United Nations System-Wide
  Earthwatch Working Party 5
Geneva, 3-4 May 1999
28 April 1999

1999 edition 

 Summary description of UN System-wide Earthwatch
 UN system-wide contributions to Earthwatch
 Directory of Partners in Earthwatch
 Thematic coverage of Agenda 21 programme areas (Tables)


This directory of partners in the United Nations System-wide Earthwatch summarizes activities across the UN system relevant to Earthwatch and Agenda 21 Chapter 40: Information for Decision-making. It is based on information originally compiled in 1994 by the inter-agency Earthwatch Working Party and the Earthwatch Coordination secretariat at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as Task Manager for Earthwatch, and up-dated as new information becomes available. It makes more widely available inputs provided to UNEP and the UN Division for Sustainable Development (DSD), as joint Task Managers for Chapter 40 of Agenda 21, in their preparation of the Secretary-General's reports on Information for Decision-making to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

This compilation 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 is the hard-copy version of certain sections of the Earthwatch World Wide Web site at http://www.unep.ch/earthw.html which also contains additional information relevant to Earthwatch. The two versions provide a mechanism to assist all cooperating partners in Earthwatch to improve their cooperation and collaboration on information for decision-making, to work towards a more coherent and integrated assessment of the planetary environment, and to deliver environmental information to decision-makers more effectively.

The directory contains several sections:

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

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

--for each UN system-wide partner, a summary description of their most important data, information, assessment and reporting activities contributing to Earthwatch, based on replies to questionnaires circulated to all the agencies and updated as new information has become available;

--tables of the programme areas of Agenda 21 and the major types of information activities, showing for each partner organization their types of activities and the extent of coverage of the programme areas by such activities.

These listings may vary somewhat in completeness and coverage, depending on the amount of information provided by partner organizations. The summary 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 of cooperation among the parts of the UN system and outside partners, more than a programme or institutional structure, this directory only can give an overview of its status at the present time. It will continue to evolve to provide more effective environmental information for decision-making on sustainability.

The Earthwatch Directory of Partners is continually updated on the World Wide Web, with this hard-copy counterpart issued periodically as needed. Any comments, modifications or corrections should be sent to:

Mr. Arthur L. Dahl
Coordinator, UN System-wide Earthwatch
United Nations Environment Programme
Geneva Executive Center
15 Chemin des Anémones
CH-1219 Châtelaine, Geneva
Tel: +41 22 917-8207
Fax: +41 22 797-3471
e-mail: dahla@unep.ch 


The first inter-agency Earthwatch Working Party (Geneva, 1-2 June 1994) agreed on the following mission statement, terms of reference, and coordinating mechanisms 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 reports;

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. An inter-agency Earthwatch Working Party of focal points in all the cooperating organizations has met annually since 1994 to provide a continuing mechanism for inter-agency liaison and coordination to implement the system-wide Earthwatch, supplemented by frequent electronic communication.

The UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination secretariat established by UNEP in Geneva provides a central point of contact and liaison. The ACC has confirmed the role of UNEP to provide leadership and direction to the United Nations system-wide Earthwatch, to support inter-agency coordination of observation, assessment and reporting activities, and to assist in the joint programming and integration of results that will make Earthwatch an effective effort of the United Nations system to provide international environmental information required for decision-making.

Specific activities are implemented by ad hoc interagency technical meetings 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.

Through the Earthwatch site on the World Wide Web and other measures, Earthwatch facilitates access to programmatic and environmental information and pertinent data held by all parts of the UN system. The network of Earthwatch partners strengthens the working relationships among UN organizations and with the environmental Convention Secretariats and appropriate international activities of governments and non-governmental organizations. Earthwatch also provides an interface with international research and observation programmes concerning the global environment.

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UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination, Geneva