Aim To develop a novel global spatial framework for the integration and analysis of ecological and environmental data. Location The global land surface excluding Antarctica. Methods A broad set of climate-related variables were considered for inclusion in a quantitative model, which partitions geographic space into bioclimate regions. Statistical screening produced a subset of relevant bioclimate variables, which were further compacted into fewer independent dimensions using principal components analysis (PCA). An ISODATA clustering routine was then used to classify the principal components into relatively homogeneous environmental strata. The strata were aggregated into global environmental zones based on the attribute distances between strata to provide structure and support a consistent nomenclature. Results The global environmental stratification (GEnS) consists of 125 strata, which have been aggregated into 18 global environmental zones. The stratification has a 30 arcsec resolution (equivalent to 0.86 km2 at the equator). Aggregations of the strata were compared with nine existing global, continental and national bioclimate and ecosystem classifications using the Kappa statistic. Values range between 0.54 and 0.72, indicating good agreement in bioclimate and ecosystem patterns between existing maps and the GEnS. Main conclusions The GEnS provides a robust spatial analytical framework for the aggregation of local observations, identification of gaps in current monitoring efforts and systematic design of complementary and new monitoring and research. The dataset is available for non-commercial use through the GEO portal (http://www.geoportal.org).