United Nations System-Wide
Earthwatch
 
 
UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME
ENVIRONMENTAL OBSERVING AND ASSESSMENT STRATEGY
REVISED DISCUSSION DOCUMENT FOR CIRCULATION
28 March 1999
Replaced by a revised draft for review of October 1999
For the most recent draft, see the UNEP Strategies page

This draft is based on work by an expert team of external consultants, revised by UNEP to incorporate comments from within the organization. It is still subject to further change and development based on internal and external consultations. The document represents the beginnings of a strong, innovative strategic framework to guide UNEP in developing a realistic observing and assessment programme within the new functional structure of UNEP. An earlier draft of this paper was made available as an information document at the 20th UNEP Governing Council (Nairobi, 1-5 February 1999).
UNEP is now circulating this draft for consultations with our partners and with governments. In particular, the modular activities to implement the strategy still need to be developed and extended to reflect cooperation with our many partners. Further revisions of the draft will be prepared before the final adoption of the strategy in mid-year. Comments should be sent to Arthur.Dahl @ unep.ch.

CONTENTS
 Executive Summary

 Vision, Mission and Strategic Goals

 Functional Elements and Objectives of the Strategy

 - Assessment and Reporting

 - Environmental Observing
 - Data Analysis and Integration
 - Strategic Oversight and Early Warning
 Outputs

 Restructuring of UNEPís Programmes

 Activities

 - Assessment and Reporting Modules

 - Environmental Observing Modules
 - Data Analysis and Integration Modules
 - Strategic Oversight and Early Warning Modules
 REFERENCE PAPER with background on the strategy



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This action strategy outlines a phased programme for environmental observing and assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP's mandate is to analyse the state of the global environment, assess global and regional environmental trends, and provide early warning on environmental threats. In support of that mandate, and in recognition of rapidly changing circumstances that pose new challenges and opportunities for UNEP, this strategy recommends significant changes in UNEP's operational activities and structure.

The broad international political support for UNEPís role in environmental observing and assessment expressed at recent Governing Councils underscores a very significant opportunity, as outlined in this strategic plan, to transform UNEPís work plan and increase its effectiveness. If fully implemented, the plan outlined here would give UNEP a significantly enhanced role within the United Nations system and around the world as a reliable, authoritative source of environmental information. It would enable UNEP to lead more effective efforts to address rising environmental challenges by catalysing and coordinating activities within the international system and acting in partnership with governments, the private sector, and civil society.

The functional elements of the strategy, and the proposed role for UNEP in implementing them, include:

* Assessment and Reporting, where this strategy recommends a more sharply focussed operational role and an expanded collaborative role, responding to user needs for policy-relevant information and driving the whole information system;

* Environmental Observing, where this strategy recommends expanded catalytic and partnership roles, working with global and national monitoring agencies and with new bottom-up monitoring networks to fill critical data gaps;

* Data Analysis and Integration, where this strategy recommends both catalytic and operational roles to build a reliable and harmonized base of information for decision-making;

* Strategic Oversight and Early Warning, where this strategy recommends enhanced operational roles to ensure the whole system works effectively to deliver timely outputs.

The strategy is designed to provide a wider range of more policy-relevant and timely information products, in print and via electronic media, including:

* short, timely reports on environmental situations and threats for global and regional policy-makers and integrated global assessments for UNEP Governing Council, environmental ministers, and the public;

* integrated data on status and trends for international decision-making bodies and conventions and information networks and systems for expanded public access.

Beyond these specific outputs, a major product of UNEPís efforts should be partnerships that create a more efficient global system of observing, assessment, and reporting, including:

* strengthened collaborative links for participatory assessments that enhance UNEPís reporting within the international system, focussed operationally on the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process and collaboratively on ongoing activities for global sectoral assessments of freshwater, the marine and coastal environment, desertification, islands, ecosystems, etc., and the scientific assessment processes that undergird the international environmental conventions, among others;

* new partnerships with remote sensing agencies in support of specific observation and early warning systems that significantly expand the base of environmental information; and active encouragement of more participatory, bottom-up approaches to environmental observing;

* development with partners of an Internet-based environmental information meta-system bringing together new integrated information frameworks and harmonized, readily-accessible data sets to support assessment and decision-making across the international system, including UNEPís own assessment efforts, while reducing national reporting burdens;

* strengthened analytic and reporting efforts by collaborating partners at a regional level, enhancing regional capacity for informed decision-making affecting the environment and strengthening UNEPís participatory assessment process;

* stronger links with the scientific community, with policy experts, and with users to strengthen UNEPís strategic oversight and ensure the quality and credibility of its assessments.

Administratively, the strategy proposes a number of changes in the structure and programme of the UNEP Division of Environmental Information, Assessment, and Early Warning (DEIA&EW), including:

Consolidation -- folding GEMS and other activities into a single coherent system; refocusing GRID as centres for data analysis and integration, charged with supporting UNEP's assessment and early warning both directly and by catalysing analysis supportive of UNEP's mission by other agencies;

Regionalization -- strengthening regional capacity building; and reforming INFOTERRA national focal points, in cooperation with the Regional Coordinators and UNEP's Regional Offices, to ensure better public access to environmental information by building integrated environmental information systems at the national level, at the same time providing national nodes for UNEP's environmental information system.

Expansion -- expanding Earthwatch for strategic oversight; creating a capacity to catalyse needed changes in observing systems at the global level, at key national or regional observing agencies, and with emerging grass-roots observing networks; and expanding Environment and Natural Resources Information Networking (ENRIN) activities aimed at creating greater regional capacity for independent analysis and reporting, in support of UNEP's assessment and early warning missions.

This strategy identifies programme modules within each functional element of the strategy, designed to produce the specific products described above. Some modules are capable of rapid implementation; others are intended for further development and later implementation; still others will need to be added for additional priority environmental issues. Together, these modules constitute an ambitious but realistic plan, transforming existing activities into a coherent, unified programme and launching or helping to launch bold new efforts.

In summary, the strategy can be characterized in several ways:

* a user-driven strategy -- focussed around key issues, driven by the needs of policy and decision makers, which determine assessment activities, which in turn guide observation and analysis;

* more ambitious strategic goals -- reflecting UNEP's leadership role on the environment within the UN system and its guardianship role for the environment for all Earth's peoples;

* more focussed programmes -- reflecting greater clarity about UNEP's role and ability to add value in each element of the strategy; and

* modular implementation -- starting with a few key issues and demonstration products, allowing programme elements to be put in place piece by piece as funding becomes available, within the overall strategic framework. 


UNEP
ENVIRONMENTAL OBSERVING AND ASSESSMENT STRATEGY

1. This paper describing the new UNEP Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy includes the following sections: the vision, mission and strategic goals; functional elements and objectives of the strategy; outputs; restructuring of UNEP's programmes; and activities to implement the strategy, assembled in a series of modules which can provide the basis for specific projects or be implemented in a phased manner as funds become available, which still forming parts of a coherent whole. It highlights the major thrusts of the strategy without attempting to be all inclusive.

2. This strategy document is complemented by a Reference Paper (available on the web at http://www.unep.ch/earthw/unepstrf.htm). The paper, which is based largely on background reports prepared by outside consultant organizations and UNEP, documents UNEP's mandate in more detail, amplifies on the strategic goals for observing and assessment, describes information products and priority issues, places the strategy in the context of other strategies and larger strategic frameworks, and reviews the lessons learned from UNEP's past experience. It can be referred to for details that could not be included here. The strategy has also benefited from UNEP-wide consultations with key individuals. It reflects a consensus that major change is needed, and widespread support for the major elements of the strategy. The strategy now needs a wider process of consultation, and inputs from a wider circle of partners and governments, to identify specific partnerships and to define collaborative activities in more detail.

VISION

3. UNEP must become the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda and provides a timely, credible and reliable source of integrated information about the environmental problems of the planet and human society. It cannot do this alone, but must marshall the efforts of the UN system, other international organizations, governments and civil society, and distil the results into policy-relevant outputs.

MISSION

4. UNEP's mandate for environmental observing and assessment, set forth in the 1972 Stockholm action plan and renewed in Agenda 21 and the 1997 Nairobi Declaration, is to analyze the state of the global environment, assess global and regional environmental trends, and provide early warning information on environmental threats, based on the best scientific and technical capabilities available. The UN Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements also recommended in June 1998 that UNEP transform its Earthwatch function into an effective, accessible, science-based system that meets the needs of environmental decision makers and the public.

5. UNEP has a unique integrating role on the environment within the international system, with a mission to focus on linkages among the various environmental issues and sectoral policies. It must provide timely information to meet the needs of environmental decision-makers and the public, and stimulate greater involvement of regional and sectoral stakeholders in environmental assessment processes. Fulfilling this mission, in its role as guardian of the environment for all Earth's peoples, is the aim of this strategy.

STRATEGIC GOALS

6. The following are four new strategic goals for UNEP's Observing and Assessment Programme:

a) to improve local, national and international decision-making that affects the environment by strengthening the quality and availability of policy-relevant information;

b) to report globally on the state of the global environment, including the causes of environmental degradation and the impact of policy responses;

c) to catalyse, encourage, and assist the evolution of an improved and more coordinated global observing and assessment system, focussed to a greater extent on policy-relevant outputs;

d) to increase regional capacity for environmental data collection, analysis, and reporting as a foundation for the global system.

FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE STRATEGY

7. UNEP has been given a broad and challenging mission, but with limited resources, it cannot do everything. Instead, UNEP must define carefully those functions across the whole chain of information flow, from collecting raw data to delivering processed information and policy recommendations, where it has a comparative advantage at the international level and the capability to be effective. This strategy outlines objectives and activities in four such areas: assessment and reporting, environmental observing, data analysis and integration, and strategic oversight and early warning. UNEP should ensure that all these activities are integrated into a single efficient system, with the needs of users for reports and early warning information determining the assessment processes, which in turn define the data to be collected and analysed. The appropriate role for UNEP--how UNEP can best contribute significant added value or leverage other contributions--varies greatly from area to area, and this strategy is accordingly specific for each area.

ASSESSMENT AND REPORTING

8. Environmental assessment--that is evaluating the state of and the trends in the planetary environment, its life support systems, and the natural resources on which humanity depends--has always been an essential function of UNEP, one of the most important activities for exercising its role in the international community. As the flow of environmental information has increased and the number of actors involved in environmental assessment at local through global levels has expanded enormously, the role and form of UNEP's environmental assessments and reports has had to evolve. This strategy continues and accelerates that evolution. In particular, what are now needed are integrated assessments that also evaluate the inter-linkages among issues, driving forces, and policy responses. Also needed are assessments that make use of such tools as scenario analysis, modelling, and geographic information system (GIS) analysis in order to provide users with better insights into where current trends may lead, how impacts differentiate by region, and what alternative policies may achieve.

9. UNEP has both a direct operational role in assessment and a catalytic and collaborative role within the international system. In its operational activities, UNEP should:

a) prepare and publish authoritative global integrated environmental assessments, building on and strengthening the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) report and the regionalized, participatory process that supports it;

b) increase its focus in its own assessments and information products on providing environmental guidance to the key elements of the international system, including the UNEP Governing Council, the Commission on Sustainable Development, and through them ECOSOC and the UN General Assembly; the multilateral financial institutions; specialized UN bodies such as FAO, UNDP, WHO, etc.; and especially the international environmental conventions;

c) consult regularly and develop partnerships with these groups to determine user profiles and needs for environmental information, to discuss the relevant results from UNEP's assessments and their policy implications, and to undertake qualitative analysis of the actual use of the reports produced;

d) give additional emphasis in its own assessments to causes, impacts, and policy responses and to evaluating the adequacy, performance and global environmental impacts of societal responses and development programmes;

e) develop specific and timely environmental information products for its main target groups: policy-makers, international decision-making bodies, and international environmental conventions, which can also provide the basis for outputs to the media and the general public;

In its collaborative and catalytic assessment activities, UNEP should:

f) establish partnerships with thematic or sectoral assessment centres and programmes, stimulate the creation of scientific assessment bodies where needed, and participate as appropriate in sectoral assessment reports targeted to specific policy-making processes, both to contribute to those assessments and to incorporate their insights and findings into UNEPís assessment, strategic oversight, and early warning efforts;

g) strengthen the capacity of a selected set of well-regarded collaborating centres in developing regions to undertake regional analysis, assessment, and reporting, involving a wider range of scientific and policy expertise, in order to increase significantly the amount of policy-relevant information on regional and global environmental issues;

h) catalyse consultations and inter-linkages among the international scientific advisory processes involved in assessments of the environment and sustainable development, to improve their coherence and effectiveness;

i) facilitate the flow of information between the organization and its partners, and promote access to environmental information, through provision with many partners of integrated environmental information services.

10. In UNEP's operational role, its assessment and reporting strategy must be driven by user needs for environmental information of policy relevance, focussing specifically on the needs of the international system. Within that context, it should define the information products (reports, bulletins, electronic services, etc.) able to meet those needs. For example, it might prove useful to provide web or other electronic information access for UNEP's Permanent Representatives to give them status information on the environment and the processes for its assessment in their regions. To be sure of focussing its assessment and reporting activities in this way, UNEP should establish a structured dialogue with each of its target groups within the international system. These dialogues should include regular meetings to understand their information needs and specific efforts to inform them of and discuss with them the results of UNEPís assessment activities and their implications.

11. In addition to UNEPís own integrated assessment activities, however, there are other global and sectoral assessment and reporting activities relevant to the environment, such as international energy assessments and the scientific assessment processes that undergird the international environmental conventions. UNEP is a partner in many of these assessment processes, including GESAMP's assessments of the State of the Marine Environment and of the effects of Land-based Activities, the Global International Waters Assessment, the partnership with the European Environment Agency for concise annual assessments, the Millennium Assessment of Ecosystems, and the on-going partnership with UNDP, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute for the World Resources Report, among others. UNEP needs to create the internal capacity and administrative structures to cooperate effectively with other organizations and to participate actively in such assessments, where appropriate, to ensure that its perspective and an integrated view of environmental issues are incorporated in the assessments, to gain early access to findings and results that can inform its own assessment and reporting activities, and to strengthen its strategic oversight of environmental issues. This will require an expanded and strengthened core assessment staff and adequate travel budgets, and would be greatly facilitated by upgraded computer and software tools and more reliable electronic communication links.

12. To support its assessment and reporting strategy, as well as its early warning activities, UNEP needs to significantly upgrade its technical capacity to visualize information--in maps, multi-media presentations, web sites, and video clips--so as to be able to communicate it to policy-makers and to the media more effectively. This will require both new in-house skills and equipment and more creative use of external services.

ENVIRONMENTAL OBSERVING

13. To fulfil its mission to analyse and assess the global environment, UNEP depends upon data and information gathered by a wide variety of sources that together constitute the elements of a global environmental observing system. But UNEP itself neither collects any data nor directly manages any observing systems. Moreover, the collection of basic environmental data and information is fragmented and often inefficient: poor data undermine assessment conclusions and lead to bad policy decisions. To improve global environmental information and to fill critical data gaps, UNEP must play a catalytic role in encouraging changes in existing observing systems and stimulating the development of new systems. This strategy calls for UNEP to:

a) catalyse more effective data collection and analysis to meet assessment and early warning needs. This is necessary at all levels, not just at the global level. For this, UNEP should engage a wide variety of partners, including other UN system entities, national observing agencies, and efforts within civil society and the private sector, using its convening role and its leadership mandate for the environment;

b) provide leadership that can help to re-orient existing observing efforts to produce more policy-relevant data, building on and supporting the Integrated Global Observing Strategy and Global Observing Systems, but also engaging national observing agencies, to set forth policy-relevant information needs and to build a consensus on critical data gaps and how to fill them;

c) actively encourage the creation of additional innovative observing efforts, especially those that are bottom-up (and thus have the potential of adding local as well as global value) and those that can provide early-warnings or help to fill data gaps;

d) work to strengthen regional centres, thematic centres and scientific processes that can assist with observing methodologies, data management, quality control and harmonization, and data analysis.

14. UNEP's efforts to improve observing systems must be driven by the information needs of policy-makers and of assessment processes, within UNEP and throughout the international system (including the global environmental conventions), and by UNEP's early warning role.

15. In exercising its catalytic role for environmental observing, UNEP and its partners need to periodically assess priority needs for environmental data. UNEP also needs to engage and maintain a dialogue with observing agencies and organizations, use its convening power to host workshops and other meetings, and use its moral authority as the environmental conscience of the UN System to suggest priority information needs to observing agencies. UNEP can also form partnerships with observing agencies, host secretariats, and sponsor or endorse new initiatives. These activities will require fairly senior staff dedicated to specific catalytic activities, with adequate travel and workshop budgets and authority to commit UNEP to collaborative activities; it will also require specific requests to monitoring agencies or national governments by or in the name of the Executive Director.

16. Although UNEPís own assessment and reporting activities will be focussed at the global level, a review of past experience suggests that a sustainable global observing system must be built on and closely linked to national and local components. Past experience also suggests that a successful global observing system cannot operate parasitically--it must draw data from and return useful information to its national and local components. The emerging global observing system will of necessity include many different components: remote-sensing systems, a wide range of in situ instruments, and reports from human observers. This strategy suggests phased implementation of activities (modules) designed to catalyse improvements in all three types of systems, tied to specific policy or assessment needs. These activities greatly expand UNEPís existing Earthwatch activities.

DATA ANALYSIS AND INTEGRATION

17. Reliable assessments require a solid foundation of scientific data that are quality controlled, integrated into coherent and harmonized data sets, and analysed for their significance in an environmental policy context. Raw data usually need to be analysed, interpreted, and summarized in graphics, maps, tables or indicators to become useful, easily understood information. This process by which data becomes information is one of the weakest links in the chain of information flow, as its importance is often underestimated and insufficient resources provided for it. A high proportion of existing data is of such poor quality or so difficult to compare that it fails to pass this step successfully. While UNEP should not become a major data provider except for its own assessments, it should seek to work with partners to facilitate and coordinate improved access to reliable data sets developed and maintained by many organizations, including data on the state of the environment, on environmental trends, on the causes or drivers of environmental change, and on the physical, biological, and social impacts of environmental change and degradation.

18. UNEP should therefore play both catalytic and operational roles in data analysis and integration, including harmonization of data sets that are essential to environmentally sustainable development. This strategy calls for UNEP to:

a) stimulate and establish, through collaborative efforts and partnerships with other international agencies, regional organizations, collaborating centres, national agencies, and civil society groups, an expanding base of high-quality, regularly-maintained and commonly-available data to support its assessment activities and those of other entities;

b) focus the activities of GRID centres on analysis and data integration efforts that support UNEPís assessment role, and on catalysing needed analysis by other groups;

c) catalyse the development of an integrated information framework for environmentally sustainable development, and promote and seek to make use of advanced modelling and analysis tools and advanced methods of presenting and disseminating information;

d) make greater use of the potential of the Internet to build an electronic environmental information meta-system, linking in its integrated information framework the distributed data sets and analyses developed and maintained by many groups. With common data protocols and built-in review processes, such a system can become a credible and widely available source of information;

e) take the lead in coordinating and encouraging the development of a coherent set of environmental indicators, based on aggregated data, for its assessments and reports, as part of the global effort to develop indicators of sustainable development.

19. Environmental assessments and early warnings need a foundation of reliable, readily understandable information, which often must be assembled from many different data sources through processes of analysis and integration, including essential steps of quality control and harmonization. UNEP needs to become a sophisticated user of data and information provided by others, with the capacity to analyse and evaluate its quality and appropriateness for its own use in assessment and early warning processes. UNEP also needs to identify weaknesses and gaps in global and regional data sets and catalyse or work cooperatively with others to fill those gaps through environmental observing, through improved analysis and quality control, through data integration and harmonization activities, and through efforts to create more broadly accessible environmental data for its own use and for use by other assessment and decision-making processes. To provide the internal capacity required to use data effectively and to understand its limitations, the Division of Environmental Information, Assessment & Early Warning (DEIA&EW) should include several programme officers with specific data and information-related coordination responsibilities, such as for indicators, data frameworks, or sectoral assessments.

20. UNEP should also strengthen and make more effective use of its own analytic capacity, especially that represented by its GRID centres. It should also extend its capacity by out-sourcing analysis, modelling, data integration, and indicator development through cooperative agreements, and engage in limited efforts to increase the capacity for analysis in selected regional centres in support of its assessment and reporting goals. Again, dedicated staff is required to coordinate such activities and to ensure that regional activities remain integrated into the strategy.

STRATEGIC OVERSIGHT AND EARLY WARNING

21. UNEP should take an expanded operational role in strategic oversight of environmental issues and in building cooperative environmental early warning mechanisms using the latest information and communications technologies. To that end, this strategy calls for UNEP to:

a) strengthen its assessment capacity so as to be able to assess and highlight the linkages and interactions among environmental issues and sectoral policies and bring them to global attention;

b) build collaboration with existing networks in the UN system, intergovernmental and regional organizations, the scientific community, and non-governmental organizations to identify emerging environmental problems and potential crises;

c) strengthen its strategic oversight of the whole global system for environmental observing and assessment and report periodically on the state of the observing system itself, identifying gaps and needed improvements, and organizing feed-back from the later stages of the policy cycle to the observing and assessment tasks;

d) develop specific mechanisms for long-term early warning of significant environmental problems which could result in human or environmental disasters, emergencies or conflicts requiring international action.

22. Strategic oversight and early warning are both extensions of the assessment function, but are discussed separately here to emphasize their importance. UNEP should continually survey how the international system is responding to environmental issues, and point out gaps or new needs that require attention. Early warning addresses the need to anticipate and avoid environmental crises and to deliver environmental information more rapidly. An important first step will be to establish criteria for identifying issues or areas pertinent to early warning. Separately, UNEP should also link to networks and mechanisms developed by others to allow its decision-makers timely access to information on environmental crisis situations.

OUTPUTS

23. The strategy is designed to provide a wider range of more policy-relevant and timely information products, in print and via electronic media, including:

a) short, timely reports, assessments and information products such as the UNEP/EEA concise annual assessments, that keep policy-makers informed of the global and regional environmental situation, particularly where it threatens human health and well-being and environmental sustainability, as one mechanism for long-term early warning; these can be based in part on sectoral assessments such as the GESAMP reports on Land-Based Activities and on the State of the Marine Environment, the Global International Waters Assessment, the Millennium Assessment of Ecosystems, etc;

b) periodic integrated assessments of the global environment, such as the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) reports and 10-year reviews of the state of the world environment, intended to measure the effectiveness of international environmental management actions for UNEP Governing Council, environmental ministers, and the public, such as GEO-3 in 2002, GEO for Youth, the GEO reports on the Environment Outlook in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean Small Island Developing States, the World Resources Reports, etc.;

c) adequate scientific data on the global environment assembled, integrated and organized into core data sets and indicators so that the status and trends can be summarized for each necessary global report for international decision-making bodies and conventions; these should be derived from global observing systems, partnerships with data producers, and projects such as the new integrated observing system for water quality; and

d) a network of transparent and accessible environmental information systems for expanded public access, incorporating sets of indicators in an integrated information framework, in which all partners participate and which are able to provide essential information to all users, stakeholders and decision-makers from global to local levels, building on initiatives such as the electronic environmental information meta-system and INFOTERRA's integrated environmental information services at national level.

24. Beyond these specific outputs, this plan contemplates that a major product of UNEPís efforts will be partnerships that create a more efficient global system of observing, assessment, and reporting, including:

a) strengthened collaborative links for participatory assessments that enhance UNEPís reporting within the international system, focussed operationally on the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process and collaboratively on such ongoing activities as GESAMP's assessments of the State of the Marine Environment and the effects of Land-based Activities, the Global International Waters Assessment, assessments of freshwater, desertification, and small islands, the scientific assessment processes that undergird the international environmental conventions, and the Millennial Assessment of Ecosystems/World Resources Report, among others;

b) new partnerships with remote sensing agencies such as the Global Observations of Forest Cover and the Internet-based Fire Watch early warning system that together significantly expand the base of environmental information; and active encouragement of more participatory, bottom-up approaches to environmental observing, such as HABITATís Global Urban Observatory and the NGO-based Global Forest Watch;

c) development with partners of an Internet-based environmental information meta-system bringing together new integrated information frameworks and harmonized, readily-accessible data sets to support assessment and decision-making across the international system, including UNEPís own assessment efforts, while reducing national reporting burdens;

d) strengthened analytic and reporting efforts by collaborating partners at a regional level, enhancing regional capacity for informed decision-making affecting the environment and strengthening UNEPís participatory assessment process;

e) stronger links with the scientific community, with policy experts, and with users to strengthen UNEPís strategic oversight and ensure the quality and credibility of its assessments.

RESTRUCTURING OF UNEP'S PROGRAMMES

25. To adapt to the new strategy, the UNEP secretariat needs to restructure its existing observing, assessment and information programmes as follows:

CONSOLIDATION

26. Many of the programme elements of the Division of Environmental Information, Assessment, and Early Warning (DEIA&EW) should be consolidated, refocussing some and eliminating others. All remaining activities should be folded into a single coherent system. Specifically,

a) GEMS should be replaced. There are important elements of this strategy addressing water and air quality issues which should be developed in new modules, but GEMS as it has been structured is not the right vehicle for them. There is wide support within UNEP for this action.

b) The INFOTERRA national focal points should be reoriented to build the partnerships necessary for an integrated environmental information service at the national level, with the assistance of the DEIA&EW Regional Coordinators and the UNEP Regional Offices (see below under Regionalization). They should collaborate with the UN Resident Coordinators and UNDP to provide both national nodes for UNEP's environmental information system (e.g. sources of information for UNEP) and more dynamic national environmental information centres. They will also play a leading role in implementing the public-right-to-know principle and better public access to environmental information, as requested by the Governing Council (20/5).

c) GRID (redefined as Global and Regional Integrated Data) centre activities should be refocussed as global or regional UNEP centres for data analysis and integration, charged with supporting UNEP's assessment and early warning functions both directly and by catalyzing analysis by other agencies that is supportive of UNEP's mission. National GRID nodes in Eastern Europe should be integrated into national environmental information systems under the reformed INFOTERRA. UNEP should not be encouraging a confusing multiplication of structures at the national level that it cannot maintain.

REGIONALIZATION

27. The regional centres for analysis and reporting developed for environment and natural resources information networking (ENRIN) should be expanded as new funds become available. Such a limited, focussed effort to increase regional capacity for independent analysis and reporting is critical to support UNEP's own regionalized assessment activity and to improve regional decision-making that affects the environment. The successful Environment Assessment Programme for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok is an appropriate model for this effort. In addition, the DEIA&EW Regional Coordinators, in collaboration with the UNEP Regional Offices, should be given an increased role in regional information collection on the environment and in stimulating the development of integrated environmental information services, including:

a) assisting DEIA&EW in overseeing collaborating centres, GRID centres, and other affiliated information activities within the region;

b) maintaining contact with the INFOTERRA national focal points, assisting them to establish partnerships with diverse stakeholders to create integrated environmental information services, and linking them to the UN Resident Coordinators and UNDP capacity building. Where there is more than one UNEP-linked national focal point (INFOTERRA and GRID, for example), their combination or close collaboration should be encouraged;

c) providing information about environmental situations at the regional level that may require some response from UNEP or the international community;

d) identifying regional priorities and policy concerns as inputs to UNEP's global assessments.

EXPANSION

28. DEIA&EW needs to significantly expand its efforts to catalyze needed changes in observing and assessment systems:

a) The efforts of Earthwatch with the UN system and the Global Observing Systems provide a model and a nucleus for these catalytic activities;

b) DEIA&EW should initiate Earthwatch-like catalytic efforts directed at key national or regional environmental observing agencies such as NASA, NOAA, EEA, ISRO and the European Space Agency, to support activities such as the Global Observations of Forest Cover and the Internet-based Fire Watch early warning system that together significantly expand the base of environmental information. It should also stimulate and actively encourage more participatory, bottom-up approaches to environmental observing, such as HABITATís Global Urban Observatory and emerging grass-roots observing networks like the NGO-based Global Forest Watch;

c) Expansion is also needed in the development of regional centres for analysis and reporting, as described above, and in the assessment processes delivering timely and relevant products to UNEP's principal users at the international level.

ACTIVITIES

29. To achieve UNEPís goals and fulfil its mandate, UNEP must translate the functional elements and objectives of this strategy into tangible actions. For each element, this section suggests a modular implementation approach consistent with the overall strategy. It lists core activities that are at the heart of the strategy and can be implemented rapidly with only a moderate increase in resources (Phase One modules), and describes a number of additional modular activities or demonstration projects designed to allow phased implementation of particular products or outputs as additional resources become available. This list of modules is not complete, and others will need to be developed for other priority environmental issues, including assessment mandates which the Division of Environmental Information, Assessment and Early Warning (DEIA&EW) is inheriting from other parts of UNEP. Such modules should be developed within the framework of the strategy and incorporated in it. The modules also need to be described in more detail, including the goal of the activity, the products to be produced, the partners to be involved, the work plan and budget, and the indicators of success. This will be a major task as the strategy is further developed. Together, these modules constitute an ambitious but realistic plan, transforming existing activities into a coherent, unified programme and launching or helping to launch bold new efforts.

ASSESSMENT AND REPORTING MODULES

A-1 Phase One Module: Global Environment Outlook report

30. One continuing core activity is the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) reports requested by the UNEP Governing Council to meet the need for regular integrated, forward-looking assessments of the state of the global environment including a regional perspective. UNEP must build on the early success of the GEO process of participatory assessment, strengthening it to improve both global assessment and reporting and regional/national decision-making affecting the environment. GEO is the most ambitious operational activity in this strategic plan. To produce high quality reports that are technically sound and politically relevant requires the active support of the entire Division and UNEPís leadership and regular communication between that leadership and the GEO team. To cover not only environmental trends but also the factors driving environmental change and policy responses, UNEP will need access to a wide range of expertise and data, requiring broad consultation and possibly consultative and cooperative relationships. To function efficiently, the core assessment staff requires the addition of professional editorial and publications management expertise. At the request of the Governing Council (GC 20/1), specific outside contracts will be arranged for reports on the GEO user profile and qualitative analysis of the actual use of GEO-1, GEO-2 and the GEO process, for specification of user requirements and preferences through consultation with user groups, and for proposals for new more effective information formats and systems for future reporting.

31. Planning for GEO-3 should begin shortly after the release of GEO-2. The Governing Council has requested that GEO-3 should be produced in 2002, serving as the decadal state of the world environment report and the "30 Years After Stockholm" report. It should ask to what degree environmental considerations have been integrated into the mainstream of decision-making, and look forward to ask what can be done and should be done with todayís and tomorrowís policy instruments, especially economic and information instruments. The appropriate periodicity for this report series should be reviewed following GEO-3. Specialized reports from the GEO process should also continue to be produced, including the GEO for Youth report and regional Environment Outlooks such as those for Small Island Developing States.

A-2 Phase One Module: Harmonize UNEPís sectoral assessments

32. As UNEPís in-house assessment activities are brought together under the DEIA&EW, their approach should harmonized with that of GEO, so that they are mutually supportive and so that sectoral assessments can contribute to GEO. UNEP should cooperate in sectoral assessments of freshwater, the marine and coastal environment, desertification, islands, ecosystems, etc, including GESAMP's assessments of the State of the Marine Environment and of the effects of Land-based Activities, the Global International Waters Assessment, the partnership with the European Environment Agency for concise annual assessments, the Millennial Assessment of Ecosystems, and the on-going partnership with UNDP, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute for the World Resources report, among others. . Sectoral assessment activities should also be focussed on those issues where UNEP can contribute the most: focussing water assessment activities on water quality issues; focussing land assessment activities on the interaction between land management and other issues, e.g., land management and water quality in watersheds, land management and land-based sources of pollution and coastal/marine degradation, land management and biodiversity.

33. Ecosystems and biodiversity will serve as a pilot theme in the first year for issue-oriented coordination of information flow and outputs under the strategy. Close links will be established with other processes such as the Ecosystem Conservation Group now preparing a strategic overview of environmental monitoring and assessment of ecosystems, which can identify gaps and funding opportunities for future work, and with the Millennium Assessment of ecosystems. The UN system-wide Earthwatch will ensure close collaboration with all the UN agencies and environmental convention secretariats. SCOPE will be contracted to provide a case study of sustainable ecosystem management options in Africa, to involve its national committees in developing countries in support of the Collaborating Centre projects, and to initiate electronic networking with participating scientists as an initial stage in scientific community involvement in early warning networking. Working relationships will be established with NGO networks of observing activities relevant to ecosystems and biodiversity, starting with forests and coral reefs, to develop procedures for integrating their outputs into the global observing and assessment process.

A-3 Phase One Module: Create an advisory group to oversee assessment quality

34. The credibility of UNEPís assessments is critical to their success. To enhance and maintain that credibility, UNEP should establish an advisory group including leading scientists and policy experts to provide strategic guidance and quality control for its assessment activity. It should empower this group to play an active role in establishing UNEPís processes to ensure the scientific accuracy and soundness, policy relevance, and over-all quality of its assessment products and in monitoring how those processes are implemented. This outside advisory group can also provide guidance for UNEP in the implementation of this strategic plan.

A-4 Phase One Module: Build regional analytic and reporting capacity

35. Integral to UNEPís own assessment and reporting efforts, especially for GEO, is the need to strengthen the capacity of a selected set of collaborating centres in developing regions to undertake regional analysis, assessment, and reporting, focussing on those centres that can support the GEO effort and that have close ties to or command the confidence of national governments in the region. This focussed, limited capacity building should be developed with other partners and supported at a level that can achieve a significant increase in the availability of policy-relevant information pertaining to regional and global environmental issues, concentrating efforts on only a few centres at a time for maximum impact. It should include a more formalized work programme for each centre and multi-year contracts with predictable budgets, allowing the centre to plan ahead and direct more of its innovative potential to UNEP assessments. After consultations and a final selection of the most appropriate Collaborating Centres in each developing region, subcontracts will be concluded with the selected centres, assisted by supporting partners, to produce the required outputs for GEO-3, starting with prototype assessments, harmonized data sets, and retrospective/prospective reviews and scenarios. These will be coupled with capacity-building measures including involvement of additional regional experts, visits from appropriate expert consultants and UNEP staff, training courses with the new Training Manual for Integrated Environmental Assessment and Reporting, and meetings for exchange of experience and joint planning. This ENRIN-like activity overlaps with activities discussed below under Data Analysis and Integration, but is also discussed here because it should be driven in large part by the needs of the GEO assessment process. Potential partners in such activities would include GEO collaborating centres and GRID regional centres in developing regions.

A-5 Phase Two Module: Develop additional information products

36. In addition to full assessment reports such as GEO, UNEP should develop additional information products on the basis of consultations with its target groups, including policy-makers, international decision-making bodies, and the international environmental conventions. These might include short briefing reports or newsletters in print and/or electronic form, web sites that provide access and update information to specific target groups, video clips that illustrate environmental conditions or explain environmental processes, and structured presentations in print or electronic form for use with or by decision-makers, among others. UNEP should also consider, for example, whether it needs two streams of assessment products coming from the GEO process focussing separately on agenda setting and on evaluating progress. By developing a wider range of products in consultation with its users, UNEP will be able to communicate its message and convey the results of environmental assessments to its target audiences and to the media more effectively.

ENVIRONMENTAL OBSERVING MODULES

O-1 Phase One Module: UN Earthwatch

37. The on-going Earthwatch activities in environmental observing should continue, including regular networking and dialogue with UN system agencies to coordinate environmental observing and information, maintenance of the UN system-wide Earthwatch web site giving access to information on all observing and information activities, efforts to provide common and compatible access to data across the UN system, and strategy development for the Global Observing Systems and the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS).

O-2 Phase One Module: Guiding existing global observing systems to meet policy needs

38. UNEP is already a partner in the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS), which provides a framework for the observing activities of the Global Observing Systems, space agency satellite programmes, and global change research programmes. UNEP should dedicate a full-time staff person as liaison to the global observing systems and to IGOS; should offer to host a secretariat for the IGOS Partnership; and should play a more direct role in helping to shape the evolution of these systems. In this time-limited (perhaps 5 years) catalytic role, UNEP should articulate the information needs arising from the global environmental conventions and from ongoing global assessment activities (both GEO and others in which UNEP participates), and advocate a more user-driven, policy-relevant approach to shaping the global observing systems and designing their outputs.

O-3 Phase One Module: Guiding national observing systems to meet global needs

39. In parallel, however, UNEP should expand its engagement with national or regional monitoring agencies, and with the coordinating body of remote sensing agencies, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). This will require a full-time staff person assigned to maintain regular contact with national monitoring agencies. As with the Global Observing Systems, UNEP should articulate the information needs arising from the global environmental conventions and from ongoing global assessment activities, and advocate a more user-driven, policy-relevant approach to contributions from national monitoring programmes. By making explicit both the information needs and the policy-relevance of those needs, UNEP can help provide a global mandate for national monitoring agencies and help to legitimize and catalyse specific projects as well as a larger international role for these agencies. By organizing technical workshops, UNEP can also promote harmonization of data, standardization of measurement techniques, and greater international coordination among national agencies. And by directly requesting from observing agencies or governments the collection or release of specific, policy-relevant information, UNEP can help to stimulate significant national actions. Such activities will help to improve the quality of the information flow available to assist environmental decision-making at national and global levels, as well as providing direct support to UNEPís and other international assessment activities and to UNEPís early warning efforts.

40. Specifically, UNEP should endorse and encourage such projects as Global Observations of Forest Cover, a CEOS/IGOS effort to improve remote sensing of forests that can serve UNEPís purposes, FAOís forest assessments, the climate and biodiversity conventions, and national forest agencies. UNEP and its UN system partners should anticipate the launch of new remote sensing platforms such Landsat 7, the Earth Observing System, and other national systems that promise greatly expanded environmental data by encouraging the relevant observing agencies to give priority to information products that have particular importance to the international community. By legitimizing particular projects and increasing their internal support, and by providing a neutral forum for discussion of joint national efforts or for resolving differences, UNEPís catalytic role can leverage very large resources.

41. A related activity is the opportunity for declassifying national intelligence information relevant to environmental issues held in several national agencies. A request to relevant governments by the UNEP Executive Director could play a critical role, tipping the balance in on-going internal debates and triggering major declassification efforts. High level initiatives will therefore be launched, together with partners where possible, to obtain the agreement of major national observing agencies to provide new global data layers for environmental monitoring, assessments and planning. A related opportunity is suggested by the high priority attached to land use data--for assessment of environmental impacts, for development planning, for a wide variety of national and international purposes--and the almost complete lack of such information on a global scale or even a national scale for many countries. Creating a digital base-map of land use would markedly assist assessment activities and facilitate more informed development planning. A UNEP request to produce and put in the public domain a global land use map, in electronic form, as a base-line for current and future assessments, might conceivably trigger the greening of intelligence information.

O-4 Phase One Module: Catalysing the development of new bottom-up observing networks

42. The rise of the Internet is making possible more distributed, participatory observing approaches -- global networks of local groups or institutions that together can provide powerful new sources of information for both local and global purposes. These new networks can help fill data gaps, can support assessment and early warning activities, and can broaden the base and the political support for environmental observing. UNEP should actively endorse and support the development of such systems, providing credibility for the systems with national governments. UNEP should maintain an active link to such systems, both to gain timely access to the data they collect and to help ensure the objectivity and reliability of the data. UNEP may also be able to support such networks with the analysis capability of the GRID centres. Taking full advantage of such opportunities will require a full-time UNEP staff person to maintain the links and actively participate in shaping these networks and catalysing new ones.

43. Two prototype bottom-up systems are already well under way and can provide the initial focus for UNEPís efforts. One is HABITATís Global Urban Observatory, the funding and rapid implementation of which UNEP should encourage; HABITAT estimates that implementation will require 12-13 staff. UNEP should seek to strengthen the environmental data elements of the Global Urban Observatoryís programme, particularly in the area of air quality, so that it serves both HABITATís and UNEPís assessment needs. A second prototype system, Global Forest Watch, is being launched and independently funded as a global network of local forest NGOs by the World Resources Institute and its partners, and will eventually become an independent entity. Both of these networks will collect data using well-defined frameworks, operate a review process to ensure objectivity, report in near real time using web sites on the Internet, and publish global overview reports at periodic intervals, roughly every two years. Both will provide information that significantly extends what can be obtained by remote sensing. UNEP should also seek to catalyse similar networks in other high priority issues where a distributed approach holds significant promise. One such opportunity may be to catalyse a more integrated global Coral Reef Watch among several relevant activities, as part of the International Coral Reef Initiative, lending an active observing component to the Regional Seas programme.

44. UNEP should also seek to integrate the output of such observing networks into ongoing assessment activities. Using the analytic capability of its GRID centres, for example, UNEP could link the pattern of forest activities under planned forest concessions gathered by Global Forest Watch to potential watershed changes and their implications for water supply (for the international water assessment) or for flooding danger (for early warning) or for habitat preservation (for the Biodiversity Convention).

O-5 Phase Two Module: Linking national in-situ observing systems to meet global needs

45. National observing systems based on in-situ data collection are much less linked and coordinated than is the case with remote sensing systems. There is correspondingly a major opportunity for UNEP to play a catalytic role in promoting such links and in promoting standardization of measurement techniques and harmonization and integration of the resulting information, starting initially with a limited number of demonstration projects in one or two regions. As with remote sensing systems, UNEP should articulate the global information needs and advocate a more coordinated and policy-relevant approach in specific sectoral areas. UNEP can help provide a global mandate for national monitoring agencies and help to legitimize and catalyse specific projects as well as a larger international role for these agencies. By organizing technical workshops, UNEP can also promote harmonization of data, standardization of measurement techniques, and greater international coordination among national agencies. In implementing such catalytic efforts, UNEP should choose only one or two sectoral areas, such as water quality or other high priority issues, at a time. Additional dedicated staff would be required.

O-6 Phase Two Module: Catalysing an integrated observing system for water quality

46. A specific instance of an in-situ observing system concerns water quality. Freshwater is a priority area agreed at the 1997 Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council. A major data gap that impedes international assessments for water is lack of global information about water quality. This suggests an opportunity for UNEP to catalyse a new integrated observing system for water quality, in replacement of GEMS-Water, starting with a few key watersheds and expanding to prototype national systems linked to global as well as local and national needs.

47. Based on past experience, this strategy recommends that global observing networks be based on and tightly integrated with existing local networks, which means that the global network must return added-value products to the local level in return for continuing access to the local data. This is the pattern for weather observations and the resulting weather maps and forecasts, perhaps the most successful of all environmental observing systems.

48. For water quality, a number of existing activities can provide the foundation for such an information system. Integration of water supply data into a digital map is already under way at UNEP's GRID-Sioux Falls centre. If local water quality data from provincial or national networks--in countries where these exist, which include most industrial countries and many major developing countries--were integrated into such a map, pollutant loadings could be estimated and an approximate water quality map generated, even with incomplete data. Such outputs would be useful both to local and national environmental officials, as well as providing missing data to global assessments. Such watershed-level analyses, moreover, could be the basis for estimating pollutant and nutrient inflows to estuaries and coastal waters, for estimating the impact of irrigation schemes, dams, or other developments on water quality and quantity, and for providing early warning of the impact of drought, heavy precipitation or other water crises.

49. Obtaining access to local water quality data, building the cooperative networks, developing the analyses and reporting systems and other elements of an integrated electronic water quality information system will take significant effort, requiring the full-time efforts of several staff. Such an activity, however, could give focus and a clear goal around which to integrate UNEPís freshwater activities. The effort should build explicit links to ongoing and planned international water assessments. Pilot activities should start in one or a few watersheds during the developmental phase, in collaboration with users. But the opportunity to help fill a significant data gap and to support a high-priority assessment need seems well worth the effort, given the number of UN system entities for which water data and water assessments are critical. This activity overlaps with those discussed under data analysis and integration, specifically in the need for data harmonization and for analysis to support and integrate the information from the observing system, illustrating the integration of different elements in this strategic plan.

DATA ANALYSIS AND INTEGRATION MODULES

D-1 Phase One Module: Strengthen and focus GRID centres on data analysis and integration

50. The primary role of GRID centres should be data analysis, assembly, and integration to support UNEPís assessment, strategic oversight, and early warning missions. Their expertise can also assist UNEP in data logistics and electronic reporting. To fulfil this role, the activities of GRID centres should be closely tied to UNEPís assessment, strategic oversight, and early warning activities. The centres should be strengthened in their own analysis and integration capacity, and should also seek to catalyse and encourage data analysis and integration by others. To this end, GRID centres should where possible be co-located with regional institutions that have data missions and expertise. Centres should be encouraged to develop special expertise in a particular area of analysis and/or integration. In light of this refocused role, existing GRID centres should be reviewed and efforts should be made to ensure better regional balance in capacities for independent data analysis, integration, and reporting. The goal of these efforts is to support UNEPís assessment activities as well as to strengthen regional and national decision-making that affects the environment. This activity overlaps with and should be coordinated with UNEPís regional activities in support of its assessment and reporting role, and should be focussed on only a few centres at a time to achieve significant impacts.

D-2 Phase One Module: Integrated information system and framework

51. A key theme in the strategy is the need to respond to the "information revolution" brought on by new computer and Internet technologies. One of the features of this revolution is the ability to post any information on the World Wide Web where it is freely accessible to anyone with Internet access. This allows a freedom and creativity in information access and a reduction in delivery costs that was never before possible, but it also challenges users to navigate in the masses of information available, and information providers to organize their information so that it is as visible and useful as possible. One objective of the strategy is to build an electronic environmental information "meta-system" (or system of systems) as a new delivery mechanism for environmental assessments and other policy-relevant information. Building such a web-based meta-system will require shared responsibilities and collaboration within UNEP and with many outside partners. It will be necessary to map out domains of interest and responsibility for each organization, with UNEP providing oversight and integrating functions so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

52. One function of the system will be to make available the core data sets required for UNEP assessments and reports. Assembly of such data sets requires collaboration with partners inside and outside the UN system. Virtually identical efforts are undertaken to assemble data sets for all major international reports on environment and sustainable development and for many internal analyses by international and multi-lateral organizations. These data sets then need to be combined in an integrated information framework to support assessment and decision-making for environmentally sustainable development, improving efficiency and eliminating duplicative efforts. Building on the work already undertaken by UN Statistics Division, UNCSD, and the World Bank, UNEP should take the lead with the Stockholm Environment Institute in a cooperative effort to develop a prototype integrated information framework, bringing together major data providers and key users and forging the relationships required to maintain core data sets over time within such a framework. By catalysing such a system, UNEP would help to transform the expanding but fragmented international data system into a structured platform for supporting assessment and decision-making. If the information in such a framework were accessible as national profiles, among other formats, such a system could also be used by national governments to reduce reporting burdens to international commissions and conventions.

53. The UNEP initiative should build on and not duplicate existing data and information networks. It should make full use of emerging Internet tools for finding, linking, annotating, and displaying information, and build on experience in other fields with organizing such information frameworks. It should implement the development of the framework in large part through cooperative agreements with other institutions, while providing overall guidance and institutional coordination. The aim should be to create a working prototype integrated information framework within two years of initiation, with provision for subsequent review, modification and enhancement, and on-going maintenance and administration.

54. One important component of the environmental information meta-system should focus on highly distilled environmental information and core data sets for policy-making that will highlight issues and summarize the scientific basis for action. This information flow should feed directly into policy-relevant activities, for instance to support negotiations on a new agreement or the implementation of conventions and action plans. It is necessary to ask what information will convince policy-makers to take action, and then assemble it. This will require severe selection of the essential elements, and careful and convincing presentation, including in graphic or even animated formats.

55. One goal should be for the system to become the essential reference that everyone feels the need to consult for the best and most up-to-date information, with the principal target audience being political leaders, diplomats and senior advisers. While most such people are too busy to access the web directly, their staff can draw on the materials for reports and presentations. The same approach will also be widely useful for the media and the public. The format could be much like the briefings such senior officials receive, but interlinked electronically so that it is possible to follow the flow of arguments from one issue to another and identify their interrelationships, or to go more deeply into the core data behind the presentations. UN organizations already prepare much material like this in briefing notes, speeches, press releases, mission reports, newsletter articles, and meeting presentations or working papers. It is possible to make wider use of much of this information at little cost by putting it as well in web format and posting it within an integrated framework. In many cases outside partner organizations are already be doing the bulk of the work. They need only to be linked into the system, and perhaps encouraged to make their information presentation more compatible. UNEP's strategic function is to be responsible for the higher level organization and integration of this information on the web site. The system would also help to weave together all the different UNEP-related web sites around the world, adding some virtual unity to their diversity.

56. Such a system will require the wide involvement of UNEP staff and other partners making inputs or providing oversight in their own particular areas. (FAO has estimated that it has put about $1 million per year of staff time into its excellent web site.) The system will help UNEP to overcome the relative isolation of Nairobi and the wide geographic scatter of its activities, with everyone contributing to a common and widely visible product. Web page coordination and updating, either directly or through the organization of outside partnerships, will have to become part of the normal work of all programme officers in their own assigned areas of responsibility. Material on existing web site of other agencies can easily be linked into the system.

57. Technically, establishing such an environmental information meta-system will require that all relevant programme officers and some secretaries have computers and software capable of efficient participation in this electronic networking through the preparation of web pages and graphics, necessitating replacement of outdated computer equipment and software and its regular renewal. At present, Mercure has linked UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi to the global information super-highway, but within the UN Office in Nairobi the situation is more like the roads of rural Africa. In particular, each responsible officer should have direct access on the web server to the relevant pages for which he or she is responsible, and the ability to transfer files directly. In this way, updating a web page will be no more difficult than sending an e-mail. The necessary training in web page development will also need to be provided.

D-3 Phase One Module: Coordinating and supporting the development of environmental indicators

58. Closely related to the initiative on integrated information systems and frameworks is the need for development of environmental indicators for use in the GEO reports and elsewhere as an important component of sustainable development indicators. Despite widespread activity, environmental indicator development remains a fragmented effort; convergence to consensus indicators has not occurred. As a result, environmental indicators do not yet have the usefulness for policy-making nor command the same attention as do leading economic and social indicators. In cooperation with and support of the UNCSD indicator workplan, UNEP should actively encourage, coordinate, and support the development of improved environmental indicators, including undertaking an inventory of environmental indicators used in the UN system. Its role is not to develop indicators itself, but rather to convene workshops and guide and partially fund research, drawing on its assessment and strategic oversight activities and the needs of its target groups to indicate which types of indicators are most relevant for policy purposes and seeking to forge consensus around emerging indicators that fit those needs, starting with its own needs in the GEO process.

D-4 Phase One Module: Management and dissemination of scientific and technical information

59. UNEP has long played an important role, particularly for developing countries, in providing access to scientific and technical information. The tools developed by INFOTERRA, and the means now available with UNEPnet and the Mercure telecommunications system, are greatly expanding the reach and capacity of UNEP's efforts. While the means to accomplish this are evolving rapidly with new information technologies, creating new possibilities and requiring changes in methods, there are still many users who lack access to electronic systems and telecommunications. UNEP must continue to provide a bridge between the old and the new, to ensure that the management and dissemination of scientific and technical information continues to benefit all who need it.

D-5 Phase Two Module: Converting national focal points to environmental information centres

60. The INFOTERRA network of national focal points is being reformed to ensure better public access to environmental information and to advocate the public-right-to-know principle. Many of the national focal points in developing countries have considerable potential to organize environmental information services within their countries for global, regional, and national environmental information; to become nodes that gather country-specific environmental information for UNEP; and to improve public access to environmental information. Such transformed focal points, through partnerships developed with many stakeholders to provide an integrated environmental information service at the national level, will be able to deliver the results of UNEP and other assessments and reports to national and local decision-makers and the general public, thus extending the impact of the whole information system outlined in this strategy, particularly in developing counties. To achieve this will require a major effort to build capacity, possibly in cooperation with UNDP and national UN Houses as they are established. This activity should begin with a small number of demonstration sites.

61. Such work at the national level should involve close collaboration between Regional Offices, Regional Coordinators and DEIA&EW staff. Governments should be encouraged to establish partnerships with a diverse range of stakeholders drawn from Government, non-governmental organizations, academia, centres of excellence, professional bodies and business enterprises aimed at providing an integrated environmental information service at the national level, under a formal agreement with UNEP. This will require developing demonstration sites, convincing governments to accept an active information collection and delivery role for these information services, ensuring that the focal points are suitably located for the new functions, equipping them with computers and Internet access, and providing the necessary training. Redefining the role of national focal points and developing integrated information services will facilitate the flow of information between the organization and its partners by providing a point of information access and delivery within each government.

STRATEGIC OVERSIGHT AND EARLY WARNING MODULES

S-1 Phase One Module: UN Earthwatch oversight activities

62. The on-going Earthwatch activities should continue to provide one mechanism for strategic oversight of the whole global system for environmental observing and assessment, including regular networking and dialogue with UN system agencies to ensure that UNEP is aware of all relevant activities within the international community. Earthwatch should organize periodic reports on the state of the observing system itself, identifying gaps and needed improvements, and providing feed-back from the later stages of the policy cycle to the observing and assessment tasks. This will be an important input to the review of Agenda 21 Chapter 20: Information for Decision-making, at the Commission for Sustainable Development in 2001.

S-2 Phase One Module: Reviving the Ecosystems Conservation Group

63. UNEP should continue to strengthen the revived Ecosystems Conservation Group as a mechanism to develop an integrated overview within the international system on ecosystem related issues. This mechanism could contribute to strategic planning by identifying gaps in current monitoring and assessment programmes for ecosystems and biodiversity, encouraging cooperative efforts, and facilitating a more integrated, less sectoral approach to these critical environmental systems.

S-3 Phase One Module: Strengthening ties to the scientific community

64. While a separate unit for science in the secretariat is not needed, UNEP needs to strengthen ties with the international scientific community to ensure that its strategic overview is informed by the very best scientific insights and information available. These efforts should include working level relationships with scientific programmes generating data; cooperation with other scientific assessment processes and bodies; and strategic collaboration and advisory relationships with the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its subsidiary bodies including the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE); close cooperation with UNESCO on science in support of environmental observations and assessments; and bringing to the attention of the scientific community areas requiring additional research to resolve uncertainties or to guide management decisions. UNEP should devote at least one full-time staff equivalent to this effort. As described under assessment activities, UNEP should also actively seek top-level scientific input through an advisory board to guide its assessment efforts.

S-4 Phase Two Module: Developing an environmental early warning capacity

65. UNEP should develop the capacity for long-term early warning, using its assessment process and its links to the scientific community, regional organizations and governments to identify emerging issues, areas and "hot spots" where particular effort is needed to avoid environmental crises. This early warning activity should be linked to UNEP's work on environmental emergencies. Effective long-term early warning will require, among other things, that progress in policies be systematically assessed.

S-5 Phase Two Module: Timely Access to Environmental Crisis Information

66. UNEP should also link to existing and emerging systems that can provide timely information during environmental crises and should the create the capacity to inform its own decision makers and others regarding these crises with short status bulletins, at least for certain priority environmental issues with a high probability of repeated crises. In creating this capacity, UNEP should actively explore collaborative efforts, building on or linking to the early warning systems being developed by other institutions, such as the internet-based Fire Watch system. This will require making better use of electronically-based information tools, bringing together existing capacities in UNEPnet, Mercure, GRID, and Earthwatch and linked to many other partners. This activity should start with small pilot projects, assembling existing networks and establishing formats and protocols for status bulletins with the target groups directly concerned and developing criteria for issuing such bulletins. UNEP will need staff dedicated to such reporting activities, as well as additional staff outside DEIA&EW to upgrade and maintain the electronic infrastructure that rapid reporting requires.

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