United Nations System-Wide
  Earthwatch Working Party 5
Geneva, 3-4 May 1999
Agenda Item 9
UNEP/EWWP5/5 of 17 March 1999


The Earthwatch Working Party needs to take into account a number of relevant decisions of other bodies, including the UNEP Governing Council and the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development.

UNEP Governing Council

Several decisions of the 20th UNEP Governing Council (Nairobi, 1-5 February 1999) are relevant to observing and assessment in general and to the UN system-wide Earthwatch in particular. These are summarized below:

In Decision 20/1, Global Environment Outlook, the Governing Council requests a Global Environment Outlook user profile and qualitative analysis of the actual use of the first and second Global Environment Outlook and the Global Environment Outlook process, together with a proposal for an optimal frequency and production schedule for future Global Environment Outlook and related reports. It also requests a third Global Environment Outlook report in the form of a "30 Years After Stockholm" report, to be published in 2002, following the full participatory Global Environment Outlook approach.

It then urges major actors in data compilation and in global report production, such as FAO, UNSD, the regional commissions, UNDP, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute, to collaborate in the production and use of a common data and knowledge base, comprising indicators, models, scenarios and expert systems, in order to avoid duplication, save costs and ensure that global reports are mutually supportive. Each agency would thus approach sustainable development from its particular perspective, while taking advantage of the information in the other reports to get a complete picture of sustainable development.

In its Decision 20/4, the Governing Council requests the Executive Director, in consultation with Governments and relevant international organizations, to seek appropriate ways of building capacity in and enhancing access to environmental information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, and to study, in this regard, various models of national legislation, policies and guidelines.

With respect to the reform of INFOTERRA to ensure better public access to environmental information, Decision 20/5 notes the new role of INFOTERRA as the United Nations Environment Programme's global advocate of the public-right-to-know principle, and the need to secure the participation of a diverse range of stakeholders in a partnership arrangement aimed at providing an integrated environmental information service at the national level, which will also facilitate the flow of information between the organization and its partners. It also requests the Executive Director to consult with Governments on the appropriateness of launching in the year 2000 the revitalized INFOTERRA at a global conference of senior government officials and representatives of relevant organizations expert in the field of environmental information services.

As a further improvement of the international response to environmental emergencies, Decision 20/8 requests appropriate linkages between the work of UNEP on environmental emergencies and its overall work on environmental assessment and early warning.

Based on UNEP's experience in developing desertification assessments and databases, the World Atlas of Desertification, and cooperative studies with SCOPE and CGIAR, Decision 20/10 calls for UNEP support to the Conference of Parties of the Convention to Combat Desertification, in particular its Committee on Science and Technology, in the assessment and monitoring of desertification and the enhancement of the scientific and technological knowledge base on land degradation.

With reference to environmental conventions, Decision 20/18 asks UNEP to promote the strengthening of coherent interlinkages among multilateral environmental conventions, and to enhance the linkages among the various scientific and information monitoring processes that underpin the conventions and related international processes in order to provide a bridge between science, information and policy.

Decision 20/19A, Oceans and seas, calls for activities by UNEP, taking into account the ongoing work of other international organizations, to facilitate the assessment of the state of marine and coastal environment, including the trends of changes in this environment and identification of important emerging issues, and to strengthen and expand its research, monitoring, observation and assessment activities, particularly in addressing critical uncertainties related to climate change as it may affect sustainable management of the marine environment. It also encourages the member agencies of the joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) to review their terms of reference, composition and methods of work as a means of enhancing its status as a source of independent scientific advice on coastal and oceans issues, stresses the need for reliable, accessible and relevant monitoring, and welcomes the Global International Waters Assessment which will provide for the assessment of the world's large marine ecosystems.

In its consideration of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (Decision 20/19 B), it stressed the need for urgent measures aimed at expediting progress in the implementation of the GPA/LBA and, in this context, called upon Governments to intensify their efforts within the context of their representation in the governing bodies of other agencies and organizations within the United Nations system to ensure these agencies and organizations have the mandate and the needed financial and human resources to undertake their responsibilities as lead agencies to coordinate the development of the clearing-house mechanism of the GPA/LBA, as defined in the United Nations General Assembly resolution 51/189.

On small island developing States, its Decision 20/19 D calls for UNEP to strengthen and expand research, monitoring and assessment activities addressed to small island developing states, including the social and economic factors affecting their terrestrial and aquatic environment, as well as relevant information for development of a "vulnerability index" for small island developing States, including the potential impacts of climate change, and to promote research and assessment regarding the sustainable management and use of the terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity of small island developing States. It also urges completion of work on state-of-the-environment assessments for the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and South Pacific SIDS in time for the seventh session of the Commission on Sustainable Development and the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on the review of the Barbados Programme of Action.

Its Decision 20/21 on Coral reefs welcomes the progress in establishing the global coral reef monitoring network and, in light of the 1997-1998 widespread coral bleaching, endorses enhanced cooperation between the global coral reef monitoring network's co-sponsors, the United Nations Environment Programme, World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the World Bank, to implement the global coral reef monitoring network to support conservation and sustainable use of coral reef ecosystems.

Under Freshwater, Decision 20/25 welcomes the focus of UNEP's work on freshwater on the environmental aspects of assessment and sustainable integrated management in accordance with national needs.

In considering priorities for support to Africa, the Governing Council, in Decision 20/27, requests the further strengthening of the role of UNEP in the field of environmental assessment and monitoring in Africa with a view to assisting African countries.

Finally, in Decision 20/30 on the Mercure satellite communications system, it encourages countries with relevant environmental data and information assets of value for improved environmental monitoring and management to make them readily accessible to all countries, especially developing countries, for ease of delivery through this UNEP initiative.

Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD)

The IACSD has taken action, at its meetings in September 1998 and March 1999, on four issues referred to it by the fourth Earthwatch Working Party. The following are relevant extracts from the reports of the IACSD at its twelfth and thirteenth meetings :

IACSD Twelfth Meeting (Geneva, 28-29 September 1998)

C. Report of the Earthwatch Working Party

18. The Committee considered document ACC/IACSD/XII/1998/CRP.3, a report of the Earthwatch Working Party. The report was introduced by a representative of DSD/DESA and the Chairman of the Earthwatch Working Party. The following items of the report were considered by the Committee: (1) Strengthening UN System Coverage of Waste Issues; (2) Incorporating the Information Dimension into the CSD Work Programme; (3) Common Core Data Sets and (4) Development Watch.

(a) Strengthening UN System Coverage of Waste Issues: The Committee acknowledged the importance of waste issues (the "brown agenda") and the need to strengthen systematic UN coverage of such issues. While the Committee felt it might be premature at this stage to establish a technical level working party to provide system-wide coordination, the need to more clearly identify the interests, capacities and expertise of the different UN organizations in this field was recognized. Consequently, the Committee requested that an assessment be prepared which would provide information on the activities of the various agencies concerned with waste management issues, particularly in terms of the role of the agencies and the focus and scope of their respective activities. UNCHS agreed to take the lead responsibility in this regard, and would prepare the report based on submissions and contributions made by the various concerned organizations, including proposals for further action by the Committee on this important topic. This compilation would form the basis for further consideration by the Committee of what steps might subsequently be taken by the Committee to strengthen the UN system response to these issues.

(b) Incorporating the Information Dimension into the CSD Work Programme: Information for decision-making was seen as a cross-cutting issue that has important implications for most of the sectoral and cross-sectoral themes of Agenda 21. The Committee endorsed the idea that Task Managers should be reminded about the need to incorporate this dimension into the substantive reports they are preparing for CSD. For those reports being prepared for the 1999 session, the Committee requested the CSD Secretariat to send faxed or electronic reminders to the concerned Task Managers to include information for decision-making in their respective reports. The Committee also agreed that Task Managers might be convened in the context of other related meetings to discuss how the information component could be more fully integrated into their reports. In this context, the Committee noted that FAO in preparation for CSD8 is giving special attention to the information component.

(c) Common Core Data Sets: The Committee recognized the valuable work done by a wide variety of UN system agencies and other organizations in preparing excellent data sets in their respective areas of expertise, and noted the importance of building on what already exists while seeking to ensure that such data can be shared and be accessible to other UN agencies and organizations. It was agreed that further work needed to be done to identify common data interests among agencies and to identify gaps where data may not exist. The Committee therefore agreed to establish an informal working group to be convened by UNEP to address the issues identified by the Earthwatch working party. It was agreed that some of this work could be carried on electronically, but that more formal meetings might be required in the future.

(d) Development Watch: The Committee did not feel it had enough information to make any definitive statement on this issue, but requested UNDP to prepare a report for the next meeting of IACSD, based on comments and inputs to be provided by interested agencies. Such a report would provide the basis for the Committee to decide what, if any, further action might be needed on this issue. The results of any country level experience with Development Watch would be taken into consideration in the report, as appropriate.

IASCD Thirteenth Meeting (New York, 8-9 March 1999)

The IACSD has taken further action on two of the above issues referred to it by the fourth Earthwatch Working Party at its thirteenth meeting, including UN coordination on waste management issues, and Development Watch. The following are relevant extracts from the report of the meeting:

D. Strengthening of UN system coverage of waste management issues

24. The representative of UNCHS presented the results of the initial survey of ongoing activities and readiness to collaborate in strengthening the UN systemís coverage of waste management issues (ACC/IACSD/XIII/1999/CRP.8). He noted that while the number of responses to the survey was limited, the message of those who responded was clear in that there is an interest in developing three options for IACSD to promote collaboration in this field. These are: (a) maintaining an inventory of UN approaches and activities related to waste issues; (b) maintaining a tool box with guidelines, standards, methods and techniques; and (c) establishing a technical working party on waste management issues. It was proposed that all three options be developed incrementally starting with the inventory and establishing technical working parties only in a time-bound and issue specific fashion, e.g., on standards. The Committee noted that this was an important area which requires more attention and a more common approach from the UN system and expressed its appreciation to UNCHS for undertaking the survey. Members of the Committe endorsed the proposal for further work and reiterated their interest and commitment in participating. They stressed that in this context the waste covered has to go beyond the municipal waste category to include e.g. pesticide and other chemicals. The timeliness of this endeavour was highlighted in view of UNEPís planned Conference on Sewerage in the year 2000. The Committee also welcomed the readiness of Habitat to explore the possibility of mobilizing required resources through existing programmes with related agendas such as the Urban Environment Forum.

E. Status of Development Watch

25. The history and status of Development Watch was outlined by UNDP (ACC/IACSD/XIII/1999/ CRP.6). While the activities and efforts undertaken related to Development Watch were welcomed by the IACSD, it was noted that these had been conceived at an early stage as a sustainable development indicators (SDI) process. Since then a more systematic discussion of SDI had devleoped at the inter-agency level and much progress in the area of SDI had been achieved. It was thus the view of the Committee that a separate Development Watch mechanism should not be pursued. Rather it was recommended that the relevant activities be incorporated into the efforts regarding indicators in the context of ECOSOC and elsewhere. It was reiterated that there is a need for further inter-agency coordination regarding SDI, especially related to national level coordination and capacity-building at the country level. The Committee also agreed that DESA and UNDP should keep the IACSD informed about progress made regarding development indicators.

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Other relevant inter-agency initiatives endorsed by the IACSD at its 13th meeting are the decisions of the ACC Subcommittee on Water Resources to begin the preparation of a periodic World Water Development Report (WWDR), with the first edition published in 2002, and to create a World Wide Web "gateway site" containing the content and location of all water-related United Nations World Wide Web sites. FAO is also developing an electronic UN Atlas of the Oceans in cooperation with IMO, UNESCO/IOC, UNEP, UNDP, IAEA and WMO.

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