Abstract Development and environmental issues are commonly analysed by using administrative divisions. In this paper, instead, we analysed how the human population and various economic, social and environmental indicators are distributed across the north–south axis by using latitudinal approach. This was done because many of the factors forming the natural living conditions of human societies, such as climate, are largely depending on the distance to the equator. The analysis was done with the spatial resolution of five latitudinal degrees while the temporal scale of the study includes the last 50 years. We found that only less than 1/8 of the human population lives south of the equator while around 50% of the population dwell within the area between 20°N and 40°N, where also most of the world’s development and poverty related problems are located. Majority of the economic and social indicators are low on both sides of the equator, but go up with the distance from the equator. For environmental indicators, however, the pattern is more heterogenic and is often correlated with the population density. Most populated latitudes are the scarcest on water, and land in there has been taken to agricultural use more than in other parts of the globe. The latitudinal approach allowed us to see geography based development patterns that might not have been visible with more conventional methods such as cross-country analyses on development. The approach was developed substantially beyond the previous studies. Four development directions of using spatial data-based approaches in development studies were identified.