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Anne Virnig

Strategic Advisor on Spatial Planning – United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Annie manages and provides scientific, technical, and communications expertise to a range of projects focused on conservation, local sustainable development, and spatial planning. She co-leads the development and implementation of UNDP’s work to map essential life support areas for nature, climate change, and sustainable development. Working in English and Spanish, Annie is responsible for liaising with a diverse team of scientists, policymakers, and implementing partners across her portfolio to facilitate delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. She has worked with the Global Programme on Nature for Development since 2015.

Previous experience and expertise

Annie has a background in ethnobotany, conservation science, and communications. She is inspired by connecting science and policy to develop holistic approaches for nature conservation and sustainable development. She holds a double B.A. in Biology & Local and Global Social Change from Macalester College and an M.Phil in Biology from the CUNY Graduate Center and The New York Botanical Garden. Her graduate work brought together phytochemistry, genetics, and ethnobotany to study community use and management of neotropical blueberries (queremes) in Colombia. Prior to her work at UNDP, she worked with organizations including the Berkana Institute, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the People and Plants Initiative, exploring the connections between traditional knowledge, scientific knowledge, and grassroots activism to create social change.

Recent work 

Mapping Essential Life Support Areas | Science-Policy Lead

Annie co-leads UNDP’s work to map essential life support areas (ELSAs), where actions to protect, manage, and restore nature can conserve critical biodiversity, mitigate climate change, and provide humans with essential ecosystem services. She coordinates the ELSA science team, and has played a critical role in the development of the project from a single pilot country to over a dozen use cases, with the potential to scale to 100 more. 

UN Biodiversity Lab | Co-Manager

Annie coordinates the UN Biodiversity Lab, a platform that brings together over 400 of the world’s best spatial datasets on nature, climate change, and sustainable development to enable policymakers and other stakeholders to use spatial data to take action for people and planet. 

NASA Forest Integrity Project & Life on Land Project | UNDP Coordinator

Annie coordinates UNDP’s engagement in two projects that bring together NASA, and UNDP in order to provide accessible, high-quality spatial data to national policymakers. The project team has worked together since 2016 to develop data on the ‘last of the best’ tropical forests, human pressure, and water provision as well as to validate this data with countries for use in their reports to the Convention on Biological Diversity and on Sustainable Development Goal 15. 

Equator Initiative | Case Study Manager

Annie led the development of the Equator Initiative Case Study Series from 2016 to 2020, working with a team of writers, editors, designers, and the UNDP Equator Prize winners. These case studies profile local and Indigenous communities around the world who are advancing innovative, place-based sustainable development solutions.