United Nations

This site is maintained by UNEP/GRID-Geneva
Last Update:


7th Earthwatch Working Party


(Also available in word format ewwp7prorep.doc - 85 Kb)

1. Since the last meeting of the Earthwatch Working Party, held in March 2000, a considerable re-organization of Earthwatch has taken place. The former Earthwatch Coordinator (Arthur Dahl) has taken up position as Director of the recently created UNEP Coral Reef Unit within the Division of Environmental Conventions.

2. The responsibility for Earthwatch coordination falls under the UNEP Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) directed by Tim Foresman. Overall responsibility for the UN System-wide Earthwatch lies with the Chief of the Environmental Assessment Branch (Dave MacDevette). The head of the Assessment Branch also takes over responsibility for Environmental Indicators in close cooperation with the UNEP focal point on environmental statistics (Ashbindu Singh). That focal point will also represent UNEP on the ACC Sub-committee on Statistical Activities.

3. The Director of DEWA (Tim Foresman) will represent UNEP in plenary sessions of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). He will also be the focal point for liaison with the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) of the International Council of Science (ICSU), International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and other international scientific programmes.

4. Global Observing Systems (GCOS, GOOS and GTOS) and the Sponsors group for the G3OS will be the responsibility of the Early Warning Branch with its head (Dan Claasen) as the designated focal point for the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) Partnership. Maintenance of the IGOS-P www.igospartners.org has been transferred to UNESCO IOC.

5. In the near future, an Earthwatch Coordination Officer will be recruited in Geneva through the GRID-Geneva partnership to organize meetings of the Earthwatch Working Party, arrange UN system inputs to GEO, oversee maintenance of the Earthwatch website and generally handle day-to-day activities. As an interim measure a consultant has been recruited to ensure continuity until the Coordination Officer is on board. The staff complement in Geneva remains at one professional and one half-time secretary.


6. The following describes the activities in which Earthwatch has participated to a greater or lesser degree over the last 20 months.

Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) - Ninth Session (CSD-9)

7. As the meeting is aware, the CSD selected Information for Decision-making and Participation (Chapter 40 of Agenda 21) as a major cross-cutting theme for its ninth session held in New York on 16-27 April 2001. Earthwatch is co-task manager for this theme with the UN Division for Sustainable Development and the Earthwatch Working Party served as the major interagency consultation mechanism in the lead-up to CSD-9. To prepare for CSD-9, an International Expert Meeting on Information for Decision Making and Participation was hosted by the Government of Canada in Aylmer on 25-28 September 2000 in which Earthwatch played a major role. The meeting, attended by more than 60 experts from governments, international organizations and civil society, provided advice and recommendations to CSD on the kinds of policies that should be adopted by governments to further implement Chapter 40 of Agenda 21 www.un.org/esa/sustdev/infoch40/iem-info-report.pdf . Further participation of Earthwatch took place at the CSD Ad Hoc Intersessional Working Group on Information for Decision-making and Participation that met on 12-16 March 2001 to prepare the basis for negotiations at CSD-9. A demonstration on the use of new information technologies was made at CSD-9. Additional information on the outcome of CSD-9 will be provided under agenda item 5.

Global Environment Outlook (GEO-3)

8. A great deal of time has been allocated to the meetings and work for the preparations of GEO-3, and regional consultations and sectoral inputs have already taken place. Conclusions and policy options are now being finalized and planning is underway for the GEO-3 launch at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in June 2002 in Johannesburg.

International Scientific Advisory Processes

9. The second report on International Scientific Advisory Processes www.unep.ch/earthw/sciadv2.htm was prepared and posted on the Earthwatch website in February of this year and made available at the CSD Ad Hoc Intersessional Working Group. UNEP has updated and extended its review and the second report provided a valuable input to the review of information for decision making at CSD-9 in April 2001. The second report also discusses issues relevant to coordination of international conventions and provides useful insight into the processes by which scientific knowledge influences international decision-making. Within the scope of the system-wide Earthwatch, the meeting might wish to look at ways to assist countries to obtain information necessary to meet obligations under different multi-lateral agreements including to simplify the process, avoid duplication and permit coherence and continuity.


9. UNEP has launched a pilot version of UNEP.net, its new global environmental information network on the Internet. The web site at http://www.unep.net/ includes an explorer search tool, country profiles and the Protected Areas Atlas. Further components will be added as they are developed. The site aims to provide integrated global information on the state of and trends in the environment provided by many partners by ensuring active coordination and compatibility among all environment related websites. A presentation on the site, with a particular focus on the data portal, will be made under agenda item 12.


11. Earthwatch has remained actively involved in encouraging the development of indicators of environment and sustainable development, as a way to improve the delivery of information for decision-making. Input was provided to the background paper on indicators for presentation to CSD-9 that contains the new set of 56 approved core indicators. An extensive literature review of environmental indicators was carried out and work continued towards the development of a composite index i.e. Human Environment Index.
There is a need to make an assessment of increasing human vulnerability due to environmental changes and to develop vulnerability indices, based on transparent and sound methodologies. A review of international work in the area of vulnerability assessment and indices has been completed by UNEP. A general approach for environmental vulnerability assessment has been developed. The work continues towards the development an index of human vulnerability to environmental changes. The concept will be implemented in the Outlook Chapter of GEO-3. Further information on the status of indicator development may be provided under agenda item 6.

Dashboard of Sustainability

12. The Dashboard of Sustainability, a new graphic presentation of indicators of sustainable development is being developed by the JRC of the European Commission and other partners with the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators of which the former Earthwatch coordinator is a member. Demonstration versions are now available for user testing with several different data sets www.esl.jrc.it/envind/dashbrds.htm . The dashboard was successfully demonstrated at CSD-9. Maps have been added to the latest version.

Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS)

13. The IGOS Partners meet twice a year and have adopted a document on the IGOS Partnership Process that describes how the strategy is implemented through themes. The IGOS website that was developed by Earthwatch is now hosted by UNESCO IOC at www.igospartners.org, with a portfolio of documents on the development of the strategy. Various Earthwatch partners have participated in the preparation of IGOS themes, and UNEP is now taking the lead on a coral reef theme.

Global Observing Systems Information Center (GOSIC)

14. GOSIC has been launched to provide a one-window view of the observing requirement, the operational data systems and access procedures for users to find and obtain data and products from the three Global Observing Systems (GCOS climate, GOOS ocean and GTOS terrestrial) www.gosic.org/.

Harmonization of Global Environmental Assessments

15. UNEP, working in partnership with other UN agencies involved in the implementation of global environmental assessments is hosting two meetings to explore options for increasing the efficiency of current and future global environmental assessments (with an initial focus on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the Land Degradation Assessment). The first meeting of the heads of the major assessments will probably be held in November in Cambridge, United Kingdom, to prepare for a major meeting of stakeholders, users and experts to explore specific concrete joint activities tentatively planned for the spring of 2002 in Nairobi, Kenya. A short report will be provided under agenda item 9.


16. The Earthwatch web www.unep.ch/earthw.html site remains an integral and important tool for implementing Earthwatch. Despite the slower pace of Earthwatch activities resulting from the period of restructuring, the website continued to be maintained and updated and was redesigned to increase its compatibility with the UNEP.net. Currently it is being improved and made even more user-friendly for rapid and efficient access to environment-related information. In the near future, partner organizations and others with relevant information will be asked to collaborate in the process of updating the website. Rather than holding all relevant information the Earthwatch website itself, a new approach will be adopted by which direct links to partner organization websites on monitoring, assessment and reporting will be made.


Although the period of restructuring of Earthwatch had resulted in a slowing down of activities it is clear that with the new impetus being given to the System-wide Earthwatch efforts can be stepped up to ensure timely and useful information for national and international decision-making on sustainable development and for early warning of emerging problems requiring international action.



7th Working Party


UNEP/DEWA/Earthwatch 1996-2003