© Kent Mason

Global Development Potential

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 (Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota), we predicted where in the world is the greatest development potential of 13 sectors associated with 4 main categories:

Oakleaf JR, Kennedy CM, Baruch-Mordo S, West PC, Gerber JS, Johnson JA, Kiesecker J (2019). Mapping global development potential for renewable energy, fossil fuels, mining and agriculture sectors. Scientific Data 6, Article number: 101. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-019-0084-8


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.

Thirteen development potential indices (DPIs) across terrestrial lands. Dark green represents areas with very low potential, light green associated with low potential, yellow with moderate potential, and orange and dark orange considered high and very high development potential, respectively. Areas without values were considered unsuitable for development of the sector based on analysis.

© 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.

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

Where are the Risks?

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