|United Nations System-Wide
Working Party 4
Geneva, 2-3 April 1998
9 April 1998
Report by the secretariat on progress since the last meeting
Task Manager functions for Chapter 40
Indicators of environment and sustainable development
Information support to 1999 review of SIDS Programme of Action
Review of international scientific advisory processes
UN system review and input to the Global Environment Outlook 2
Review of the coherence of environmental assessments across the UN system
Electronic information networking between Earthwatch partners
Integrated Global Observing Strategy and Global Observing Systems
Future needs for Earthwatch coordination
Date and venue of the next meeting
Adoption of the report of the meeting
List of Participants
1. The fourth meeting of the inter-agency Earthwatch Working Party was opened by the Coordinator, UN System-wide Earthwatch, and Deputy Assistant Executive Director, UNEP, on Thursday, 2 April, at the UNEP Offices in the Geneva, Switzerland. The working party approved the provisional agenda (Annex 1), and designated Mr. A. Dahl, the Earthwatch Coordinator, to chair the meeting. It agreed to take decisions by consensus. The list of participants is given in Annex 2.
2. The Earthwatch Coordinator presented a short report on progress in Earthwatch since the last meeting (UNEP/EWWP4/2), highlighting both major accomplishments, and certain areas where progress could not be made for lack of resources. The revised version of the UN System-wide Earthwatch Programme Document was also available for review, reflecting the updated version of the Earthwatch World Wide Web site (http://www.unep.ch/earthw.html). Agencies were asked to check the accuracy of the information included. All Earthwatch Working Party documents and many other relevant materials are posted on the Web site, which is updated as often as necessary to keep it an effective working and reference tool for Earthwatch partners and other users. It was agreed that the programme document in printed form would be distributed on a limited, as needed basis.
3. One issue on which no progress had been made was the review of data collection and information needs on wastes across the UN system requested at the last Working Party. No UN organization has a central mandate to deal with waste issues, with activities fragmented and uncoordinated among a number of agencies, including three task managers for relevant chapters of Agenda 21. While wastes and their impact had not been seen as a major issue in the new 5-year work programme of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), this was identified as an important issue at the national and regional level in the recent meeting in New York on Regional Cooperation. It also stands out as a priority issue in the draft GEO-2 report. Waste issues are relevant both to environmental problems and to sustainable production and consumption, yet they do not seem to be receiving adequate focussed attention in the UN system. The Working Party recommended that the Inter-agency Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD) be requested to consider how to strengthen UN system coverage of waste issues.
4. Overall, the participants were satisfied with the performance of the Earthwatch Coordination function by UNEP, which delivered substantive results despite limited resources. The Division for Sustainable Development appreciated the support it received in many areas, particularly on indicators of sustainable development. The Global Observing Systems valued its timely contribution to the Integrated Global Observing Strategy and the strengthened relationship with the space agencies. The Working Party recommended to UNEP that the Earthwatch Coordination function be strengthened, since it is called upon to support UN system organizations in a variety of environmental activities, and it is clear that further resources could multiply its effectiveness considerably.
5. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) representative briefly reviewed the Multi-Year Programme of Work of the CSD (UNEP/EWWP4/3) in terms of the themes and subjects to be covered over the next five years. He outlined the main issues that are raised in Chapter 40, Information for Decision-Making, of Agenda 21. He noted two main issues for the current discussion: (1) How to ensure that issues of information availability and data collection get incorporated as cross sectoral issues into the annual discussions of the CSD on the sectoral and economic themes under review by the Commission, and (2) How should the UN agencies in general, and the Earthwatch Working Party in particular, plan for reporting on and organizing for the CSD discussion of Chapter 40 in its session in 2001. It was noted that with the most recent intersessional meeting of the CSD, one working group gave a prominent place to information, while there are only scattered references in the report of the other working group.
6. He highlighted in particular the progress that has been achieved in Chapter 40 implementation with respect to the development of indicators of sustainable development and the promotion of their global use. Progress on the CSD Indicator Programme is discussed more fully below.
7. While many databases have been established throughout the UN system and by various outside groups and organizations, more work is needed to inventory these databases so as to make them more widely known and accessible. UNEP had been working on a Meta-data directory for the environment which would provide reference data about the content and location of such data and information holdings, but the status of that effort is in doubt due to dwindling financial and staff resources in UNEP. It is an area of Chapter 40 that needs additional attention and follow-up along with the issue of new techniques of data collection.
8. It was also noted that work had started on the use of common and core data sets throughout the UN system. A Core Data Working Group for Integrated Environment Assessment/Global Environment Outlook was jointly organized by UNEP and DPCSD in January 1996 in New York. The Group sought to identify data gaps as well as agree on specific existing data sets for use in the Global Environment Outlook. It was agreed that the World Bank would follow-up with a concrete proposal for a pilot phase of core data set preparation. Some proposals were developed within the Bank for funding, but were not entirely agreeable to Bank staff. Subsequently, the entire effort floundered.
9. As one of the activities to improve methods of data assessment and analysis, a variety of new international and national data centres have been established throughout the world. However, much additional work is required to identify such centres and to ensure better networking among them. More effort is need at the national level to promote the integration of information activities, while at the international level considerable activity was noted in promoting greater environment assessment activities, some of which were discussed under Item 9 of the Agenda.
10. While there will be a "Day of Indigenous People" during the year 2000 session of the CSD, little progress has been made under Chapter 40 in strengthening the capacity for traditional information and more attention needs to be given to this topic before the overall review of the Chapter in 2001.
11. Under the means of implementation, it was noted that several clearing houses and other information mechanisms have been established to promote the transfer of environmentally sound technologies, including information technology. A notable example of such an initiative is UNEPís International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC) in Osaka, Japan as well as cleaner production centres in various countries of the world. It was observed that information technology, in general, tends to get transferred more rapidly than many others kinds of technology, although there are still great disparities between developed and developing countries with respect to the speed with which such technologies get taken up.
12. As called for by Agenda 21, in Chapter 40, efforts were initiated by UNDP to establish a Development Watch mechanism which would do for development issues what Earthwatch does for the environment. UNDP in cooperation with DPCSD held two meetings on Development Watch and a joint letter by UNEP, UNDP and DPCSD senior officials was sent to selected UNDP Resident Coordinators regarding their possible participation in the Development Watch initiative. There is no record of further action since early 1996.
13. With regard to improving information availability, Chapter 40 calls for activities related to production of information for decision-making, establishment of information standards, development of documentation, strengthening electronic networking capabilities and utilizing commercial information sources, all of which have seen varying degrees of activity.
14. In the subsequent discussion, several participants of the Working Party felt that future inputs to preparations for CSD sessions on oceans, land and climate (energy) issues could benefit if representatives of the Global Observing Systems were more closely involved, where appropriate, in the respective UN inter-agency coordinating groups. One participant felt however that these Global Observing Systems can be adequately represented through their corresponding parent bodies.
15. Incorporation of the information component and related issues into the forthcoming CSD reports may depend very much on the action of the respective Task Managers for the various topics and the effectiveness of their cooperation with interested agencies. In this context, it was suggested that a meeting of Task Managers organized by the CSD Secretariat might be a useful and economical way to ensure consideration of the information dimension, as well as related cross-cutting dimensions.
16. To reactivate Development Watch and to further work on Common Core Data sets, it was suggested that these topics could be made items of discussion at the next session of the IACSD or could be the subject of correspondence between the senior officials of the respective organizations.
17. Several participants felt that there is still ample time to prepare for the 2001 review of Chapter 40. It was proposed, however that the guidelines which had been used for the initial report on Chapter 40, could be updated and made available to the agencies as a starting point for considering their possible inputs to the 2001 review process. It was suggested that, if the agencies updated their information periodically throughout the intervening period, it would save considerable time and effort when the time came to assemble the report of Chapter 40 progress in 2001.
18. The DESA representative drew attention to the background paper that had been provided on the current status of the CSD Work Programme on Indicators of Sustainable Development and focused his comments on Phase III of the Work Programme. He noted that the main issues during phase III will include: (1) completion of national testing (2) enhancing data availability at the national level, (3) information exchange and capacity building, (4) further development of indicators and methodology sheets, particularly those related to sectoral indicators and those pending for the completion of methodology sheets, (5) linkages and aggregation, (6) evaluation and assessment of the work completed.
19. Under these headings, he gave particular attention to: (1) technical analysis of annual substantive country reports from the testing countries, (2) advisory services to assist a limited number of testing countries, (3) completion of nine pending methodology sheets, (4) revision of the indicators and methodology sheets based on national testing results, (5) compilation of a matrix of current initiatives on linkages and aggregation, and (6) a second round of regional workshops to assess results of the testing programme.
20. A brief review was also made of the work recently completed on a core list of indicators for sustainable consumption and production patterns, part of the ongoing work on Chapter 4 of Agenda 21. The results of the recent Expert Group meeting held in New York on this subject were discussed. It was noted that indicators from this core list might replace or be included with the current list of consumption and production indicators contained in the overall CSD list. Methodology sheets need to be prepared for the consumption and production indicators and agencies were invited to help in this process. It is anticipated that several countries would agree to take up the testing of the consumption and production indicators in their ongoing testing programme.
21. Based on a detailed technical questionnaire that testing countries are requested to submit on an annual basis, DESA is developing a database that will contain specific information on each indicator, including results achieved and problems encountered in its use at the national level. The information gleaned from these reports would be made available to the lead agencies that prepared the corresponding methodology sheets. They would be requested to evaluate the information received and make an assessment of what, if any elements should be modified or updated in the methodology proposed for that indicator. Based on this assessment and revision process, and after appropriate consultations with interested parties, DESA would revise the list of indicators during the course of 2000 for its eventual presentation to the CSD in 2001 when it undertakes its overall review of Chapter 40.
22. Efforts are being made to track the work being done on each of the CSD indicators as a means to help identify linkages among the indicators and opportunities for aggregation. A matrix is being suggested which will help to plot for each indicator what work is being done and by whom at the national, regional and global level. DESA will call upon organizations both within and outside the UN, to cooperate and provide information to be able to complete this matrix and make it available over the DESA Indicators web site. This matrix should help to promote cooperation among organizations working on the same set of indicators.
23. In the discussion that followed, members of the Working Party welcomed the report on the progress achieved, but urged caution in revising the methodology sheets, emphasizing that the lead organizations should be brought into the process at an early stage so that they would play an active role in assessing the information received from the testing countries and deciding whether revisions of the methodology sheets would be required. The DESA representative said, in fact, that it is the intention to involve the lead agencies at all stages of the revision process and they would try to make information available as it comes in. In that context all information can now be found on the DESA Indicators Web site. Moreover, it would be important to also be aware of the work agencies have done on other sectoral indicators and whether there might be new or better indicators that could be incorporated into the CSD list.
24. For the 1999 General Assembly review of the SIDS Programme of Action, improved information on the status and trends in the island environments will be needed to make a valid assessment of progress achieved to date. The issue presented was how Earthwatch and its cooperating partners could make the most effective contribution to the planned review. In this context, it would be important for the DESA SIDS Unit to enhance its networking efforts with its agency partners, and to develop its web site as a source of information for all interested agencies, linked to sources of island information in other agencies such as the UNEP Island Directory and other island documentation. Participants felt it would be important to promote close cooperation, in particular, with the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, if this is not already being done. Issues of waste management could be addressed in cooperation with the Basel Convention.
25. The background document prepared by UNEP in support of the review of Chapter 35, "Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development" was distributed as a working paper (UNEP/EWWP4/4). The report had been prepared by UNEP with limited time and resources, in order to raise important questions and to encourage further action in this area. The meeting considered its implications for the Convention Secretariats, assessment processes and other activities that utilize scientific advisory processes.
26. On the issue of capacity building for international scientific advisory bodies, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) had found its review process for national communications, which involved reviewers from developing countries, had help to build the capacity of those countries. The Basel Convention Technical Working Group had, after some time, been able to achieve balanced participation by experts from both developed and developing countries. This working group was keeping up with a fast-moving field and helping the Conference of the Parties to set its agenda.
27. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) noted that it had four scientific committees not mentioned in the report, each with a representative and alternate from each of its six regions, approved by the COP but serving in their individual expert capacities. These committees met annually, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could be present. They had a major influence on the convention processes.
28. The report noted the concern about possible overlap between scientific advisory bodies. It was agreed that there were problems of potential duplication, and even of the same people active in the advisory mechanisms of different conventions, sometimes at cross-purposes. Further coordination was needed in areas where broad mandates overlapped.
29. The Working Party found the report and the approach to scientific advisory processes very useful but far from complete. There were many additional advisory processes within the specialized agencies, in NGOs like the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and elsewhere. It was important not only to describe the different advisory mechanisms, but to show the synergies between them. The partners in Earthwatch were ready to contribute more information on these processes as needed. It was noted that well-established UN institutions have accumulated a substantial body of expert knowledge, while for some newer bodies and convention secretariats, each activity by their scientific and technical advisory processes broke new ground and established world standards and precedents. The role of science in decision-making in the UN was an important topic now attracting increasing attention. The Working Party recommended that the report be completed and sharpened with conclusions and recommendations, and encouraged UNEP, UNESCO and any others who were interested to continue work along these lines.
30. The first draft of the second biennial Global Environment Outlook report was distributed electronically to most Earthwatch focal points on 20 March 1998, and was also available in hard copy for an initial review at the meeting. A working paper on this subject was also available (UNEP/EWWP4/5). Participants considered how to strengthen UN system participation in the GEO process, and in particular the role they wished to play in the review and finalization of the GEO-2 report by the end of 1998.
31. The general response was very supportive. It was noted that the second GEO report should not just be an update of the first, but should be a new document with real impact, like the first. Some found that the new report was becoming too long, and would not be read by policy-makers, or even their advisers. It would be desirable to try for a shorter and more synthetic document. An executive summary and electronic version on the Web would help to make the report more accessible. There was need to review the language used in some parts of the report to ensure that it is appropriate to the intended meaning.
32. Agencies appreciated the opportunity to review the draft and to make inputs early enough to have a real influence. There was some concern that the document was so large that it would be difficult to arrange for its review by many experts, each of whom could contribute to one theme or issue running through the document. It was suggested that in the future, if each paragraph was tagged with keywords and the manuscript could be sorted on that basis, then reviewers could be sent only the text of particular interest to them and the review process would be more manageable. Such key words would also facilitate the use of the GEO report, particularly for those searching it electronically or on the Web.
33. WHO noted that the coverage of environmental health issues in the draft GEO report was not adequate, given the many threats to human health and well-being from environmental problems in the years ahead. The recent WHO report on Health and Environment in Sustainable Development would be a good source for some more material for the GEO report. Another source for additional materials on the water issue would be the extensive background papers prepared for the Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World.
34. The section on multilateral environmental agreements was a significant addition. However, the report should focus less on compliance in its narrow legal sense, and more on implementation and progress towards goals. Coverage of the Basel Convention could also be strengthened in the draft.
35. There was considerable discussion of additional elements that could be included in the forward-looking sections. There is the world-wide trend to urbanization, where people will increasingly live in built environments, with different environmental and social priorities. A growing number of megacities are going to bring substantial modifications to human life and the environment. Even remote areas are increasingly impacted by various human influences. Bringing these trends together in the report would also reflect the growing convergence between UNEP and Habitat in the UN system. Questions of transport and energy, as they relate to the use and availability of resources, will be critical in the next half century and could change dramatically. Waste issues will be increasingly important, as will alternative technologies such as wave energy, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and ocean farming using nutrient pumps.
36. There is nothing in the present draft about the serious issue of data availability and adequacy. Reports like GEO-2 must be grounded as far as possible in reliable, internationally comparable data and information. The increasing environmental problems and responses documented in GEO create a growing need to measure environmental changes in an integrated way across national boundaries. The emergence of the Global Observing Systems is responding to this need, and the review of scientific advisory processes has raised many of the key issues. This work could be drawn on in preparing a discussion of data issues for the GEO-2 report.
37. There are an increasing number of assessments and reporting processes relevant to the environment being undertaken by parts of the UN system, under international conventions, by regional bodies and by non-governmental organizations (UNEP/EWWP4/6). There are some problems of duplication, or at least apparent duplication, between different assessment processes, such as over 70 assessments of the synergies between multilateral environmental agreements. While it may be difficult to coordinate all these assessments in and outside of the UN system, Earthwatch could usefully draw attention to significant gaps in assessment processes. A good bibliography of major reference works would be helpful, including the most important global and regional assessments, but the criteria for inclusion, in terms of geographic scope, topical coverage, authorship and reliability, needed to be defined clearly to keep the task manageable. Some of the most useful assessments are restricted in their distribution. The Working Party recommended that Earthwatch Coordination continue to develop such bibliographic listings as resources allow, without detracting from its other priorities, perhaps by developing procedures for users to submit suggested additions directly over the Web.
38. The Working Party had an active and informative exchange of views regarding the present status of electronic information networking among UN system organizations. The Earthwatch Coordinator provide an overview of the subject pointing to the considerable potential for increased interaction and coherence among the various agency World Wide Web sites (UNEP/EWWP4/7). Most of the Earthwatch partners have their own Web sites and other means of electronic communication. However all are faced with rapidly evolving needs and demands on their services, often decreasing resources, and in some cases outdated technology. The challenge is to take a strategic approach to the development of the Internet as an information source and working tool, to respond more effectively to user needs, and to make more systematic links among the electronic networking efforts of the UN agencies. It was suggested that Earthwatch establish a list server for all the system-wide Earthwatch focal points to facilitate exchange of information across the UN system.
39. The recent experience of Earthwatch Coordination in compiling the report on scientific advisory processes had shown how variable the information on organizations was across the system Web sites. Some provided very complete information on their structure, functions, terms of reference and activities; others made little or no information available even on these basic topics. Some standardization in this area would be desirable. Most sites still emphasized organizational information, and served essentially a public relations function. The Internet could improve connectivity within the UN system, but most sites still concentrated on their own agency, and made little effort to link information between organizations. Many agencies are using their Web sites as a speedy and effective means of document distribution, but there was general agreement that sites should be a working tool for knowledge management, learning and interaction, promoting novel and innovative means of communication with the interested user groups rather than being used as a kind of static bulletin board for the posting of documents and announcements. From the Earthwatch perspective, there was a need to put much more substantive environmental information on the Web. The potential of the new medium was still far from being realized.
40. Organizations are learning how to make better use of the Web, and a sharing of this experience across the UN system would be desirable. It was noted that the Information Systems Coordination Committee already provides a system-wide mechanism to discuss issues of hardware, software and common standards, and that the role of Earthwatch was more oriented towards issues of content and substance. The two mechanisms were complementary and cooperated closely. One problem was instability in Web addresses and subaddresses within sites, making links go out-of-date quickly. When DPCSD became DESA and modified its Web pages accordingly, all the existing Web linkages from other sites were affected. Changing them was a slow and still incomplete process discouraging user access. With the rapid changes taking place as Web sites are developed, the Working Party recommended that there be a greater effort to announce new sites, major changes and upgrades, and alterations in URL addresses that would require revisions in links between sites.
41. The development and maintenance of an effective Web presence does require a significant investment of organizational resources, a fact not always appreciated by senior management. It requires periodic updating of the hardware and software as well as on-going commitment to maintaining a site once it is established. In most agencies, inadequate resources have been devoted to this effort, which has evolved in a rather ad hoc and unsystematic fashion, but this is now changing. The UN Division for Sustainable Development has found it useful to establish a group of focal points for the Web within the Division to develop common formats, share new proposals and exchange information about the development of their Web site. IOC and UNEP provide staff training in the preparation of Web documents. FAO has an editorial board to focus on user content, as well as a person working one third time to obtain information from staff members. Overall, FAO estimates that about $1 million per year in staff time has been required to develop its widely appreciated Web site, but this cost is expected to drop by 30 percent as the site becomes operational. Its Sustainable Development Dimensions sub-site (http://www.fao.org/sd/), organized on an issue basis, receives top ratings, for an annual maintenance cost of $35,000 per year plus in-kind contributions from within FAO. FAO is now introducing standard graphic markup language (SGML) to increase flexibility in information delivery. Reviews of users show that the largest number is still from North America, but there is significant use from Asia and Latin America, and some even from Africa, so the Web clearly reaches a full international audience. WHO has had great success with its educational programme for medical students on Epidemiology, the Internet and Global Health (http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/), which receives 65,000 users from 80 countries a day for 200 lecture packs in six languages. It is prepared on a voluntary basis within universities, and costs about $10,000 per lecture to maintain. The ITU is also developing electronic training for rural development, and Earthwatch was encouraged to draw on this experience.
42. The desirability of providing multi-lingual information on UN Web sites was mentioned. FAO includes information in whatever languages it may be available. The Framework Convention on Climate Change finds the Web a rapid and equitable method for document distribution, but resources are lacking to make all language versions available, and technical standards on the Web for some languages are not yet completely defined. The effort to provide information at least in UN official languages should be pursued.
43. The DESA representative requested feedback and reaction from the agencies to the UN system-wide Sustainable Development Home Page (http://www.un.org/esa/agenda21/natlinfo) since the idea behind this Web site was that it should have active links to relevant national information held by UN system organizations. Such links could only be fully developed with assistance from all the agency partners. It was clear from the discussion that few Earthwatch partners have structured their information on the Web in a way that it can be linked by country. There may be units in the organizations that prepare country information, but they are not yet making this available on the Web. At the most, sites provide tables where countries are listed, or a search mechanism that can look for country information. The Working Party recommended that efforts should be made on each Web site to organize appropriate information so that it can be linked to the Sustainable Development site and accessed on a country basis. To this end, the elements for a common standard for presenting country information on UN sites should be developed for discussion at a future Earthwatch meeting.
44. Several participants felt that greater feed back from other agencies about the content and usefulness of their web sites would be helpful. The FAO site has a questionnaire for user feedback, and a voluntary registration procedure for visitors to say who they are, what they want and why. This allows FAO to develop e-mail distribution lists, organized by special issues, for sending out targeted information and notices of site updates. It was recommended that Earthwatch Coordination undertake periodic reviews of specific topics in a variety of UN, university, NGO and other Web sites and, based on a set of defined criteria, assess the quality, content, ease of use and relevance of the material contained, to serve as an aid to visitors to the Earthwatch Web site. Earthwatch could also provide constructive reviews to its focal points concerning UN system Web sites as an aid in improving the general level of sites across the system.
45. The Earthwatch World Wide Web site (http://www.unep.ch/earthw.html) was a useful tool for information sharing and coordination. However, efforts should be made to increase its attractiveness. The Earthwatch site should be an important channel to make UN system information on the environment available to a wider audience. The development of increased linkages between UN information sources should be given a high priority. The fact that the site was buried within the UNEP Geneva Web site reduced its visibility and accessibility. It was recommended that the Earthwatch Web site should be more easily accessible and have a clear identity. It was also recommended that a professional web designer be consulted for a brief period in order to suggest new approaches and designs in the Earthwatch site.
46. The G3OS (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS) have great potential to improve the flow of basic data supporting Earthwatch processes across the UN system. The meeting was briefed on recent developments in the Global Observing Systems, the creation of the Sponsors Group, and progress in developing an Integrated Global Observing Strategy in partnership with the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) of the space agencies and the International Group of Funding Agencies (IGFA). The Strategy aimed to build working links between data producers such as satellite and in situ observing networks, the observing systems, scientific assessment processes, and the ultimate information users such as convention Conferences of the Parties and other decision-makers. User requirements could then more clearly drive the whole data collection and assessment process. There was good progress in building linkages between the space agencies and the Global Observing Systems, and Earthwatch was asked to establish better connections between the observing systems and Convention Secretariats representing an important group of users. Earthwatch partners discussed particular data needs that could be met through the G3OS, and other areas of wider interagency cooperation with the observing systems. The Working Party recommended that a report on the three Global Observing Systems be prepared for submission at an upcoming session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. The report should review progress made in establishing the Observing Systems and making them operational, as well as their future directions and the services they are able to provide such as data and information support to the conventions.
47. The Convention Secretariats noted their increasing need for reliable data as a basis for reports to the convention mechanisms. The Global Observing Systems had now progressed to the point where they could be of real assistance to the Conventions. However, each convention has specific information requirements, and a unique set of structures and mechanisms for using that information. In the FCCC, the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice addresses more political issues, while scientific questions are left to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While the latter could best define data requirements, the former could help make governments aware of the importance of an effective data collection programme in meeting convention requirements, and a report on the Global Observing Systems had in fact been requested in Kyoto. The specific need was to make information available at the country level for use in national reports. The Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes had very specific technical requirements, and had to focus its limited capacity for data collection and reporting very precisely. CITES has its own networks for intelligence data, but would find information from the observing systems useful in strategic planning for habitat loss which can increase the pressure on threatened species. Some conventions had difficulty in assessing their own information needs, and could use the help of UNEP or the Global Observing Systems in this. The Working Party agreed that the time was now ripe to start building relationships between the Observing Systems and the Convention Secretariats. In some cases this might still require a mandate from the Conference of the Parties.
48. One suggestion was for representatives of the Global Observing Systems to attend meetings of the conventions. However the Conventions collectively need to become more aware of the potential available. It was recommended that there should first be a general meeting between convention secretariats and Global Observing Systems to explain the services the observing systems could provide. Rather than scheduling another meeting for this purpose, the Working Party invited UNEP to make the provision of information services to the conventions a major agenda item for a coming Meeting for the Coordination of Secretariats of Environmental Conventions, at which the Global Observing Systems and Earthwatch would be invited to make presentations. This should be followed by bilateral discussions to develop specific working relationships as appropriate. A dialogue was needed to match the information needs of the conventions and the data that can be provided by the observing systems.
49. Other topics raised in the discussion included the desirability for the Global Resource Information Database (GRID) network of UNEP to develop its relationship with the Global Observing Systems, where it could be of significant help in developing value added information products and organizing metadata systems. The need to integrate existing networks such as GEMS-Water was also highlighted. There is a growing problem of institutions needing to sell data to cover costs, and countries wanting to sell their data, which was making it difficult to maintain regular and complete data series.
50. In the light of the four years' experience since the first Earthwatch Working Party and the limited resources available, the meeting considered priority areas on which Earthwatch coordination should concentrate in the coming years. Many of these had already been identified in the recommendations above. There was a general appreciation for the flexibility and efficiency of the relatively informal Earthwatch mechanism and the breadth of its coverage of the UN system and convention secretariats.
51. It was noted that it has been some years since Earthwatch had been reorganized as a system-wide activity after the Rio Conference, and it may be necessary to review existing priorities to determine if the original mission statement and the terms of reference for Earthwatch are still valid. While there were no specific proposals for changed priorities, there should be a better means to evaluate and monitor Earthwatch performance and what is being delivered. It was agreed that future progress reports for Earthwatch meetings should be keyed to the Earthwatch terms of reference to provide a clearer picture of progress achieved on each item over the past year. Since Earthwatch was a collective mandate of the United Nations system, and not necessarily just a UNEP responsibility, the considerable workload involved could be shared, with lead agencies identified for particular action items.
52. In 2001 Earthwatch will have to provide a comprehensive report of its activities and progress as part of the CSD review of Chapter 40. It was agreed that the Earthwatch Working Party could serve as a major mechanism to prepare this review, as it had previously. In this context, the guidelines used for the last review were circulated to member of the Working Party with the request that they consider any modifications that may be required.
53. It was agreed that meetings of the Earthwatch Working Party should continue to be held on an annual basis, preferably back-to-back with another appropriate meeting to reduce travel costs. The Coordinator was encouraged to explore possibilities for such a combination of meetings when the time came to schedule the next Working Party. The venue would be determined accordingly.
54. The participants requested that the secretariat complete the draft report after the close of the meeting on Friday 3 April 1998, and circulate it for comments and final adoption.
Earthwatch Working Party
1. Opening of the meeting
2. Approval of the agenda and adoption of working procedures
3. Report by the secretariat on progress since the last meeting
4. Task Manager functions for Chapter 40
5. Indicators of environment and sustainable development
6. Information support to 1999 review of SIDS Programme of Action
7. Review of international scientific advisory processes
8. UN system review and input to the Global Environment Outlook 2
9. Review of the coherence of environmental assessments across the UN system
10. Electronic information networking between Earthwatch partners
11. Integrated Global Observing Strategy and Global Observing Systems
12. Future needs for Earthwatch coordination
13. Other business
14. Date and venue of the next meeting
15. Adoption of the report of the meeting
16. Closing of the meeting
EARTHWATCH WORKING PARTY
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Ms Ludivine Tamiotti
Mr Christophe Nuttall
Mr Ron Witt
Mr C.C. Wallen
UNITED NATIONS AGENCIES
Ms Merle Opelz
Dr Ute Enderlein
Dr Hiko Tamashiro
Dr Carlos Corvalan
UNITED NATIONS CONVENTIONS
Framework Convention on Climate
Mr Fareed Yasseen