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7th Earthwatch Working Party

Report of the Meeting UNEP/EWWP7/6

(Also available in word format ewwp7finrep.doc - 143 Kb)


1. The seventh meeting of the Earthwatch Working Party was opened on Monday 11 December 2001, on behalf of the UNEP Division of Early Warning and Assessment by Mr. Arthur Dahl, Director, Coral Reef Unit, UNEP, who welcomed the participants, outlined the origins of Earthwatch and noted the significance of the current meeting in view of the lead-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg in 2002.

Adoption of the Agenda

2. The agenda was approved as proposed (Annex 1), and Mr. Dahl was requested to chair the meeting. The list of participants is given in Annex 2 and the list of documents for the meeting is given in Annex 3. All documents relevant to the meeting are available on the documents page of the Earthwatch Website (http://earthwatch.unep.net/about/documents.html).

Report by the secretariat on progress in Earthwatch

3. Mr. Arthur Dahl presented a report (UNEP/EWWP7/2) prepared by the secretariat on the progress in implementation of the UN system-wide Earthwatch since the sixth meeting, 13-14 March 2000. He indicated that while there had been a slowing down of the Earthwatch process due to the reorganization of Earthwatch coordination in UNEP, Earthwatch had undertaken a major task in assisting in the preparation of background documentation for the ninth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-9), especially through the preparatory International Expert Meeting on Information for Decision Making and Participation that was held in Canada in September 2000 and the Ad-Hoc Intersessional Working Group held in March 2001.

4. He briefly noted some of the other activities that had taken place since the last reporting period and indicated that discussion on those issues would take place under the relevant agenda items. Activities not covered under specific agenda items which he also mentioned included the Dashboard of Sustainability developed at the European Joint Research Centre at Ispra under the guidance of the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators, which was described as a simple graphical presentation of indicators which facilitated using complex data for decision-making.

Task Manager functions for Chapter 40

5. A presentation was made by Ms Anne Kerr, Chief, National Information, Strategies and Institutions Branch of the UN Division for Sustainable Development, outlining the outcome of the expert meeting on Information for Decision-Making and Participation held in Canada and on the follow-up to the report of the Secretary General to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) (UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.4).

6. The meeting in Canada was organized under three main themes: access to and uses of information, data gaps and information systems, and new information technologies. The principal conclusions of the meeting were that: reliable access to information was essential for knowledge-based decision-making; access to sustainable development data and information at the right time and at the right cost is critical; and free, open and unrestricted access to sustainable development information is indispensable. The meeting had addressed the widening gap between countries with and without telecommunications infrastructure, (the "digital divide") and had suggested that one solution would be to take a step-by-step approach to implementation of web-based information systems and to promote a combination of on-line and off-line strategies to encompass those without access to the Internet. The value of satellite remote sensing in providing vital information about the earth's ecosystem was recognized and it was recommended that the UN should promote government, non-government and private sector partnerships to facilitate the sharing of space science research, technologies and data between developed and developing countries.

7. Regarding the follow-up to the Secretary General's report, she noted that there had been some confusion between countries' understanding of indicators for the coordinated follow-up to major UN conferences and CSD indicators, which had led to reticence by some Governments to accept indicators which they feel might be linked to conditionality of, for example, financing.

Relevant decisions of the ninth session of the CSD

8. Ms Kerr, speaking on the decisions made at CSD-9, said that the recommendations emphasized the burden faced by countries, especially developing countries, to respond to numerous requests for slightly different information on similar themes using different formats. Several suggestions were made for improving information for decision-making under headings of: improvements in functioning, coherence and coordination; training and capacity building; and approaches to indicators of sustainable development. A list of recommendations for activities at the national level was also provided and is given in UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.4. Worthy of particular mention were difficulties that existed in trying to get science and monitoring information channeled into decision-making and the value of tapping into traditional knowledge bases.

9. In the ensuing discussion it was noted that while the importance of training courses on national data and information exchange could not be ignored, the need for training in use of equipment and for operational support was vital and gaining impetus. The problem of who owns data was also raised, given the importance of determining valid and consistent data. In principle, primary data should be freely obtainable while it is considered to be appropriate to charge for value-added information products in certain circumstances. Further, concern was raised on the lack of ability to apply environmental data to such issues as human health or energy trends. The UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) study to investigate who asks for what information and where it is going in the European region was considered to be of wider interest to Earthwatch as it could provide a map of information flow. Many agencies provided insight on their reporting procedures.

10. The representative of the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC), Mr. Peter Pissierssens, reiterated the importance of linking training, equipment and operational support in achieving a sustained impact of capacity building and noted that such a strategy was now part of the IOC's ODINAFRICA project. UN agencies were invited to collaborate with IOC in Africa to address cross-sectoral issues. Mr. Pissierssens also referred to IOC's involvement in the 'Partnership Conference' which was planned to take place prior to the WSSD and which has as an objective to bring together African countries and donors to obtain funding for coastal management projects.

11. Regarding the concerns expressed, especially while preparing for the WSSD, over the lack of data required to prepare necessary reports on various issues, Mr. Pissierssens pointed out that, as far as oceans were concerned, substantial data sets were available within the data centres of the Committee for International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) and the International Council for Science Partner's World Data Centres. He also stressed the importance of metadata catalogues that had been developed at the national, regional and global scale. For the latter he referred to NASA's Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) that covered land, atmosphere, space and water, and to Global Observing Systems Information Center (GOSIC). It was recommended that Earthwatch seek cooperation with the different data and metadata collecting agencies. Mr. Pissierssens also informed the meeting on the IOC's Ocean Portal initiative which currently included a catalogue of ocean data and information sources on the web. As from 2002, IOC would develop additional portals for example for Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM), Coral Reefs and GOOS cataloguing websites pertaining to those themes and programmes.

Indicators of Environment and Sustainable Development

12. Ms Kerr provided a report on the CSD work programme on indicators of sustainable development (UNEP/EWWP/Inf.4) noting that the main objective of the programme was to make indicators of sustainable development accessible to decision makers at the national level. The framework employed to select those indicators evolved from a driving force-pressure-state-response approach to one focusing on themes and sub-themes of sustainable development in order to address considerations such as: future risks, correlation between themes, sustainability goals and basic societal needs. It was emphasized that any suggested set of indicators must be adapted to country specific conditions and needs and be subject to revision and updating over time.

13. During the discussion mention was made of the need to develop multi-layered indicators relevant to national and local as well as global and regional levels of decision-making. Agencies noted other studies on-going under this mandate such as the environmental impact of refugee camps, human environment index, human vulnerability index, an index related to global disease burden, and a review of environmental indicators initiatives. It was stressed that work on indicators should avoid unnecessary duplication and the importance of communication amongst the developers of global indicators was emphasized. Finally, the differences in processes and partners between global, regional, sub-regional and national data collection should be looked at.

Update on UN system input to GEO-3

14. Mr. Dave MacDevette, Environment Assessment Branch, UNEP, Division of Early Warning and Assessment, made a presentation on the preparation of the Global Environment Outlook (UNEP/EWWP7/5 and UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.6). He noted that UN agencies contributed to the GEO process through Earthwatch. In particular, substantive data and information on the many environmentally related issues that fall under their respective mandates are provided by the UN agencies. Regional consultations and other mechanisms to promote dialogue between scientists and policy-makers were an essential element of the GEO process. Participation by the UN system in GEO-3, however, had not been as good as for GEO-2 due, in part, to the transition phase of Earthwatch. He noted that UNEP would work with members of the Working Party to ensure their full participation in the development of GEO-4.

Preparation for and follow-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)

15. Ms Kerr informed the meeting that the dates for the WSSD would most likely change to 26 August to 4 September 2002. She added that all the regional preparatory meetings had taken place and that a substantive preparatory committee would be meeting in early 2002. She noted that multi-stakeholder involvement would be stressed at that meeting and that one of its goals was to put forward ideas to the WSSD for strengthening implementation, and actions for the future. She added that high-level input was being given to the substantive preparatory committee and that bureau members were taking a very active role, looking at potential outcomes of the summit and at the question of governance.

16. Earthwatch Working Party members provided summaries of their organizations' activities in the lead-up to WSSD which have been placed on the Earthwatch website.

Harmonization of Global Environmental Assessments

17. Mr. MacDevette introduced the agenda item and, through a presentation (UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.7) noted that there were a number of major environmental assessments currently being undertaken, such as: the Global International Waters Assessment, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Forest Resource Assessment, and the Land Degradation Assessment. At a meeting of the heads of the major assessments held in November in Cambridge, United Kingdom, a number of actions, detailed in the attached draft report were decided upon to promote the development of a more effective global environmental assessment process.

18. The meeting also noted that, with regard to global information systems, a series of framework data sets was needed in accessible format that could be used with minimal effort and that the standard metadata should be provided for the global environmental data sets. A common information system framework should be used across agencies, information on indicators should be shared and opportunities to combine case studies from different regions should be explored.

New and Emerging Issues

19. The secretariat introduced document UNEP/EWWP7/3 on new and emerging issues and noted that it had selected topics of global interest on which to make a summary and to seek advice on whether a concerted response to the issues needed to be planned by the Earthwatch partners. The subjects, while not exhaustive, included invasive species, coral reefs, vulnerability and biosafety. Partner organizations also submitted input on issues considered by their organizations to be of special interest including biodiversity and health, harmful algal blooms, water resources in water-poor areas, small island developing states and genetically modified organisms.

20. Participants were invited to provide information on new and emerging issues. Mr. Pissierssens introduced UNESCO's Unit for Disaster Reduction and IOC's related Tsunami Warning System, and UNESCO's Programme on Man and Biosphere (MAB) (http://earthwatch.unep.net/about/docs/ewwp7-4.html). Mr. Pissierssens pointed out the possible links between, amongst others, the invasive species issue and IOC's Harmful Algal Blooms programme and the coral reef issue and IOC's activities in this regard (e.g. GCRMN). He offered to invite relevant UNESCO/IOC colleagues to contact the Earthwatch secretariat with a view to providing additional content for the Earthwatch website.

21. The issue of vulnerability raised much interest at the meeting and it was noted that it was a key theme in the GEO-3 report. A paper was presented by IOC (UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.2) on issues related to the WSSD of concern to IOC and included reference to vulnerability topics such as Tsunami waves and disaster reduction. WHO had clustered their vulnerability mandate in emergency and humanitarian action with a focus on vulnerable groups i.e. women and children, and was also looking at climate change including early warning for heat waves. Children's susceptibility to pesticide poisoning, and disaster management with pilot projects using space technology to strengthen institutions and study disaster effects were also mentioned. UNEP had undertaken a review of international work in the area of vulnerability assessment and indices and was developing an index of human vulnerability to environmental changes. It was recognized that there was 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.

22. The meeting heard a report on environmental security from ECE. With a view to pushing environment higher on the political agenda of many European nations, linkages were being made between environment and security issues such as poverty leading to social tension and social unrest, shared natural resources especially transboundary waters, and the economic considerations of vulnerability to natural disasters and industrial accidents. Global health security issues related to HIV/Aids and communicable diseases in general and the vulnerability of down stream communities to a variety of environmental pressures was also noted. Finally, the attention of the meeting was drawn to 2002 being the year of the mountain and it was recognized that many areas recently designated as requiring humanitarian action were in mountainous regions. Assessment work was on going for mountains and a UN Interagency task force had been set up on the issue.

23. The Working Party also discussed the environmental and human impact on major ecosystems such as coral reefs and was informed of the on-going International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN)/UNEP work on that matter. Attention was drawn to the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre World Atlas of Coral Reefs. Regarding biosafety it was noted that not enough was being done in the WSSD process on that issue. WHO was undertaking assessments on the impact of modern food biotechnology on health, and on biosafety and transport.

Integrated Global Observing Strategy

24. A short report was presented on recent developments in the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) Partnership between the Global Observing Systems and their sponsors, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) of the space agencies, the International Group of Funding Agencies (IGFA) and major global research programmes (WCRP, IGBP). Details are available on the IGOS home page created by Earthwatch and now hosted by IOC (http://www.igospartners.org). Earthwatch was represented at the successful IGOS partners meetings in Paris, France in June 2001 and in Kyoto, Japan in November 2001, which had demonstrated the usefulness of the IGOS approach to reinforced cooperation and user-responsiveness.

Status of UNEP.Net and the Earthwatch website

25. Mr. MacDevette made a presentation on UNEP.Net (UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.8) and said that UNEP.Net was an environmental information system built on a standards based information infrastructure that is being adopted by various UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, to support the sharing of environmental information amongst UN and other partners. It was noted that the design of UNEP.Net was very much in line with the principles for a global environmental information system developed by Earthwatch.

26. A presentation was made on the GEO Data Portal http://geo3.grid.unep.ch/
that provides environmental data to support the development of UNEP's GEO
and other assessments. It was noted in the ensuing discussion that quality
control of the data would be necessary and that additional local and
regional data should be included as well as economic and social data.
Further suggestions were made for improving the site including adding
population data subdivided by gender, age and economic level, land and
forest cover and composition, biodiversity and its impact.

27. A presentation was also made on the new Earthwatch website. While the improved look of the site was commended as being professional, several suggestions were made for focusing the information provided. It was suggested that additional information should be provided on methodologies such as the use of satellite imagery, information systems, global navigation satellite systems and indicators. It was also considered that the website should focus on global data and should use agencies' information database with cross linkages.

Future strategy and work programme for Earthwatch coordination

28. In the light of the consultation under previous agenda items on the different strategic elements and activities across the UN system and beyond of relevance to Earthwatch, the meeting recommended that Earthwatch coordination should give the following activities priority in the year ahead:

· A technical meeting on global reporting and related data base development will be convened by Earthwatch, in Geneva, in June 2002. The meeting will aim to share experience on global reporting amongst major UN agencies and partner organizations such as the World Resources Institute and to develop practical proposals for improving the information base for global and regional reporting. The major UN agencies involved in reporting will be invited as well as key partners and data providers such as the UN Statistics Division.

· In view of the need to identify issues that would spark interest in information exchange, assessment and monitoring, it was agreed that Earthwatch should select key themes such as climate change, biodiversity, desertification, deforestation, water and sanitation, and air pollution on which to collaborate in particular for placing information on the website and to carry forth to WSSD.

· In view of the WSSD, Earthwatch might promote linkages between agencies working on environmental information and assessment programmes in Africa in order to demonstrate the joint work of UN agencies in a UNEP led decision support system process being prepared for the WSSD (Earthwatch Decision Support System). This system would demonstrate specific aspects of decision support while relying on contributions from a range of UN agencies and other partners. In addition, data gaps for Africa could be identified and communicated to agencies that could promote filling those gaps through any data collection programmes that might be underway on the ground.

· Earthwatch partners should work together to develop a common information framework to be used by agencies focusing on sharing of information. UNEP could take the initiative of producing a summary of the information framework and metadata system being used in UNEP.Net as an example of a standards based information system working directly with other UN Agencies and UNGIWG.

29. Regarding environmental reporting Earthwatch could coordinate a study looking at the issue of environmental reporting by developing countries and identifying practical steps to improve the reporting process. This study would build on the work currently being undertaken by UNEP's Division of Environmental Conventions on reporting to environmental conventions Earthwatch might also assist in involving the private sector in the provision of information.

30. Concerning indicators of environment and sustainable development, Earthwatch, by informing and involving different agencies, should act as a catalyst to highlight the benefits of indicators for local and national use especially by working with country offices of, for example, FAO, WHO and UNDP. Agencies were requested to share information on indicators initiatives through the Earthwatch website and interacting with other appropriate agencies on the topic.

31. Concerning new and emerging issues, summaries on issues related to agencies' activities on vulnerability, and on mountains should also be placed on the Earthwatch website. It was suggested that the Earthwatch secretariat, to improve its website, should (i) create a media list; (ii) identify themes and request most relevant URLs from agencies, index the web; (iii) create a subscriber list with monthly highlights by e-mail; and (iv) prepare a concise abstract on the site that should be distributed to partners. Agencies should continue to provide critical feedback on the website to update and improve it, especially related to linkages to their sites, and, where possible, should provide a contact point within their agencies. There should be an informal method for placing information on the Earthwatch website and all agencies should audit that information.

32. The Earthwatch secretariat would shortly be updating and reformatting the compendium of information on each partner organization on the Earthwatch web site, which could become a map to relevant information sources within each organization. Agencies cooperation in that updating process was requested.

Other business

33. There was no other business.

Date and venue of the next meeting

34. It was agreed that the eighth meeting of the Earthwatch Working Party would be held in Geneva in November of 2002 to take into account the outcome of WSSD.

Adoption of the report of the meeting

35. The Earthwatch secretariat would prepare and send out the draft report for comments to the participants prior to its distribution to all Earthwatch partners.

Closure of the Meeting

36. The meeting was closed at midday on Tuesday, 11 December 2001.


Earthwatch Working Party 7 UNEP/EWWP7/1
10-11 December 2001 10 December 2001


1. Opening of the meeting

2. Approval of the agenda and adoption of working procedures

3. Report by the secretariat on progress in Earthwatch

4. Task Manager functions for Chapter 40

5. Relevant decisions of the ninth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development

6. Indicators of environment and sustainable development

7. Update on UN system input to GEO-3

8. Preparation for and follow up to World Summit on Sustainable Development

9. Harmonization of Global Environment Assessments

10. New and emerging issues

11. Integrated Global Observing Strategy

12. Status of UNEP.Net

13. Future strategy and work programme for Earthwatch coordination

14. Other business

15. Date and venue of the next meeting

16. Adoption of the report of the meeting

17. Closure of the meeting


Earthwatch Working Party 7 UNEP/EWWP7/7
Geneva, 10-11 December 2001 11 December 2001


ECE Mr Mikhail G. Kokine
Environment and Human Settlements Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Palais des Nations, Room 319
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 917 23 47
Fax. +41 22 917 06 30

UN DESA Ms Anne Kerr
Chief, National Information,
Strategies and Institutions Branch
Division for Sustainable Development
2 UN Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10017, U.S.A.
Tel. +917 367 3072

UNFPA Ms Christa Schwaller
UNFPA Office in Geneva
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 917 85 74
Fax. +41 22 917 80 16

WHO Ms Yasmin von Schirnding
Focal Point : Agenda 21
Department of Health and Development
Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments
World Health Organization
Ch-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 791 3533
Fax. +41 22 791 41 53

Mr Carlos Corvalan
Department of Protection of the Human Environment
World Health Organization
CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 791 42 08
Fax. +41 22 791 41 23

WMO Mr M. Coughlan
Director Coordinator for Climate Activities Programme
Case postale 2300
CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 730 81 11
Fax. +41 22 730 61 81

Mr A. Karpov
Acting Chief
Observing System Division
Case postale 2300
CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 730 81 11
Fax. +41 22 730 61 81

Office for Outer Mr David Stevens
Space Affairs Programme Officer
Office for Outer Space Affairs
P.O. Box 500
A-1400 Vienna, Austria
Tel. +43 1 26060-5631
Fax. +43 1 26060-5830

UNITAR Mr Jocelyn Fenard
Programme Officer
11-13 chemin des Anemones
CH-1219 Chatelaine, Geneva, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 917 85 20
Fax. +41 22 917 80 47

Basel Convention Ms Nalini Basavaraj
Programme Officer
Secretariat of the Basel Convention
15 chemin des Anemones
CH-1219 Chatelaine, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 917 83 83
Fax. +41 22 797 34 54

Mr Ibrahim Sow
Secretariat of the Basel Convention
15 chemin des Anemones
CH-1219 Chatelaine, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 917 82 18
Fax. +41 22 797 34 54

IOC/UNESCO Mr Peter Pissierssens
Head, Ocean Services IOC (IOC/OCS)
1 rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15, France
Tel. +33 1 45 68 40 46
Fax. +33 1 45 68 58 12

UNEP Chemicals Mr Bo Wahlström
Senior Scientific Advisor
UNEP Chemicals
International Environment House
11-13 chemin des Anemones
CH-1219 Chatelaine, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 917 81 95
Fax. +41 22 797 34 60

UNEP WCMC Mr Mark Collins
UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre
219 Huntingdon Road
Cambridge CB3 0DL, United Kingdom
Tel. +44 1223 277314
Fax. +44 1223 277365

UNEP Mr Dave MacDevette
Environment Assessment Branch
Division of Early Warning and Assessment
P.O. Box 30552
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel. +254 2 62 4526
Fax. +254 2 62 4269

Mr Arthur Dahl
Coral Reef Unit
15 chemin des Anemones
1219 Châtelaine, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 917 82 07
Fax. +41 22 797 34 71

Ms Meera Laurijssen
15 chemin des Anemones
CH-1219 Chatelaine, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 917 81 76
Fax. +41 22 797 34 71


Earthwatch Working Party 7 UNEP/EWWP7/8
Geneva, 10-11 December 2001 11 December 2001


Agenda UNEP/EWWP7/1
Annotated Agenda UNEP/EWWP7/1/Add.l
Earthwatch Progress Report UNEP/EWWP7/2
New and Emerging Issues UNEP/EWWP7/3
Note by the Secretariat
New and Emerging Issues UNEP/EWWP7/4
Submissions received from Partner Organizations
New and Emerging Issues UNEP/EWWP7/4/Add.1
Submitted by SBSTTA
GEO-3 Report UNEP/EWWP7/5
Report of the Meeting UNEP/EWWP7/6
List of Participants UNEP/EWWP7/7
List of Documents UNEP/EWWP7/8

Information Documents

IOC Declaration UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.1
IOC WSSD Preparation UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.2
UNSD Report UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.3
CSD Background Documents UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.4
WHO Status Paper UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.5
GEO Presentation UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.6
Harmonization of assessment UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.7
Basel Convention WSSD UNEP/EWWP7/Inf.9



7th Working Party


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