|United Nations System-Wide
Working Party 5
Geneva, 3-4 May 1999
28 April 1999
As a result of the in-depth study of Earthwatch undertaken by UNEP after UNCED, an inter-agency Earthwatch Working Party was established in 1994. At its first meeting on 1-2 June 1994, the Working Party adopted the following mission statement and terms of reference for the UN system-wide Earthwatch, which were subsequently confirmed by the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) in its report to the UNEP Governing Council in 1995:
"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.
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.
It is appropriate after 5 years to review the progress that has been made in implementing the mission and these terms of reference, and to make recommendations to UNEP for any improvements that may be required in the coordination of Earthwatch. Detailed supporting documentation is available on the Earthwatch web site (http://www.unep.ch/earthw.html).
In general terms, UNEP and all the Earthwatch partners have been affected by the decline in available resources within the UN system over the last 5 years. Despite major budget and staff reductions, UNEP has succeeded in maintaining the core role requested of it by the ACC "to provide leadership and direction to the United Nations system-wide Earthwatch, to support inter-agency coordination of observation, assessment and reporting activities, and to assist in the joint programming and integration of results". However, shrinking resources for the Earthwatch Coordination secretariat, and the need to compensate for staff vacancies elsewhere, have not allowed much more than minimal implementation of this mandate. After 5 years of steady reductions, there is some hope of an improvement by the year 2000.
The Coordinator of Earthwatch has organized five meetings of the Earthwatch Working Party (1-2 June 1994, 22-23 March 1995, 17-18 January 1996, 2-3 April 1998 and 3-4 May 1999), as well as other co-sponsored meetings including a workshop helping to fill the gap between the 3rd and 4th meetings (24 September 1996). As organizations have connected to the Internet, electronic liaison has been maintained as required among the 53 UN organization and convention focal points for Earthwatch. A UN System-wide Earthwatch web site has been established and maintained with regular updates and extensions. The site averages 30-40 visits per day or over 10,000 per year. There has been continuing close cooperation with the UN Division for Sustainable Development (UN DSD) in reporting to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) on Information for Decision-making, as joint Task Managers for Agenda 21 Chapter 40.
With the limited resources available, emphasis has been placed on strategic planning and leadership, on sharing information and building partnerships, and on catalytic efforts to stimulate action in key areas such as indicators. Within this general framework, the following sections summarize for each of the terms of reference the activities that have been undertaken for their implementation.
a) facilitate access to information on environmental activities, and to information held by each part of the system
Providing access to information on the activities of all parts of the UN system relevant to Earthwatch has been a primary focus from the beginning. The Task Managers' report for CSD-3 and the UN System-wide Earthwatch Programme Document, first issued in 1995, were based on agency submissions to the Task Managers using the questionnaire agreed at the first Working Party. Updated responses were provided by many partners in 1997. This information in standard format is available on the Earthwatch web site, and is constantly revised as new information is supplied to the secretariat. The current version has been compiled into a UN System-wide Earthwatch Partners Directory available in draft form as UNEP/EWWP5/Inf.3 for review and correction at this meeting.
Improving access to information held by different parts of the system is another priority which was highlighted by the Commission on Sustainable Development in 1995. A joint DPCSD/UNEP Meeting on Common/Compatible Systems of Access to Data (New York, 19 January 1996, Report UNEP/DEIA/MR.96-2) agreed to principles which should underlie any UN information system, as well as Principles for a Data Access Policy. Each Task Manager was requested to facilitate access to data held in its area of responsibility. The UN DSD country information and Earthwatch web sites have tried in part to respond to this need, as have a number of other partners. While there has been steady improvement in making more substantive information on the environment widely available, there is still much to be done to increase the amount of information in accessible and user-friendly forms. This is an important element for future strategic planning under Earthwatch.
b) identify possibilities for collaboration among agency observation and assessment programmes and reports, and with outside partners
The Earthwatch Working Party meetings are one primary mechanism to identify possibilities for collaboration, and they have led to a number of initiatives. One good example is the establishment of the Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems in 1996-1997, for which Earthwatch Coordination organized and hosted the preparatory and first two meetings, and provides the continuing UNEP representation. Another is the support the secretariat has provided for the development of an Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) and the launching of the IGOS Partnership with CEOS (space agencies), IGFA, G3OS and their sponsors, and global research programmes. This has included drafting the umbrella IGOS strategy document and an executive summary, developing and hosting the IGOS web site and document portfolio, and activities publicizing the strategy, such as by co-chairing and presenting a paper at the IGOS session of the 27th International Symposium on Remote Sensing of Environment (Tromso, 8-12 June 1998).
Earthwatch Coordination has also worked closely with the sponsors and secretariats of the Global Observing Systems (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS) and has on occasion represented UNEP in their steering committees and meetings.
The information assembled by Earthwatch on agency activities also contributes to joint programming. The directory of partners' environmental information activities, and the tables assembled on the coverage of all the Agenda 21 programme areas by information activities across the UN system are useful tools for identifying potential areas for collaboration.
One important area where Earthwatch has taken a leading role in building collaboration is in the development of indicators of environment and sustainable development. This started with a joint expert group meeting with UNSD in 1993, and close cooperation with UN Division for Sustainable Development in developing and implementing the CSD programme of work on indicators of sustainable development. In has also involved an active role in the SCOPE project on sustainable development indicators, where the Earthwatch Coordinator was a member of the scientific advisory committee. He is also a member of the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators (IISD/Wallace Global Fund) working on new concepts for aggregating indicators. To add a broader dimension to more sectoral indicator activities, the coordinator has served on the steering committees for an OECD workshop on agro-environmental indicators and a FAO/Australian consultation on fisheries sustainability indicators. This cross-linking has helped to share experience, maintain coherence and avoid duplication over a wide range of indicator activities.
The scientific community represents another set of outside partners with whom collaboration and coordination are required. While more needs to be done in this area, the Earthwatch Coordinator participated in a SCOPE meeting on environmental issues, problems and opportunities of the post-industrial information society (Paris, 15-17 April 1998) and in the SCOPE General Assembly (New Jersey, 15-19 June 1998) and has recently consulted twice with the SCOPE Executive Committee on collaboration. Intermittent contact has also been maintained with the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Human Dimensions of Global Change Programme (IHDP), the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), both directly and through collaboration in IGOS and the G3OS.
UNEP's Global Environment Outlook (GEO) reporting process is another area for collaboration. The UN System-wide Earthwatch is the mechanism UNEP uses to consult with and solicit inputs and reviews from all its UN system partners on the GEO reports. For example, the GEO process has been discussed at Earthwatch Working Party meetings, and the GEO-2 first draft was circulated to all Earthwatch focal points for comment. Information assembled by Earthwatch was also used in the Global Perspectives chapter for GEO-2.
The Earthwatch Working Party has provided inputs to the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD) where a need identified for system-wide collaboration has gone beyond the specific mandate of Earthwatch, such as on the coordination of waste issues across the UN system, and the IACSD has taken action on these items.
At an early stage there was discussion of a possible system-wide Earthwatch report, but the second Earthwatch Working Party decided that there was no need for this, since the GEO report already largely filled this function. Interest was expressed in a series of short Earthwatch policy bulletins or other summaries of information from across the UN system addressed to policy-makers beyond the constituency of any one agency, but resources have not yet been available to develop this idea further.
Another initiative from UNEP through Earthwatch intended to encourage increased collaboration was the preparation of a Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development (January-April 1998), which contributed to the report from UNESCO to CSD-6 on Science for Sustainable Development. This report needs to be extended and completed as requested by the last Earthwatch Working Party, but this awaits the availability of additional resources.
c) promote and monitor capacity-building for data collection, assessment and reporting
While many partners in Earthwatch are active in capacity building in their particular domains, the efforts to promote this at the level of the Working Party and secretariat have been limited by lack of resources. The Earthwatch Coordinator assisted DSD with an indicators workshop in West Africa in 1997, and some relevant training materials are available on the Earthwatch web site, but this has not been pursued systematically apart from UNEP activities in the GEO process, GRID and regional networking.
d) improve harmonization and quality control of data and standardization of methodologies
The second Earthwatch Working Party decided that there was already adequate coordination in this area, and no need for a separate Earthwatch initiative. Earthwatch has encouraged the work of the GEO core data working group, and following a decision from the last Working Party endorsed by the IACSD, should develop further initiatives in this area. The Earthwatch Coordinator has also assisted with the CSD indicator methodology sheets.
e) facilitate the wider use of information and assessments from each partner
This is an area with considerable potential for future system-wide collaboration. The Earthwatch web site has helped to publicize system-wide activities, assessments and information sources, and major new assessments are announced on the newsletter page. The work on common core data sets also aims to make wider use of the best data sets available. Integrated assessments such as the GEO reports draw on information from many partners. New strategic planning towards more electronic linking between information sources across all the Earthwatch partners should contribute to improved implementation of this item.
f) coordinate joint reporting on broad interdisciplinary issues
One broad interdisciplinary report is the UNEP GEO report, for which Earthwatch coordinates UN system-wide inputs. Most other coordination of joint reporting is done on a bilateral basis. Earthwatch should be able to play a more active role in the development of reporting over the Internet and the World Wide Web, where interdisciplinary approaches to reporting can draw on sources across many partners.
One tool for coordinated joint reporting is indicators, where Earthwatch Coordination has been particularly active, including continued collaboration with UN Division for Sustainable Development in the implementation of the CSD work programme on indicators of sustainable development. The work with the Consultative Expert Group on Sustainable Development Indicators (IISD/Wallace Global Fund) also aims at broad interdisciplinary integration through the use of indicators, indices, and various forms of aggregation and linkage. The Earthwatch Coordinator is also working with the Coordinating Group on Sustainable Development Indicators of the University Centre on Human Ecology and Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, which is exploring interdisciplinary approaches to indicators at the local level.
In the area of joint reporting on oceans and coastal areas issues, the Earthwatch Coordinator is assisting the GESAMP Working Group on Marine Environmental Assessments, and maintaining a document collection and bibliography in support of the assessments.
g) identify priorities for international action
To the extent that Earthwatch has been involved, this has largely been done through the Earthwatch Working Party, although the secretariat does maintain a watching brief on emerging environmental issues and provides short summaries of many issues that are priorities for international action on the Earthwatch web site. The present Earthwatch coordination processes are too infrequent, and lack suitable expertise, to become a major mechanism to identify priority environmental issues for international action, but Earthwatch could stimulate the creation of processes to do so if appropriate.
h) establish joint procedures to identify early warnings of emerging environmental problems
Previous Earthwatch Working Party meetings have consulted on this issue without taking a decision. UNEP, through its new environmental observing and assessment strategy, intends to strengthen work on long-term early warning mechanisms, and will be encouraging partnerships in this area through Earthwatch.
i) share experience in new technologies and in increasing the impact of information and reports
Discussions of experience with new information technologies and on web site planning have been a regular agenda item at Earthwatch Working Party meetings, and the principal subject of joint meetings in which Earthwatch has collaborated. In consultations with users and surveys of user groups, special attention has been paid to identifying ways to increase the impact of information and reports. Earthwatch has also encouraged and strengthened contacts between data producers and users for more focused delivery.
Indicators are another way to increase the impact of information, and the Earthwatch Coordinator has recently shared experience in this area as a member of the steering groups for the OECD Workshop on Agro-environmental Indicators (York, UK, 22-25 September 1998) and the FAO/Australian Technical Consultation on Sustainability Indicators in Marine Capture Fisheries (Sydney, 18-22 January 1999).
j) assist in increasing support for observing, assessment, reporting and capacity-building activities
Plans for a donors meeting for Earthwatch were dropped after poor experience with such meetings in the CSD context. The strategy adopted by the second Earthwatch Working Party was to present a rational programme for the UN system-wide Earthwatch where all activities are seen as complementary and mutually supportive, as a basis for encouraging incremental increases in funding for the various activities. This approach has been extended with the development of the IGOS Partnership and the UNEP Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy, aiming to reassure governments, which are the primary source of support, that international activities for observing, assessing and reporting on the environment are strategically-oriented and user-driven to produce priority results in the most cost-effective way possible.
k) organize coherent plans to respond to system-wide mandates such as Agenda 21
Earthwatch Coordination has since the beginning emphasized its role in coherent planning and strategy development. This has included major contributions to the following documents (all of which are available on the Earthwatch web site):
-- The Secretary-General's Report on Chapter 40: Information for Decision-making, to CSD-3 in April 1995, prepared jointly with DPCSD, which contains general information on data collection and information delivery in implementation of Agenda 21;
-- The ACC Report to the UNEP Governing Council 1995 on international cooperation in the field of the environment, which focuses on the UN System-wide Earthwatch;
-- The Integrated Strategic Plan for the Global Observing Systems developed for the Sponsors Group on G3OS in 1997;
-- The Earthwatch Strategic Framework for Environmental Observing, Assessment and Reporting, drafted in September 1998 for review at this meeting (UNEP/EWWP5/Inf.2);
-- The Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) umbrella document (January 1999);
-- The UNEP Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy (March 1999) also on the agenda for review at this meeting (UNEP/EWWP5/4).
MAJOR OUTPUTS FROM EARTHWATCH COORDINATION ACTIVITIES
UN System-wide Earthwatch World Wide Web site: www.unep.ch/earthw.html
Working Papers and Reports of the Earthwatch Working Party
Second Meeting of the
Earthwatch Working Party (Geneva, 22-23 March 1995)
Third Meeting of the Earthwatch
Working Party (New York, 17-18 January 1996)
Fourth Meeting of the
Earthwatch Working Party (Geneva, 2-3 April 1998)
Fifth Meeting of the Earthwatch
Working Party (Geneva, 3-4 May 1999)
Reports and background documents for intergovernmental bodies
-- Report of the Secretary-General on Information for Decision-making and Earthwatch (Chapter 40 of Agenda 21), submitted to CSD-3 in April 1995. E/CN.17/1995/18
-- Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) Report to UNEP Governing Council 18 in 1995 on International Cooperation in the Field of the Environment: The United Nations System-Wide Earthwatch. UNEP/GC.18/33 Annex
-- The report of the Executive Director to UNEP Governing Council 18 (May 1995) on Earthwatch, environmental monitoring and assessment (UNEP/GC.18/4) requested by GA resolution 48/192.
-- The UN System-wide Earthwatch Programme Document 1995 (UNEP/EWWP2/WP.2/rev.1 in hard copy, and updated versions on the web)
-- Report of the Secretary-General on Information for Decision-making (Chapter 40, Agenda 21), submitted to CSD-4 in April 1996. E/CN.17/1996/18 and E/CN.17/1996/18/Add.1
Other meetings organized in the context of Earthwatch
-- Report of the DPCSD/UNEP Meeting on Common/Compatible Systems of Access to Data (New York, 19 January 1996) UNEP/DEIA/MR.96-2
-- Report of the First IEA/GEO Core Data Working Group (DWG) Meeting (New York, 22-23 January 1996)
-- Report of the DPCSD/UNEP Workshop on Information for Sustainable Development and Earthwatch (Geneva, 24 September 1996) UNEP/DEIA/MR.96-12
Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems
-- Report of the Preparatory Meeting on a Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems (Geneva, 15 October 1996) UNEP/DEIA/MR.96-11
-- Report of the First Meeting of the Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS), (Geneva, 13-14 January 1997) UNEP/DEIA/MR.97-5
-- Report of the Second Meeting of the Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS), (Geneva, 15-16 September 1997) UNEP/DEIA/MR.97-10
-- Report of the Third Meeting of the Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS), (ICSU, Paris, 5 June 1998) UNEP/DEIA/MR.98-4
Integrated Global Observing Strategy
-- Integrated Global Observing Strategy web site: http://www.unep.ch/earthw/igos.htm
-- Integrated Global Observing Strategy umbrella document
-- Executive Summary: Integrated Global Observing Strategy