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


10 March 2000
Agenda Item 3

1. Since the last Earthwatch Working Party was in May 1999, this progress report covers a period of only 10 months. During this period, the staff complement of the Earthwatch Coordination secretariat has remained at one professional and a half-time secretary.

2. With the continuing reduction in staff in the UNEP Division of Environmental Information, Assessment and Early Warning, the Earthwatch Coordinator has had to carry various responsibilities for the Division during 1999, including finalizing chapter 1 of the GEO-2000 report, serving for a month as Officer-in-Charge of the Division, and preparing and serving as project director for the $2 million UNF/UNFIP project on the New UNEP Global Participative Observing and Assessment Strategy now being implemented. Two months were also lost at the end of the year while on sick leave. This reduced considerably the amount of time available for Earthwatch Coordination functions.

Accomplishments during the reporting period

3. The plan adopted at the 5th Earthwatch Working Party for the Task Manager functions for Chapter 40 in preparation for CSD-9 in 2001 (UNEP/EWWP5/6, paragraphs 4-12) was presented to the Inter-agency Committee on Sustainable Development on 24-25 January 2000 (ACC/IACSD/XV/2000/CRP.7/Add.1) and approved (see Agenda Items 4 and 9 and UNEP/EWWP6/6). Implementing these plans will be a major responsibility for Earthwatch Coordination during the coming year.

4. The work centred in the Earthwatch secretariat on UNEP's Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy, and its implementation through the UNFIP project, does bring considerable indirect benefit to the UN system-wide Earthwatch. Much of the strategy will be implemented through partnerships with other organizations including those in the UN system. The issues being addressed in the development of a distributed Internet-based environmental information system are common to many Earthwatch partners. The Planning Workshop on Environmental Information Systems organized by Earthwatch immediately following this Working Party to consider these issues is open to any Earthwatch partners who wish to attend.

5. One of the most important tools for Earthwatch implementation is the World Wide Web, requiring a continuing effort to maintain and improve the Earthwatch web site (http://www.unep.ch/earthw.html). The aim has been to emphasize maximum useful content while avoiding heavy graphics that can make a site hard to access in developing countries. The site presently receives 50-70 visits per day, and usage is growing. Earthwatch also maintains the IGOS site mentioned below, and the UNEP Islands web pages with an associated document collection.

6. A major activity during the year was continued support to the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) Partnership linking UN agencies, the space agencies through CEOS, the Global Observing Systems and ICSU, IGFA, IGBP and WCRP. The aim of IGOS is to increase joint strategic planning and integration among data producers and data users. The IGOS web site (http://www.igospartners.org/) is hosted and maintained at Earthwatch, and the coordinator participates in the IGOS Partners meetings, the IGOS liaison group and the editorial board of the IGOS newsletter. The IGOS Partnership organized a major session at UNISPACE III in July 1999, where the Earthwatch Coordinator was a keynote speaker and panelist. Earthwatch also organized participation of representatives of the IGOS Partnership and the G3OS in a meeting in Bonn in November 1999 with the subsidiary bodies of the multilateral environmental conventions to discuss ways the observing systems can respond better to the data and information needs of the conventions.

7. With respect to the on-going work on indicators, the Earthwatch Coordinator continued as a member of the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators, followed the CSD indicators work programme, and was named to a Coordinating Group on Sustainable Development Indicators at the University Centre on Human Ecology and Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, working on indicators at the local level.

8. There was no specific requirement for interagency input to the Global Environment Outlook process during the reporting period, as GEO-2000 had gone to press for its launching in September 1999, and the GEO-3 process is only now starting, with this meeting representing an important initial input. The Earthwatch Coordinator serves on the GEO steering committee and organizes the participation of the UN system in the GEO process. The preparation of GEO-3 will be an important activity in the year ahead.

9. There was some delay in obtaining resources to update and complete the Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development prepared in 1998, but that work is now under way with the same consultant who prepared the first report, and should now be completed in mid-year (see Agenda Item 7). Little progress was made in the work on core data sets, since the unit that was to have taken the lead was heavily committed last year to the Balkans Task Force, but work on this issue is now beginning again as part of the GEO-3 process.

10. The Earthwatch Coordinator continued to represent UNEP in the Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS), which met in Rome on 7 June 1999 and the IGOS Partnership which met on 8 June, as well as the Intergovernmental Committee for GOOS (Paris, 16-18 June). He participated in the Expert Meeting on the GPA Clearing House (The Hague, 9-11 May), the Ecosystem Conservation Group (Paris, 6-7 July), the DESA Expert Group Meeting on Environmental Statistics and Indicators (New York, 26 September-1 October), and the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development (New York, 24-25 January 2000).

11. Overall, within the resources available, it has been possible to maintain momentum during the reporting period, but not to launch new initiatives. 

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