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Mission Statement

The United Nations System-wide Earthwatch mechanism is a broad UN initiative to coordinate, harmonize and catalyze environmental observation activities among all UN agencies for integrated assessment purposes. Through Earthwatch, UN agencies work together on global environmental issues, by exchanging and sharing environmental data and information. UNEP provides the Earthwatch secretariat. Earthwatch was established at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm and reinforced by the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro and its Agenda-21 chapter on Information for Decision Making.


In 1973, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) introduced Earthwatch, as a means of coordinating and acting as a catalyst for all environmental monitoring and assessment activities throughout the entire UN system. The raison d'être was and remains to provide `integrated’ information gathered from across the UN system relevant for policymaking by building essential partnerships across the UN system with the scientific community, governments and NGOs.

In June 1994, The first inter-agency Earthwatch Working Party agreed on the following mission statement 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:

  1. facilitate access to information on on-going and planned environmental activities, and to information held by each part of the system;
  2. 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;
  3. promote and monitor capacity-building for data collection, assessment and reporting;
  4. 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;
  5. facilitate the wider use of information and assessments from each partner beyond its own constituency in national and international decision-making processes;
  6. coordinate joint reporting on broad interdisciplinary issues such as the global state of the environment and sustainable development;
  7. identify priorities for international action;
  8. 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;
  9. share experience in applying new technologies and in increasing the impact of environmental and sustainable development information and reports;
  10. assist in increasing support for observing, assessment, reporting and capacity-building activities across the whole UN system and its programme countries;
  11. demonstrate the ability of the United Nations to organize coherent plans for activities responding to system-wide mandates such as Agenda 21.

Earthwatch Coordination

Earthwatch Coordination extends the mandate and activities of UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment to the whole United Nations system. It provides leadership and direction to the UN System-wide Earthwatch established at the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. Its mission 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.

The activities of Earthwatch Coordination include:

Maintaining an effective UN system-wide Earthwatch process through inter-agency coordination, harmonization and integration of environmental observations, assessments and reporting through the annual Earthwatch Working Party, the Earthwatch web site, electronic communications with focal points, and other inter-agency activities.
As Earthwatch Task Manager, and in collaboration with the UN Division for Sustainable Development, follow up the implementation of Agenda 21 Chapter 40: Information for Decision-making, which is the cross-cutting theme for the Commission for Sustainable Development in 2001.

Providing strategic direction, and supporting the implementation of the UNEP Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy through a UN Foundation/UN Fund for International Partnerships project developed and launched through Earthwatch Coordination.

Supporting the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process and other UNEP state-of-the-environment reporting through direct inputs, capacity-building in GEO collaborating centres, and organizing participation by the UN system in GEO.

Providing UNEP leadership in the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) Partnership between space agencies, UN agencies, global research programmes and observing systems, and in the Global Observing Systems (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS) and their Sponsors Group:
- contributing to secretariat services for the IGOS Partnership,
- maintaining the IGOS web pages (http://www.igospartners.org/), and
- participating as possible in the intergovernmental meetings and steering committees of the G3OS.
Strengthening collaboration and coordination with the scientific community:
- reviewing international scientific advisory processes for environment and sustainable development, and
- supervising development by the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) of a strategic cooperative network for early warning.
Stimulating the development of indicators of environment and sustainable development, including:
- collaboration with the UN Division for Sustainable Development in implementing the Commission on Sustainable Development work programme on indicators of sustainable development;
- participation in the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators;
- cooperation with targeted programmes of other agencies to develop sectoral indicators.
Providing UNEP guidance and supporting information resources for assessment and action on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), coral reefs, and marine environmental and international waters assessments:
- documentation centre and on-line bibliography,
- UNEP islands web page (http://www.unep.ch/islands.html).
- on-line Island Directory of over 2000 islands
- training materials on island environmental management


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UNEP/DEWA/Earthwatch 1996-2002