United Nations System-Wide

First Meeting of the Earthwatch Inter-Agency Working Party

Geneva, 1-2 June 1994


1.  The Earthwatch Working Party was convened by UNEP at its office in Geneva on 1-2 June 1994, with representatives of agencies and organizations of the UN system in attendance (see Annex 1). The meeting was opened by the Deputy Assistant Executive Director, Earthwatch Co-ordination and Environmental Assessment, UNEP, who noted that the Inter-Agency Working Group on Earthwatch had last met in 1980, but there was now a desire to continue the dialogue and to agree on a renewed concept and mission for the UN system-wide Earthwatch.

2. The working party approved the provisional agenda (see Annex 2), and invited Mr. H. Croze of UNEP to continue to chair the meeting. It was agreed to work informally and by consensus.

3. After considerable discussion and review of draft texts, the following mission statement and terms of reference for the UN system-wide Earthwatch were adopted:

The mission of the UN system-wide Earthwatch is to coordinate, harmonize and integrate observing, assessment and reporting activities across the UN system in order to provide environmental and appropriate socio-economic information for national and international decision-making on sustainable development and for early warning of emerging problems requiring international action. This should include timely information on the pressures on, status of and trends in key global resources, variables and processes in both natural and human systems and on the response to problems in these areas.

4. The terms of reference of the UN system-wide Earthwatch should be to:

a) facilitate access to information on on-going and planned environmental activities, and to information held by each part of the system;

b) identify possibilities for collaboration and mutual reinforcement among agency observation and assessment programmes and reports, and with outside partners including governments, the scientific community, NGOs and the private sector;

c) promote and monitor capacity-building for data collection, assessment and reporting;

d) improve and obtain international agreement on the harmonization and quality control of data and the standardization of methodologies to ensure reliable and comparable information on the environment at the national and international levels;

e) facilitate the wider use of information and assessments from each partner beyond its own constituency in national and international decision-making processes;

f) coordinate joint reporting on broad interdisciplinary issues such as the global state of the environment and sustainable development;

g) identify priorities for international action;

h) establish joint procedures to identify the need for early warnings of emerging environmental problems and to bring such warnings to the attention of the international community;

i) share experience in applying new technologies and in increasing the impact of environmental and sustainable development information and reports;

j) assist in increasing support for observing, assessment, reporting and capacity-building activities across the whole UN system and its programme countries;

k) demonstrate the ability of the United Nations to organize coherent plans for activities responding to system-wide mandates such as Agenda 21.

5. One particular point of concern was the relationship between Earthwatch and the "Development Watch" proposed in Agenda 21. Many of those present felt that environmental information within the UN system should not be considered in isolation from human activities. The decision-making requirements for sustainable development required the integration of environmental, social and economic information, and it did not make sense to create two separate data collection and assessment programmes in the UN system which would then have to be linked for this purpose. Many agencies already collect both environmental and socio- economic information pertinent to sustainable development. There was a general preference, in the interests of efficiency and economy, for Earthwatch to be expanded to include the information requirements for assessment and reporting on sustainable development. It was agreed that this issue should be raised in the report to the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development, which should decide either on the establishment of a Development Watch with which Earthwatch could interact, or else agree on a broader mandate for Earthwatch.

6. After some discussion, it was agreed that there should be a single Task Manager's report on Chapter 40 of Agenda 21 to the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development, with DPCSD, Task Manager for Chapter 40, and UNEP as Task Manager for Earthwatch cooperating in the preparation of the report. As far as possible, the same material should also serve for the report by UNEP on Earthwatch and environmental monitoring requested by the UNEP Governing Council and General Assembly Resolution 48/192, although some additional material such as on financial requirements will be required for the latter report.

7. All agency participants reported on their environmental assessment activities/contributions to Earthwatch and many provided written materials summarizing them. These materials and the further information to be supplied will provide important inputs to the reports.

8. The working party reviewed and modified the plans proposed by UNEP for the preparation of the in-depth study of and report on Earthwatch and the Task Manager's report on Chapter 40. It agreed on the outline of the Task Manager's report (see Annex 3) and on the activities necessary to prepare it and the in-depth study by 1 December 1994. Agencies would submit their information according to the agreed format by 1 August for analysis by DPCSD and UNEP, who would prepare and circulate the draft report for comment. Further communications would be by e-mail/fax or bilaterally as needed. Another Earthwatch working party meeting would probably not be needed to finalize the reports, but could be convened in September-October if necessary. It was decided to postpone any advisory expert group meeting to review Earthwatch until after the GC and CSD meetings, when it might be useful in Earthwatch implementation.

9. In the submission of agency information for the reports, there will be an additional requirement for financial information for the report to the UNEP GC. To the extent possible, this should include both present expenditures and additional requirements to fill critical gaps, with whatever breakdown by region or by headings of the report is appropriate and feasible.

10. The working party discussed continuing mechanisms for inter-agency liaison and coordination to implement the system-wide Earthwatch. It agreed to continue the Earthwatch working party as a coordinating mechanism to meet at least once yearly, supplemented by electronic networking, with the Earthwatch Secretariat established by UNEP in Geneva as a central point of contact and liaison. The next meeting should be late in 1994 or early in 1995 to maintain momentum in the implementation of Earthwatch. Specific activities would be implemented by ad hoc interagency technical groups or existing structures within the system as appropriate.

11. Several specific actions were agreed in implementation of the terms of reference, in roughly the following priority order:

a) A strategy should be developed, as part of the in-depth study, to draw on the capacities of all the partners to distribute key Earthwatch outputs more widely and effectively to key target groups around the world.

b) UNEP should request ideas from all the partners as the basis for proposals for specific Earthwatch outputs to reach beyond agency constituencies, with those that receive broad support to be included in the reports.

c) Plans should be prepared to assemble a package of funding proposals for the implementation of Earthwatch, including support to the three Global Observing Systems, a certain number of sectoral assessments, harmonization and capacity building activities to fill critical gaps in coverage, etc. for presentation to a donor's meeting to be organized in late 1995 or early 1996.

d) Ad hoc groups of agency experts could be asked to make specific recommendation on the use of electronic networks for Earthwatch, both within the UN system and in its outreach, to:
i) facilitate access to information on on-going projects, activities and publications in each agency;
ii) provide access to selected data and information held in the UN system;
iii) deliver specific Earthwatch information products (bulletins and reports) to a wider range of users;
iv) link into the Sustainable Development Network;
v) review information systems for decision-making at the national level;
vi) propose approaches to improved marketing of information.

e) A technical working group should be established to identify priorities for harmonization, standardization and quality control of data, to compile a summary of existing activities in this area, and to recommend approaches to solve particular priority problems.

f) An ad hoc group should meet to review the problems of data access and the constraints to the free flow of data and information, and to propose common strategies to be pursued by all parts of the system in dealing with countries, the private sector, commercial information suppliers and users, and NGOs, with the aim of achieving the freest flow possible of information required for sustainable development and its accessibility to all who need it.

g) A government-nominated expert group should be convened at an appropriate time to review and comment on the proposals for Earthwatch.

12. The participants expressed satisfaction at the work accomplished so far to revitalize Earthwatch. While each partner was prepared to make its contribution, it was the responsibility of UNEP and the Earthwatch Secretariat to ensure that the momentum was maintained. The Task Managers' report and the report on Earthwatch to the UNEP Governing Council were only milestones in a continuing process. The preparation of a programme document on Earthwatch would also be useful to spell out in more detail the potential for cooperation.

13. The draft report of the meeting prepared by the secretariat was reviewed and adopted, and the meeting was closed at 11:00 on 2 June 1994.

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  Annex 1


LIST OF PARTICIPANTS [addresses omitted]


Mr L. Ludvigsen, Head, UNCHS (Habitat) Geneva Office

Mr Ulrich Hoffmann, Economic Affairs Officer, UNCTAD

Mr C.J. Lankester, Director, Sustainable Development Network

Ms Mary Pat Williams Silveira, Senior Officer, Division for Sustainable Development

Mr R. El-Heneidi, Director, UNFPA Liaison Office

Mr K. Watanabe, Senior Coordinator on Environmental Affairs

Mr Peter T. Gilruth, Technical Advisor in Environmental Information Systems

Mr Harvey Croze, Deputy Assistant Executive Director, Earthwatch Coordination and Environmental Assessment
Mr Arthur Dahl, Coordinator, UN System-wide Earthwatch
Mr C.C. Wallen, UNEP Consultant
Mr Ole Hebin, Director, GRID-Geneva
Mr R.G. Witt, Database Administrator, GRID-Geneva AGENCIES

Mr J.B. Tschirley, Senior Officer, Environment and Sustainable Development Coordinating Centre

Ms Merle Opelz, Head IAEA Office Geneva
Mr Pierre Danesi, Director IAEA Laboratories

Mr A. Metalnikov, IOC Second Vice-Chairman

Mr Robert Missoten, Programme Specialist, Division of Earth Sciences

Mr G. Ozolins, Director, Division of Operational Support in Environmental Health
Mr T. Kjellström, Director, Office of Global and Integrated Environmental Health

Mr John M. Miller, Chief Environment Division
Mr T. Spence, Director, Joint Planning Office, GCOS

  Annex 2


1. Opening of the meeting
2. Approval of the agenda and adoption of working procedures
3. Agreement on a renewed concept and mission for the UN system-wide Earthwatch
4. Plans for the preparation of the in-depth study of and report on Earthwatch
5. Reports on agency environmental assessment activities/contributions to Earthwatch
6. DPCSD Reporting on Chapter 40 of Agenda 21.
7. Mechanisms for inter-agency liaison and coordination
8. Stimulation of government participation and support
9. Other business
10. Adoption of the report of the meeting
11. Date, venue of next meeting, if required.
12. Closing of the meeting 

  Annex 3

Outline for Task Manager's Report (With Annotations)


1. IACSD Mandate
2. Earthwatch Mandates
3. Identification of user community and user needs
4. Identification of data types: spatial vs. non-spatial, electronic vs. non-electronic, etc.
5. Brief discussion of need for meta-information
6. Brief discussion of the scale of data (local, national, regional, etc.)

Data Management

1. Data Collection
a. How are data collected (by what means?)
b. From where are data collected (e.g., other UN System organizations, Governments, NGOs, private sources, etc.)
c. What data are collected. In your response, please categorize the data according to the chapters -- and, if possible, specific paragraphs -- of Agenda 21. Please also include georeferencing, where possible.
d. How is your data collection coordinated with other organizations or programmes?

2. Improving the availability of information
a. By what means is information disseminated?
b. To whom is the information disseminated? Please indicate both type of users and georeferencing, where possible.
c. How is your information dissemination coordinated with other organizations or programmes?
d. Do you currently use information brokers/filters to assist in meeting users' needs more directly? If yes, please elaborate on your experience. If not, please indicate if filters would be useful.
e. Meta-information: have you undertaken or do you plan to undertake inventories of environmental, resources and development data?
f. Please identify activities intended to promote the use of information.
g. Chapter 40 of Agenda 21 places particular emphasis on making information available in a form useful to decision-makers. Please comment on any activities you have which respond to this need.

Network Development and Support
a. What networks does your organization manage?
b. Is there potential for coordination among these networks?
c. With what other networks do you interact for information on sustainable development?
d. Are there areas in your work where networks are needed but do not yet exist?

Assessment and Analysis
a. In what areas do you now carry out assessment and analysis with respect to the chapters of Agenda 21?
b. In which of these areas are you cooperating with other organizations?
c. What techniques do you use in your assessments and analysis?

Early Warning Systems
a. Does your organization have an Early Warning System? In what areas, with respect to Agenda 21?

Methodology Development
Please discuss your involvement in the following areas:
a. Indicators
b. Standardization
c. Quality control
d. Harmonization
e. Modelling
f. Expert systems
g. Other methodological areas

Please discuss your capacity-building efforts with respect to the following:
a. Assistance to decision-makers regarding the use of information
b. Training in data collection, assessment and transformation
c. Capacity-building to relevant organizations to collect, store, organize, assess and use data in decision-making more effectively
d. Identification of gaps in existing data and efforts to fill these gaps

Recommendations for Coordination and Cooperation
In your response, please indicate gaps which you think need to be filled, as well as any suggestions for further action which would benefit from coordination and cooperation among the organizations of the UN system. In addition, we invite your comments on the following:
a. Earthwatch (and Development Watch?)
-- Internal focus
-- External focus
b. UNDP Coordination at the Resident Coordinator level
c. Other UN System cooperation
d. Cooperation with the private sector
e. Cooperation with NGOs
f. Other

a. List of data bases by type (re Agenda 21) and by geographic area
b. Bibliographies

NOTE: Additional requirement for the Earthwatch report to UNEP Governing Council:
What are the present funding levels (both internal and extra-budgetary) for the above activities (with breakdown by type of activity and/or region if possible)?

What additional funding is needed to fill critical gaps in Earthwatch (with specific activities, if not already included in recommendations)?

QUERY: What other organizations, outside of the United Nations System, should we contact for comparable information for the Report to the CSD?

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UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination, Geneva