United Nations System-Wide
Earthwatch Working Party 6
Geneva, 13-14 March 2000


10 March 2000
Agenda Item 3







The fifth Earthwatch Working Party requested a tabulation of all the decisions taken by meetings of the Earthwatch Working Party and their implementation, as a basis for the review of its terms of reference in the light of the resources available to implement them. The tabulation is provided below, and the Terms of Reference are included as Annex 1 for ease of reference.

The decisions have been edited for brevity. The actions taken are in italics.


adopted the mission statement and terms of reference for the UN system-wide Earthwatch.

asked that the issue of Development Watch proposed in Agenda 2 be raised with the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development. DONE

decided that there should be a single Task Manager's report on Chapter 40 of Agenda 21, with DPCSD, Task Manager for Chapter 40, and UNEP as Task Manager for Earthwatch cooperating in the preparation of the report. DONE

agreed on the outline of the Task Manager's report and on the activities necessary to prepare it. IMPLEMENTED

decided to postpone any advisory expert group meeting to review Earthwatch. POSTPONED and eventually cancelled

agreed to continue the Earthwatch working party as a yearly coordinating mechanism, supplemented by electronic networking, with the Earthwatch Secretariat in Geneva as a central point of contact and liaison. DONE

requested the preparation of a programme document on Earthwatch. DONE

agreed the following specific actions in implementation of the terms of reference, in priority order:

a) a strategy should be developed to distribute key Earthwatch outputs more widely and effectively to key target groups. PROPOSALS DISCUSSED BUT NEVER IMPLEMENTED

b) specific Earthwatch outputs should be developed to reach beyond agency constituencies. PROPOSALS DISCUSSED BUT NEVER IMPLEMENTED

c) a package of funding proposals for the implementation of Earthwatch should be assembled for presentation to a donor's meeting. THE IDEA OF A DONOR'S MEETING WAS DROPPED AFTER POOR EXPERIENCE IN OTHER POST-UNCED PROCESSES

d) the use of electronic networks for Earthwatch should be developed. ONGOING

e) a technical working group should be established for harmonization, standardization and quality control of data. NOT DONE; EXISTING COOPERATION ADEQUATE

f) review the problems of data access and the constraints to the free flow of data and information, and propose common strategies. MEETING HELD 1996

g) convene a government-nominated expert group to review and comment on Earthwatch. IDEA DROPPED


recommended that a meeting of the key responsible people within the organizations should be organized to discuss the issue of data access between organizations. DONE

requested that the Earthwatch programme document be completed, improved in format, kept up to date and made widely available in both printed and electronic forms, including at the CSD and UNEP GC. DONE

proposed the preparation of 2-page policy-oriented Earthwatch bulletins by an initiating agency for production and distribution by UNEP. NOT DONE FOR LACK OF RESOURCES

accepted the UNEP proposal to establish a World Wide Web site for Earthwatch. DONE

agreed that there was no need for any major new synthesis report from the system-wide Earthwatch apart from existing reports and the new UNEP Global Environment Outlook.

suggested that UNEP might survey what is already being done in participatory information collection. DONE ON AD HOC BASIS, BUT NOT SYSTEMATICALLY

proposed that Development Watch focus on policy-oriented assessment of sustainability at the national level, while Earthwatch is concerned with the regional and global levels. PROPOSALS DEVELOPED BUT LATER ABANDONED

agreed to begin including in the programme document information on NGO and governmental activities supporting the Earthwatch process. ONLY ON LIMITED BASIS

requested a more dynamic relationship with the scientific community, with Earthwatch helping to define research agendas, and interfacing between research and policy-making. DEVELOPED WITH SCOPE AND IGOS


recommended that Earthwatch should continue its catalytic activity on linking socio-economic and environmental assessment and reporting, should identify groups working on such linkages and encourage cooperation, and should invite the SCOPE project on indicators to identify methodologies for integrating indicators into measures of sustainability. ON-GOING

requested that the Earthwatch Programme Document be kept continuously up to date. DONE

recommended that all Earthwatch partners provide their data sharing policies to the secretariat for distribution. ONLY ONE DID SO

requested that the secretariat continue to collect information on participatory observation activities. DONE ON AD HOC BASIS

agreed to have a system-wide multi-year calendar or schedule of planned assessment activities and reports. NOT DONE, APART FROM LIST ON WEB

encouraged more participation by convention secretariats in Earthwatch. DONE

requested a document defining the scope of the problem of collecting and assessing data on wastes, which could be used to draw the attention of IACSD to this important gap. REFERRED TO IACSD

requested UNEP to provide more details on its GEO report process in written form so that the agencies could respond effectively. DONE

requested the Earthwatch Coordination office to continue to provide proposals on the structure and format of web sites, and to coordinate the use of any capacities which the partners might be able to make available to develop a coherent and efficient World Wide Web system. ON-GOING

requested the secretariat to prepare a report on gaps and deficiencies in early warnings, and to explore better mechanisms to distribute them. NOT DONE

agreed that non-UN organizations can be invited on an ad hoc basis to attend specific meetings or parts of meetings of the Earthwatch Working Party where their expertise is appropriate to the mission of Earthwatch.

agreed to start experimenting with Earthwatch work through e-mail. DONE


recommended that the Inter-agency Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD) be requested to consider how to strengthen UN system coverage of waste issues. DONE

recommended to UNEP that the Earthwatch Coordination function be strengthened. NOT DONE

recommended that more attention be given to strengthening the capacity for traditional information before the overall review of Chapter 40 in 2001. OUTSTANDING

suggested that Development Watch and further work on Common Core Data sets be made items of discussion at the next session of the IACSD. DONE

called for further coordination between scientific advisory bodies in areas where broad mandates overlapped. DONE

recommended that the report on scientific advisory processes be completed and sharpened with conclusions and recommendations. IN PROCESS

recommended that Earthwatch Coordination continue to develop bibliographic listings of the most important global and regional assessments as resources allow. ONLY ON LIMITED BASIS

recommended that there be a greater effort to announce new web sites, major changes and upgrades, and alterations in URL addresses that would require revisions in links between sites. NOT DONE BY ALL PARTNERS INVOLVED

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, and requested that the elements for a common standard for presenting country information on UN sites should be developed. OUTSTANDING

recommended that Earthwatch Coordination undertake periodic reviews of specific topics on Web sites, assess their quality, content, ease of use and relevance, and provide constructive reviews to its focal points concerning UN system Web sites. NOT DONE FOR LACK OF RESOURCES

recommended that the Earthwatch Web site should be more easily accessible and have a clear identity, with professionally-designed new approaches and designs. NOT DONE FOR LACK OF RESOURCES

recommended that a report on the three Global Observing Systems be prepared for submission at an upcoming session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. SHOULD BE PART OF REVIEW FOR 2001

recommended that there should be a general meeting between convention secretariats and Global Observing Systems, and 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, followed by bilateral discussions. DONE

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. DONE IN 1999

agreed that the Earthwatch Working Party could serve as a major mechanism to prepare the review for 2001. DONE


recommended that the Earthwatch Working Party revisit the terms of reference at its next meeting. ON THE AGENDA

proposed that a meeting of an intergovernmental group of experts on information for decision-making, to be organized by the Task Managers early in 2000 as a basis for the Secretary-General's report on Chapter 40. PLANNED FOR SEPTEMBER

suggested that a contribution on data and information dimensions of the sectoral and economic themes of CSD-9 be coordinated by the Ad hoc Interagency Task Force on Energy.

requested that the compendium of UN system contributions on information for decision-making maintained by Earthwatch should be updated, extended and converted to a form easily used by governments. TO BE DONE IN 2000

proposed that a demonstration of integrated information and decision-support tools for environment and sustainable development should be organized at CSD-9 [PLANNED], and that the secretariat could arrange a demonstration of some of these tools at the next Earthwatch Working Party. DONE

suggested that partners that are working with governments involved in exemplary uses of information for decision-making should encourage them to make presentations on their experience to the CSD.

proposed that the gap in indicators for the marine and coastal environment be dealt with by the ACC Subcommittee on Oceans and Coastal Areas as the relevant Task Manager. DONE

suggested a meeting of interested agencies and the GEO team early in the conceptual planning for GEO-3. ON THE AGENDA

proposed that recent initiatives to consolidate data holdings and access could become components of a common data and knowledge base, with Earthwatch assembling metadata, bringing together the components and establishing more formal working relationships between data custodians and those assembling information products. RESOURCES INADEQUATE TO IMPLEMENT AT PRESENT

proposed that WCMC be invited to join Earthwatch. DONE

requested UNEP and Earthwatch Coordination to prepare a detailed plan for an electronic environmental information meta-system, with its resource implications, for the next Working Party meeting, following consideration at a technical meeting on the standards and protocols for linking all parts of the system. DELAYED, WITH FIRST TECHNICAL MEETING THIS WEEK

proposed a joint meeting between the IGOS Partners and all the environmental convention secretariats or their advisory bodies. DONE

agreed that Earthwatch partners should provide relevant extracts or condensed summaries of their specific strategies and policies relevant to Earthwatch to the secretariat. NOT DONE

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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.

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UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination, Geneva