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

(prepared jointly by UN DSD and Earthwatch)

9 March 2000
Agenda Item 4 

1. The following plans for the review of the implementation of Chapter 40 of Agenda 21: Information for Decision-making, and the preparation of the Secretary-General's report to the ninth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in 2001, have been updated from those adopted by the 5th Earthwatch Working Party in May 1999 and endorsed by the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development (see UNEP/EWWP6/6).

2. A meeting of an intergovernmental group of experts on information for decision-making will be hosted by the Government of Canada in September 2000 as part of the intersessional preparations for CSD-9. It will provide input to the Secretary-General's report on Chapter 40, and build more governmental support for issues of information access and decision-support that have largely been discussed at the level of international institutions. The last Working Party suggested that the meeting should build on existing experience, such as that of OECD and ECE on environmental performance reviews, and should include both information producers and users, as well as experts in communications, the media and public information. A representative of the Government of Canada has been invited to participate in this working party meeting, so that the Working Party can contribute to the detailed planning for the expert meeting.

3. A contribution on data and information dimensions of the sectoral and economic themes of CSD-9 (Atmosphere/Energy and Energy/Transport), commissioned from selected experts, should take into account the extensive work already being done on these issues, and be coordinated by the Ad hoc Interagency Task Force on Energy.

4. 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 for reference to what the system is doing, including work at the international level to support national information initiatives. This could provide a basis for a review of the effectiveness of the observing, assessment and reporting system itself.

5. A demonstration of integrated information and decision-support tools for environment and sustainable development should be organized at CSD-9, including computerized and web-based systems. These should give the CSD participants an exposure to the exciting new possibilities available, with an emphasis on information for decision-makers rather than scientists. Possible sources of materials include existing initiatives such as the prototype information centre in Delaware for the Global Observing Systems, the GOOS products bulletin, the GTOS TEMS database, the UNU information system on environmental pollutants for East Asian countries, UNEP GRID and INFOTERRA, UNDP's Sustainable Development Networking Programme and SIDSnet, the clearing-house mechanism under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the DSD Sustainable Development web site, the Earthwatch web site, and materials developed for UNISPACE III. The demonstrations should show the advantages of integrated information, and should provide information products of immediate use to decision-makers. They should not lose sight of the human side of information management by giving the impression that there is a technological quick fix, but should communicate the need to support the whole information system that makes such tools possible. A demonstration of some of these tools is scheduled for this Earthwatch Working Party under Agenda Item 15, so that participants can decide what materials will be most appropriate for the CSD event.

6. The major findings of the separate reports to CSD-9 on the Work Programme on Indicators of Sustainable Development, the outcome of the process on Government's role in managerial accounting and the global reporting initiative will provide additional material for the Secretary-General's report on Chapter 40 to CSD-9.

7. On national presentations to the Ad Hoc Inter-sessional Working Groups and to CSD-9, 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 or to prepare case studies for compilation by the Task Managers. These could highlight the use of sustainable development indicators and electronic tools such as GIS.

8. The preparatory process should also draw on initiatives taken and activities organized by national governments and major NGOs. This could include the many local Agenda 21 initiatives using indicators.

9. The effort for CSD-9 should communicate the need for governments to support systematic long-term observations and assessment processes as the basis for sound decision-making. Positive experiences of governments in using information should be drawn together for the CSD. The progress made between the Global Observing Systems and the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) in reviewing the adequacy of the observing system shows how an awareness of information system needs can lead to constructive initiatives. Countries have been requested to prepare national plans for observations, and to provide separate reports on their observing systems in 2001. This kind of initiative is necessary to reverse the trend of a consistent decline in the quality of statistical data from countries, due to lack of investment in improving or even maintaining data sets. 

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