United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

                             UN SYSTEM-WIDE EARTHWATCH
                                 PROGRAMME SUMMARY

                   Annex to the Report of the Secretary-General
                  on Chapter 40:  Information for Decision-Making
                                  and Earthwatch

                                   Prepared for

                           THE UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION
                            ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

                                    April 1995


                             UN SYSTEM-WIDE EARTHWATCH
                                 PROGRAMME SUMMARY


  Preface                                                                   2

  Summary description of UN System-wide Earthwatch                          3

  Legislative Mandate                                                       5

  UN system-wide contributions to Earthwatch                                7

  Table 1: Coverage of Agenda 21 programme areas                             


      This programme summary of the United Nations System-wide Earthwatch
includes some results of the in-depth study of Earthwatch undertaken by the
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the inter-agency Earthwatch
Working Party during 1993-1995, and builds on the inputs provided to UNEP as
Task Manager for Earthwatch and to the UN Department for Policy Coordination
and Sustainable Development (DPCSD) as Task Manager for Agenda 21 Chapter 40:
Information for Decision-making in their joint preparation of the Secretary-
General's report on Information for Decision-making for the third session of
the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in 1995.

      It is intended primarily as a working tool for all the organizations
cooperating in Earthwatch to assist in improving cooperation across the UN
system and beyond and to help in identifying opportunities for collaboration
and joint programming.  It will be complemented by an electronic version that
will be easier to keep up to date as a mechanism to assist all cooperating
partners in Earthwatch to work towards a more coherent and integrated
assessment of the planetary environment and a more effective flow of
information on that environment to decision-makers.

      The programme summary contains several sections:

--    a summary description of the mission, terms of reference, coordinating
      mechanisms and activities of the UN system-wide Earthwatch as agreed
      among the partners;

--    highlights of the recent legislative mandate for Earthwatch from the UN
      General Assembly, the UNEP Governing Council, and Agenda 21;

--    a listing of the interagency and agency activities, programmes and units
      contributing to the system-wide Earthwatch; and

--    a table listing the major types of information activities by each
      organization as reported for each programme area of Agenda 21, showing
      the extent of coverage of the programme areas by such activities, and
      thus the potential for cooperation and collaboration.

      These listings still have to be completed with inputs from some
organizations that have not yet responded, so some gaps in coverage may be
apparent.  The listings also do not always show the complementarity of many
activities by different organizations in the same programme area.

      Since Earthwatch is a concept and a dynamic process more than a
programme or institutional structure, this document only can give a glimpse of
its status at one point in time, as it evolves to provide more effective
environmental information for decision-making on sustainability.  Any
comments, modifications or corrections should be sent to Mr. Arthur Dahl,
Coordinator, UN System-wide Earthwatch, UNEP, C.P. 356, CH-1219 Chƒtelaine,
Geneva, Switzerland; Tel: +41 22 979-9207; Fax: +41 22 797-3471; e-mail:


      The first inter-agency Earthwatch Working Party (Geneva, 1-2 June 1994)
agreed on the following mission statement, terms of reference, and initial
activities for the revitalized Earthwatch:

      The mission of the UN system-wide Earthwatch is to coordinate, harmonize
and integrate observing, assessment and reporting activities across the UN
system in order to provide environmental and appropriate socio-economic
information for national and international decision-making on sustainable
development and for early warning of emerging problems requiring international
action.  This should include timely information on the pressures on, status of
and trends in key global resources, variables and processes in both natural
and human systems and on the response to problems in these areas.

      The terms of reference of the UN system-wide Earthwatch are to:

a)    facilitate access to information on on-going and planned environmental
      activities, and to information held by each part of the system;

b)    identify possibilities for collaboration and mutual reinforcement among
      agency observation and assessment programmes and reports, and with
      outside partners including governments, the scientific community, NGOs
      and the private sector;

c)    promote and monitor capacity-building for data collection, assessment
      and reporting;

d)    improve and obtain international agreement on the harmonization and
      quality control of data and the standardization of methodologies to
      ensure reliable and comparable information on the environment at the
      national and international levels;

e)    facilitate the wider use of information and assessments from each
      partner beyond its own constituency in national and international
      decision-making processes;

f)    coordinate joint reporting on broad interdisciplinary issues such as the
      global state of the environment and sustainable development;

g)    identify priorities for international action;

h)    establish joint procedures to identify the need for early warnings of
      emerging environmental problems and to bring such warnings to the
      attention of the international community;

i)    share experience in applying new technologies and in increasing the
      impact of environmental and sustainable development information and

j)    assist in increasing support for observing, assessment, reporting and
      capacity-building activities across the whole UN system and its
      programme countries;

k)    demonstrate the ability of the United Nations to organize coherent plans
      for activities responding to system-wide mandates such as Agenda 21.

Mechanisms for Earthwatch coordination

      The Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development named UNEP as Task
Manager for Earthwatch, reinforcing the coordinating and catalytic role that
UNEP has played in Earthwatch since its founding.  In order to provide a
continuing mechanism for inter-agency liaison and coordination to implement
the system-wide Earthwatch, UNEP convened an inter-agency Earthwatch Working
Party of focal points in all the cooperating organizations, following the
successful pattern of the working parties in the UNCED preparatory process.
The working party first met on 1-2 June 1994, and agreed to continue as a
coordinating mechanism to meet at least once yearly to maintain momentum in
the implementation of Earthwatch, supplemented by electronic networking.  A
second meeting was held on 22-23 March 1995.  The UN System-wide Earthwatch
Coordination office established by UNEP in Geneva provides a central point of
contact and liaison.  Specific activities will be implemented by ad hoc
interagency technical groups or existing structures within the system as
appropriate.  The aim is to maintain flexible informal arrangements able to
respond dynamically to the need for increasing coordination and collaboration
without creating undue bureaucracy or excessive burdens on already
overstretched organizations.

      In addition to the many inter-agency activities and programmes and
organizational contributions to Earthwatch listed later in this programme
summary, there are some specific actions being undertaken to strengthen the
system-wide Earthwatch.  A coordinated effort is planned to issue the key
results of Earthwatch as policy-oriented summaries for decision-makers.  An
Earthwatch site is also being established on the World Wide Web to facilitate
electronic access to Earthwatch information and pertinent data held by all
parts of the UN system.


      The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972)
adopted an Action Plan of three main components, of which one was the global
environmental assessment programme (Earthwatch) which grouped various
recommendations under the functions of evaluation and review, research,
monitoring, and information exchange.

      In 1989, General Assembly resolution 44/224 recognized the need "to
strengthen international cooperation in monitoring, assessing and anticipating
environmental threats and rendering assistance in cases of environmental
emergencies"; reaffirmed that "the United Nations system, through the United
Nations General Assembly, owing to its universal character, is the appropriate
forum for concerted political action on global environmental problems";
underlined "the importance of broader participation in Earthwatch, established
by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and operated by the
United Nations Environment Programme, in order to strengthen its capacity to
make authoritative assessments, anticipate environmental degradation and issue
early warnings to the international community," and requested a report to be
considered during the UNCED preparatory process.  The resulting report of the
Secretary-General on Follow-up to General Assembly Resolution 44/224
(UNEP/GC.16/17) reviews the early legislative mandate and development of
Earthwatch, so this is not repeated here.

      On the basis of this report, the UNEP Governing Council decided in 1991
(16/37) "that assessments are particularly needed in all those areas of
concentration" identified by the Governing Council and by the General Assembly
for UNCED; considered "that Earthwatch should also be able to accommodate
emerging issues as and when need arises;" recommended "that, in keeping with
its mandate, Earthwatch should identify global and regional environmental
monitoring and assessment needs, co-ordinate and harmonize global, regional
and national monitoring and assessment programmes to the extent required,
prepare comprehensive assessment statements, inventories and analytical
statements, give advanced warning of emerging environmental threats, advise on
causal relationships of observed environmental changes, and suggest policy
responses and management options where necessary;" further recommended "that
Earthwatch should pay particular attention to the interface between
environment and development;" and requested "the Executive Director to
continue to strengthen the environmental monitoring and assessment capacities
of developing countries to enable them to participate actively and more fully
in Earthwatch."

      General Assembly resolution 46/217 of 1991 which conveyed the report to
the UNCED Preparatory Committee again "stressed the need to strengthen
international cooperation in the monitoring, assessment and anticipation of
environmental threats."

      Agenda 21 contains a number of references to strengthening Earthwatch,
particularly in Chapter 40: Information for Decision-making, which provides a
good general framework for a renewed Earthwatch.  For instance, "within the
organs and organizations of the United Nations system and relevant
international organizations, data-collection activities, including those of
Earthwatch and World Weather Watch, need to be strengthened, especially in the
areas of urban air, freshwater, land resources (including forests and
rangelands), desertification, other habitats, soil degradation, biodiversity,
the high seas and the upper atmosphere" [paragraph 40.8].  "Relevant
international organizations should develop practical recommendations for
coordinated, harmonized collection and assessment of data at the national and
international levels.  National and international data and information centres
should set up continuous and accurate data-collection systems and make use of
geographic information systems, expert systems, models and a variety of other
techniques for the assessment and analysis of data" [40.9].  "At the
international level, environmental assessment activities need to be
strengthened and coordinated with efforts to assess development trends"
[40.10].  Under institutional means, Chapter 40 states: "Institutional
capacity to integrate environment and development and to develop relevant
indicators is lacking at both the national and international levels.  Existing
institutions and programmes such as the Global Environmental Monitoring System
(GEMS) and the Global Resource Information Database (GRID) within UNEP and
different entities within the system-wide Earthwatch will need to be
considerably strengthened.  Earthwatch has been an essential element for
environment-related data.  While programmes related to development data exist
in a number of agencies, there is insufficient coordination between them.  The
activities related to development data of agencies and institutions of the
United Nations system should be more effectively coordinated, perhaps through
an equivalent and complementary "Development Watch", which with the existing
Earthwatch should be coordinated through an appropriate office within the
United Nations to ensure the full integration of environment and development
concerns [40.13].

      Agenda 21 also included among the priority areas for UNEP in Chapter 38:
"environmental monitoring and assessment, both through improved participation
by the United Nations system agencies in the Earthwatch programme and expanded
relations with private scientific and non-governmental research institutes;
strengthening and making operational its early warning function" [38.22(d)],
as well as "dissemination of environmental information and data to Governments
and to organs, programmes and organizations of the United Nations system"
[38.22(f)] and "raising the general awareness and action in the area of
environmental protection through collaboration with the general public, non-
governmental entities and intergovernmental institutions" [38.22(g)].

      In 1993, the General Assembly again passed a resolution on
"Strengthening international cooperation in the monitoring of global
environmental problems" (GA48/192), which cited "the importance of
participation of relevant organs, specialized agencies and other organizations
of the United Nations system, within their respective mandates, in Earthwatch,
in particular in its environmental monitoring programmes, and the need for
early warning capabilities in those programmes", and "the need to make
Earthwatch a more efficient instrument for environmental sensing and
assessment of all elements influencing the global environment in order to
ensure a balanced approach in serving, in particular, the needs of developing
countries."  It requested a report on environmental monitoring, containing
proposals and recommendations within the context of Agenda 21 and a review of
Earthwatch, to be prepared by UNEP in cooperation with relevant entities
within the United Nations system and, where appropriate, outside the United
Nations system.  The present programme document is one product of the review
of Earthwatch requested in this resolution.


      The following inter-agency and agency components and activities were
identified during the in-depth study of Earthwatch and in the submissions to
the Task Manager as making contributions to the system-wide Earthwatch.

        Major Inter-Agency Components of UN System-wide Earthwatch

      Component                     Participating Organizations

Global Climate Observing System     WMO, IOC, ICSU, UNEP

Global Ocean Observing System       IOC, ICSU, WMO, UNEP
(GOOS), including:
- Global Coastal Zone and Shelf     IOC, UNEP, WMO, IUCN, IGBP
Sea (monitoring coral reefs,
mangroves, plankton community
- Monitoring and Assessment of      IOC/FAO OSLR
Marine Living Resources
- Assessment and Prediction of the  IOC/UNEP GIPME
Health of the Ocean

Global Terrestrial Observing        FAO, UNEP, UNESCO, WMO, ICSU
System (GTOS)

Global Environment Monitoring       UNEP
System (GEMS)
      GEMS/Water (water quality)    WHO, UNEP, WMO, UNESCO
      GEMS/Air (urban air quality)  WHO, WMO, UNEP
      GEMS/HEALS (human exposure)   WHO, UNEP
      GEMS/Food (food               WHO, FAO, UNEP
      GERMON (env. radiation)       WHO, UNEP

Global State of Environment         UNEP, ESCAP

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate  WMO, UNEP
Change (IPCC)

World Climate Programme (WCP),      WMO, IOC, ICSU, UNEP, ESCAP
including World Climate Research
Programme (WCRP), World Climate
Impacts and Response Strategies
Programme (WCIRP)

Information Unit on Climate Change  UNEP, WMO

Regional Task Teams on Climate      UNEP, IOC
Change Impacts

Working Group on Biosafety (risks   UNIDO, UNEP, WHO, FAO
of biotechnology applications)

World Conservation Monitoring       UNEP, IUCN, WWF
Centre (WCMC)

DHA/UNEP Environment Unit           DHA, UNEP

International Programme on          WHO, UNEP, ILO
Chemical Safety (IPCS)

Interorganization Programme on      WHO, UNEP, ILO, FAO, OECD, UNIDO
Sound Management of Chemicals

Joint Group of Experts on the       IMO, FAO, UNESCO, WMO, WHO, IAEA,
Scientific Aspects of Marine        UN and UNEP
Pollution (GESAMP)

Global Investigations of Pollution  IOC, UNEP
in the Marine Environment (GIPME)
and Marine Pollution Monitoring
(MARPOLMON), including
International Mussel Watch

Marine Environmental Studies        IAEA, IOC, UNEP
Laboratory (MESL)

Ocean Science in relation to        IOC, FAO
Living Resources programme (OSLR)

Housing Indicator Programme         UNCHS, World Bank

Joint Water Supply and Sanitation   WHO, UNICEF
Monitoring Programme

Global Environmental Epidemiology   WHO, UNEP
Network (GEENET)

Global Environmental Technology     WHO, UNEP
Network (GETNET)

Global Environmental Library        WHO, UNEP
Network (GELNET)

Health and Environment Analysis     WHO, UNEP, USEPA
for Decision-making (HEAD-LAMP)

Environmental Health Human          WHO, UNEP, UNESCO, CRE
Resources Project

Agromet Network                     FAO, WMO

Soil Map of the World               FAO, UNESCO

Soil and Terrain (SOTER) project    UNEP, International Soil Science
                                    Society, International Soil
                                    Reference and Information Centre
                                    (ISRIC), FAO

Environmental Information Systems   UNDP/UNSO, World Bank, UNITAR,
methodology                         UNEP

United Nations Sahelian Office      UNDP, UNEP

Global Network on Isotopes in       IAEA, WMO
Precipitation (GNIP)

                     Major Agency Components of Earthwatch


United Nations Statistical Division (UNSTAT), Environment and Energy
Statistics Branch

DHA Humanitarian Early Warning System

UNCHS Human Settlements Database
UNCHS City Data Programme

UNCTAD Trade Control Measures Information System (TCMIS)
UNCTAD Trade Analysis and Information System (TRAINS) including GREENTRADE
UNCTAD Trade, Environment and Commodities
UNCTAD Ad Hoc Working Group on Trade, Environment and Development

UNDP Integrated Programme Management System and country offices
UNDP Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP)
UNDP Small Island Developing States Network (SIDSNET)
UNDP Human Development Report office

UNEP Division of Environmental Assessment, including:
      Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS)
      Global Resources Information Database (GRID)
      Regional Environment and Natural Resource Information Networks
      UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination
UNEP INFOTERRA information referral system
UNEP Division of Environmental Management Support, including:
      Oceans and Coastal Areas Programme Activity Centre and Regional Seas
      Biodiversity Unit
      Climate Unit
      Freshwater Unit
      Drylands Ecosystem and Desertification Control Programme Activity Centre
      Human Health and Welfare Unit
      Industry and Environment Programme Activity Centre
      International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC)
UNEP Regional Offices
United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation

UN Office of Outer Space Affairs


ECE Cooperative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of Long-range
Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe
ECE International Cooperative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air
      Pollution Effects on Forests
ECE International Cooperative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of
      Acidification of Rivers and Lakes
ECE International Cooperative Programme on Effects of Air Pollution on
      Materials, including Historic and Cultural Monuments
ECE International Cooperative Programme for Research on Evaluating Effects of
      Air Pollutants and Other Stresses on Agricultural Crops
ECE International Cooperative Programme in Integrated Monitoring of Air
      Pollution Effects on Ecosystems
ECE International Environmental Data Service

ESCAP Assessment of State of Environment in Asia and the Pacific, Environment
      Section, ENRM Division
ESCAP Indicators for Asia and the Pacific, Statistics Division
ESCAP Quality of life in the ESCAP region, Social Development Division

ESCWA Compendium of Social Statistics and Indicators

ECA Environment Unit


FAO Statistics Division
FAO GIS Remote Sensing Centre
FAO Land and Water, including Soil Resources Database, Land-use Type Database,
Land Resources Database and evaluation software, Climate Database, AQUASTAT
      rural water resources database, Crop Resources Database, World
      Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT), K-2 agricultural policy
      analysis tool, EcoZone, Africa Real-Time Environmental Monitoring and
      Information System (ARTEMIS), Global Information and Early Warning
      System (GIEWS)
FAO Forest Resources Division, including Forest Resource Assessments
FAO Forest Policy and Planning Division, including production, trade and
      consumption of forest products
FAO/FIR Fishery Resources Division (resources monitoring)
FAO Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Service, including Statistical
      Monitoring of World Fisheries

IAEA Seibersdorf Laboratory and Analytical Quality Control Service
IAEA Marine Environment Laboratory
IAEA PRIS database on nuclear power reactors
IAEA International Nuclear Information System (INIS)
IAEA Emergency Response System

ICAO Statistics Programme
ICAO Exhaust Emissions Data Bank
ICAO Research on Atmospheric Effects of Aviation database

ILO Bureau of Statistics

IMF Statistics Department (macroeconomic statistics)
IMF Fiscal Affairs Department (structural policies, database of environmental
      conditions and policies)

IOC Integrated Global Ocean Services System (IGOSS)
IOC Data Management, including Integrated Oceanographic Data Information
      Exchange (IODE)
IOC Large Marine Ecosystems (LME) programme
IOC Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) programme
IOC: see also inter-agency activities GOOS, GIPME, OSLR, WCP

UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme
UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (IHP)
UNESCO International Geological Correlation Programme (IGCP)
UNESCO International Mobile Early Warning System for Volcanic Eruptions
UNESCO International Tsunami Warning System (ITWS)

World Bank Environment Department, including Environmentally Sustainable
Development (ESD) Indicators, Natural Capital Indicators
World Bank Regional Environment Divisions
World Bank Agriculture, Land Quality Indicators (LQI)
World Bank Industrial Pollution Projection System (IPPS) and Decision Support
System (DSS)

WHO Division of Epidemiological Surveillance and Health Situation and Trend
      Assessment (HST), including WHO Statistical Information System (WHOSIS),
      Mortality Data Base
WHO Division of Emergency and Humanitarian Action, Emergency Information
WHO Health-related Environmental Monitoring, including air quality monitoring
      (GEMS/Air), water quality monitoring (GEMS/Water), food contamination
      monitoring (GEMS/Food), environmental radiation monitoring (GERMON),
      human exposure monitoring (GEMS/HEALS) 
WHO Rural Environmental Health Unit, including monitoring of water supply and
      sanitation coverage
WHO Office of Global and Integrated Environmental Health, including HEAD-LAMP,
      Environmental Health Information for the Management of Development
      Activities (EHMDAC), Global Environmental Epidemiology Network (GEENET),
      Global Environmental Technology Network (GETNET) and Global
      Environmental Library Network (GELNET)
WHO Programme for the Promotion of Chemical Safety (see IPCS above), including
      IPCS/INTOX package for diagnosis/treatment of poisonings

WMO World Weather Watch Programme
WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme, including Background Air Pollution
    Monitoring Network (BAPMoN), Global Ozone Observing System (GO3OS)
WMO Hydrology and Water Resources Programme, including World Hydrological
    Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS)
WMO: see also inter-agency activities World Climate Programme, GCOS, GOOS,

Some global conventions with reporting requirements contributing information
for decision-making

Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous
Wastes and Other Wastes and their Disposal

Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and

Convention on Biological Diversity: clearing house mechanism and information

Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident; Convention on
Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and

Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious
Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa

Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, Montreal Protocol and
London Amendment, with its Ozone Secretariat: Scientific Assessments of Ozone
Depletion (UNEP, WMO, NASA, NOAA)

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Communication and
Review Process (CRP) and Climate Convention Information Exchange Programme


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Date last posted: 2 December 1999 13:22:30
Comments and suggestions: DESA/DSD