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New approach to mapping environmental sensitivities

14 February 2020
Mesa Spatial Tool

Photo: Prototype sensitivity atlas for Ghana

Human development is associated with a range of pressures and related impacts (e.g. habitat loss, pollution) on environmental assets. Environmental sensitivity atlases are spatial tools that display relative sensitivity of areas to a given pressure. They are used by decision-makers to aid in the understanding of where sensitive assets are located and for the planning and management of industrial operations to minimise environmental and social risk.

Atlases can support the screening of areas for development, feed into the Environmental Impact Assessment process, or inform the emergency response plans designed for industrial incidents. There have been a range of approaches developed for different geographies and sectors, addressing a variety of applications but with no one overarching approach.

MESA (Mapping Environmentally Sensitive Assets) is a standardised methodology that was developed following a review of multiple existing methods. It provides a step-by-step protocol for evaluating environmental sensitivity of assets, combined with an FME-based tool and QGIS for processing, aggregating and visualising data. A guidance document accompanies the tool to enable any interested individuals in using MESA to produce environmental sensitivity atlases.

MESA is intended for a broad audience, can be applied for a variety of uses (e.g. strategic planning, project management, and emergency response) and includes context-specific considerations to be made during the mapping process.  It has been primarily developed to support environmental management of the oil & gas sector, but it is equally applicable to other sectors.  

MESA has been trialled by environmental and planning authorities from seven countries (Ghana, Kenya, Lebanon, Mozambique, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda). During a technical workshop in Arusha (Tanzania) in September 2019, participants produced prototype sensitivity atlases that will be further developed over coming months and years.

MESA was developed under the Oil for Development (OfD) programme, in collaboration with the Norwegian Environment Agency and Norkart, and made possible with funding from NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation).