double the converted lands for South America and triple the converted lands for Africa.  Lands converted from their natural state could impact biodiversity and a variety of ecosystem services these lands provide, for example carbon storage and clean water, and may impact indigenous people who rely on nature to survive.

Where are the Risks?

Lands highlighted in red identify natural lands at risk to future conversion based on Oakleaf et al., 2015 analysis.