GHSL data | GHSL tools | Harmonised global definition of cities and settlements

Open and free data and tools produced by the GHSL

Background information about the data and tools produced under the Global Human Settlement Layer framework.

Download links for the GHSL data and tools

Our website contains all the details about the methodologies and the information about the GHSL data and can be used to download the GHSL datasets.
Depending on the product, most of them can be either downloaded by a single file or by individual tiles.

Each tool included in the suite of the GHSL tools with user guides and support material can be downloaded for free from this website.

Feel free to contact the GHSL data support team for any necessity.

About our data

Over the past ten years, [the GHSL] has succeeded in transforming earth observation data into accepted statistics on global human built-up and population. This revolutionary project has turned an exploratory research approach into a solid methodology, culminating in March 2020 when the UN Statistical Commission, on the basis of the GHSL data, adopted a worldwide definition of cities and urban areas for the first time ever.

Stephen Quest - Director General, EC D.G. Joint Research Centre

The world’s population reached 7.7 billion at the end of 2019 (World Population Prospects 20193), and will likely increase to 8.5 billion by 2030, when the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comes to an end. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa are likely to account for more than half of this growth. Unfortunately, we have little understanding of the exact location and the conditions under which many people live, in particular the most vulnerable.

New open, inclusive and consistent data can be utilised to assess humanity’s impact on the planet, access to resources, and exposure to risk. These new data and methods, produced in the Global Human Settlement Layer framework, allow generating actionable information to support decision making by governments, organizations and individuals. The development of new methods and the production of accurate geospatial data on population and settlements is the first step for an effective monitoring of the 2030 Development Agenda and its thematic agreements (the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Agreement and the New Urban Agenda).

GHSL data

The Global Human Settlement Layer project of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre addresses these needs with spatially detailed information on population and settlements. The GHSL framework relies on three pillars that reflect recent developments in the scientific-technological landscape:

  1. A remarkable increase of free and open data including Earth Observation (e.g. Landsat, Copernicus Sentinel satellites) and volunteered geographic information (e.g. Open Street Map) at global scale;
  2. A boost in data technology including storage (e.g. online cloud storage), processing (e.g. high-performance computing) and methodological development (e.g. artificial intelligence and machine learning);
  3. The promotion of open collaboration, coordinated and sustained data sharing and infrastructure for better research, policy making, decisions and action by initiatives such as the Group on Earth Observations (GEO).

The GHSL are offered as open and free data. The data range goes from global coverage datasets (e.g. the GHSL Data Package 2019) to pan-European built-up layers (the European Settlement Map) to analytical data (e.g.: the Urban Centre Database).

The GHSL Data Package 2019 consists of multitemporal products, that offers an insight into the human presence in the past: 1975, 1990, 2000, and 2014:

GHSL tools suite

The GHSL framework includes also a growing number of tools that allow production of population grids, settlements classification and geospacial analysis. in compliance to GHSL models and workflows. The publication of methods in the scientific literature is necessary for openness and transparency, but often not sufficient for multilateral democratization of the information production and collective knowledge building. The suite of GHSL Tools allows users to extract features from EO data, apply the Degree of Urbanisation method and conduct GIS analytics also in the framework of the SDGs.

The GHSL produces a whole family of open and free tools to enact the “open input, open method, open output” paradigm of the Global Human Settlement Layer framework.
This supports the endeavours of the European Commission and the partner Organisations of the voluntary commitment to develop a harmonised global definition of cities and settlements launched at the Habitat III conference in 2016.

Some of the tools are built to specifically support the capacity enhancement activities currently carried out jointly by the European Commission Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy, the Directorate General Joint Research Centre and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme to apply the Degree of Urbanisation in support of global monitoring of SDGs and the New Urban Agenda urban targets as recommended by the 51st Session of the United Nations Statistical Commission.