|United Nations System-Wide
Geneva, 13-14 March 2000
OF THE MEETING
Task Manager functions for Chapter 40
Indicators of environment and sustainable development
Review of the UNEP Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy
Review of international scientific advisory processes
UN system preparations for input to the Global Environment Outlook 3 process
Relevant decisions of other bodies
Electronic information networking between Earthwatch partners
Integrated Global Observing Strategy and Global Observing Systems
Future strategy and work programme for Earthwatch coordination
ANNEX 1 - Agenda
ANNEX 2 - List of Participants
ANNEX 3 - Summary of key issues for 2001
1. The sixth meeting of the Earthwatch Working Party was opened by the Coordinator, UN System-wide Earthwatch, UNEP, who welcomed the participants and outlined the importance of this Working Party meeting in preparing for the review of Information for Decision-making and Participation at the ninth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-9) in 2001. A special welcome was offered to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, a new partner in Earthwatch decided at the last meeting, which reported on its transition to UNEP.
2. The agenda was approved as proposed (Annex 1), and the Earthwatch Coordinator was requested to continue chairing the meeting. The list of participants is given in Annex 2. The working documents for the meeting are posted on the documents page of the Earthwatch World Wide Web site (http://www.unep.ch/earthw/Documen.htm).
3. The secretariat presented a report on the implementation of the UN system-wide Earthwatch since the fifth meeting on 3-4 May 1999 (UNEP/EWWP6/2). This highlighted the maintenance of Earthwatch momentum in planning for CSD-9, developing the Earthwatch web site, supporting the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) Partnership, and generally supporting the UN system-wide Earthwatch mandate in various interagency activities, despite limited resources.
4. A tabulation by the secretariat of all the decisions taken by the working party and their implementation was available (UNEP/EWWP6/Inf.1). It assisted the meeting to revisit the terms of reference of the Earthwatch Working Party in the light of the resources available to implement them, as requested by the last meeting. However, it was finally decided that the present terms of reference are still largely applicable, and it would be more appropriate to review them after the CSD has reviewed "Information for Decision-making" at CSD-9 in 2001.
5. The plans made by the last Earthwatch Working Party for the review of the implementation of Chapter 40 of Agenda 21: Information for Decision-making, and the preparation of the Secretary-General's report to the Ninth Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in 2001, had been endorsed by the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development at its meeting 24-25 January 2000. A joint working paper from the UN Division for Sustainable Development and Earthwatch (UNEP/EWWP6/3) provided an update of the plans for the review. DSD also made available a paper "Preparations for CSD-9 on Information for Decision-making" (updated from UNEP/EWWP5/3) including a summary of key issues for 2001 (Annex 3).
6. DSD/DESA and UNEP will serve as joint Task Managers for the Chapter 40 review with the support of the UN agencies represented in the Earthwatch Working Party. The representative of DSD briefed the working party on preparatory arrangements, including the convening of an expert group meeting to be hosted by the Government of Canada on information for decision-making in September 2000. It was noted that the expert group meeting would consist of governmental experts, NGO and private sector representatives as well as experts representing agencies of the United Nations system. It would be necessary to prepare a short background document for the expert meeting outlining some of the key issues to be addressed. In reviewing its previous discussions on this item, the Working Party confirmed that the issues enumerated earlier remain valid. These included such items as (1) the development of indicators as tools to support national decision-making (2) the possibilities opened up by new technologies, (3) the problems of data collection, particularly in developing countries, (4) weaknesses in data collection, (5) the collection and use of traditional information, (6) new multi-media technologies, (7) practical applications of GIS and map based information tools, (8) public access to environmental information, (9) problems of non-uniform standards and methods, (10) the need for harmonization and rationalization, and (11) efforts to make electronic information widely available.
7. In addition to these issues, the Working Party identified the following issues that may need to be addressed by the expert group and in the subsequent report of the Secretary-General to the CSD:
a) agreement on the need to develop and make better use of common core data sets by the UN system organizations. It was proposed that a smaller and more specialized expert group could be convened in June 2000 to build on work already done in this area and to make proposals on the further work and resources that might be needed to take full advantage of common core data sets within the UN system. Such ideas would be presented to the larger group in September;
b) harmonization and sharing of information and reporting processes amongst the environmental conventions and their respective secretariats;
c) promoting a better understanding of how information is being used, by whom, and its impact, if any, on decision-making. This would include studies on the effectiveness of information dissemination. Studies by individual agencies on their user populations and better country level information on information users could be helpful in this regard and could feed into preparations for the 2001 review;
d) environmental emergencies and natural disasters and the consequent need for more effective and real time information responses with better forecasting of potential areas of vulnerability;
e) the need for more capacity building at the national level while avoiding loss of well trained information professionals to the private sector;
f) the information technology gap between developed and developing countries;
g) how countries can make full use of new flows of information coming from NGOs and private companies and how this information can be better standardized;
8. In preparing for the expert meeting in September 2000 and in writing the subsequent report of the Secretary-General, the Working Party agreed that close cooperation and partnership among all its members and the agencies they represent would be essential. It was further agreed that:
a) UNEP and DSD/DESA working in conjunction with the Government of Canada, as the host country for the expert meeting, would prepare an agenda and programme of work for the Expert Group meeting and circulate it to the members of the Working Party for their comments prior to its finalization;
b) UNEP and DSD/DESA would circulate to the members of the Working Party, or their respective agencies, the summary of key issues to be addressed by the Expert Group meeting and invite its members to submit comments and any written submissions they would wish to make for inclusion in the background document for the Expert Group meeting;
c) The draft of the background document for the Expert Group meeting will be circulated to members of the Working Party for their comments;
d) The outcome of the Expert Group meeting, plus any other additional information and research that may be developed, will provide the essential basis for the Secretary-Generalís report on Chapter 40;
e) The draft outline and report of the Secretary-General will be circulated to members of the Working Party for their comments;
f) The final version of the Secretary-Generalís report must be completed by the end of December 2000;
g) Agencies will be invited to submit case studies and practical examples of programmes and activities that they have completed demonstrating how information and new information technologies have been successfully integrated into the decision-making process at the national or local level. Such examples may be summarized and included in an Annex to the Secretary-Generalís report or as a background document for circulation at the Ninth Session of the CSD.
9. As requested at the last Earthwatch Working Party, demonstrations were arranged of new decision-support tools, web sites, CD-ROMs and other systems that may be appropriate for inclusion in the information technology demonstration planned at the Commission on Sustainable Development in 2001, in conjunction with the review of Information for Decision-making.
10. The last Working Party report suggested that such demonstrations should give the CSD participants an exposure to the exciting new possibilities available, with an emphasis on information for decision-makers rather than scientists. They should show the advantages of integrated information, and should provide information products of immediate use to decision-makers. They should not lose sight of the human side of information management by giving the impression that there is a technological quick fix, but should communicate the need to support the whole information system that makes such tools possible.
11. The meeting reviewed sources such as the UNU LandBase information system on coastal pollutants in East Asian countries (http://www.geic.or.jp/landbase//), a UNITAR/GRID demonstration of the GISWEB-based Environmental Information System for Africa, the Central European University materials for an electronic atlas of central and eastern Europe, with one emergency response application showing the cyanide spill on the Danube with animation (http://www.syslab.ceu.hu/~tchirkov/tisza/), various FAO databases and information systems such as GIEWS, ARTEMIS and AGROMET, some prototype information products from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and a community-oriented data system from Canada presented by an expert from IUCN. After the demonstration, the participants discussed which products would be most appropriate to show the delegates to CSD the practical results of the information revolution in bridging the data gap and improving the availability of information. It was obvious that most present systems were still not ready for direct use by non-specialists or decision-makers, but some could probably reach that stage in the next year.
12. It was decided to prepare a short highly-professional compilation on the use of the new information technologies for projection in the main conference room as part of the report, including illustrations of some of the materials on demonstration. WCMC and Earthwatch would develop a scenario for this presentation. For the demonstrations themselves, each interested organization would prepare a 3-7 minute powerpoint-based demonstration that delegates could view on a computer as an introduction to their systems or products. Simplicity and some consistency in style would be necessary, so some guidelines needed to be developed. Where on-line versions are available, the demonstration could invite more experienced users to link to and try out the on-line version. This would ensure that the demonstrations were adapted to a range of users. If possible, the presentations should feature information tools concerning issues in the headlines at the moment, which will require some last-minute adaptability in their development, but also show their relevance to decision-making.
13. The representative of DSD/DESA briefed the Working Party on the current status of the CSD Work Programme on Indicators of Sustainable Development, referring to the report of the International Workshop on CSD Indicators of Sustainable Development held in Barbados in December 1999, and the Progress Report on the Implementation of the CSD Work Programme on Indicators of Sustainable Development (Background Paper No. 7), submitted for CSD-8. The Barbados Workshop marked the completion of the country testing phase of the indicators programme and a final report on the indicators work would be due at CSD-9. The report on indicators will be separate from the general report on Chapter 40, although it will be an item for briefing and discussion at the Expert Group meeting in Canada. It was noted that, as a result of the testing phase, the overall indicators framework had been changed from a driving force-state-response framework to one of themes and sub-themes as suggested by the countries themselves. Moreover, the core set of indicators had been reduced from 134 to 59. The DSD/DESA representative further noted that the agencies that had been active in preparing indicator methodologies during the first phase of the work programme, might be called upon to further review and modify, where appropriate, the corresponding methodology sheets. There were a few new indicators in the list where methodology sheets might also need to be prepared.
14. Members of the Working Party expressed general satisfaction with the progress achieved while recognizing that more capacity building is required at the country level to get indicators better understood, to overcome sensitivities to the use and publication of data and to more fully integrate indicators into decision-making processes. Members of the Working Party expressed willingness to continue their collaboration in the development of the indicators work.
15. UNEP presented the latest concise revision of its Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy (UNEP/EWWP6/4) and the extended version available on the web at http://www.unep.ch/earthw/unepstr5.htm. The strategy is in the final stages of approval. It emphasizes implementation through partnerships, including inter-agency cooperation between UNEP and other parts of the UN system through Earthwatch. Participants were asked to consider how their own activities interface with the strategy and contribute to its implementation. In response to a question about the relationship of the strategy to the new Environmental Management Group (EMG), it was indicated that emerging issues and early warnings identified through observing and assessment activities under the strategy could well become topics submitted to the EMG for action across the UN system. With reference to capacity-building activities, they are incorporated throughout the strategy, which emphasizes strengthening the capacity of UNEP and its many partners. It was pointed out that activities such as the inter-agency programme on marine pollution also fit within the strategy framework.
16. The background document "Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development" prepared by UNEP in 1998 in support of the review of Chapter 35 at CSD-6 (UNEP/DEIA/TR.98-1 and http://www.unep.ch/earthw/sciadv.htm) is now being updated and extended by UNEP as recommended by previous Earthwatch Working Party meetings. The second report should be available in mid-year as a contribution to the preparations for the CSD review of information for decision-making in 2001. UNESCO asked to be associated closely with the preparation of the report. The meeting discussed possible areas for the thematic example in the report. Freshwater seemed an appropriate area because there are so many advisory processes involved that some rationalization might be in order. Land degradation was suggested as another issue linked to several conventions, and related to carbon sequestration, biodiversity, food security, disasters, etc., where scientific advisory processes were institutionally less well developed. The FAO representative agreed to consult within his organization on whether there was scope for an Earthwatch initiative to strengthen scientific advice on land degradation in this larger context. Coastal processes were another thematic area where scientific advisory processes could be examined. It was suggested that the need for short term scientific advice as part of emergency response might also be worth addressing.
17. The second UNEP Global Environment Outlook - 2000 report was released in September 1999 and has had considerable impact. Preparations are now beginning for the GEO-3 report, which will be timed to provide input to the 10 year review of Agenda 21 in 2002, and will consider the longer term perspective of 30 years after Stockholm, and implications for the next 30 years. As requested at the last Working Party, UNEP invited its UN system partners to become involved early in the GEO preparatory process. A working paper with UNEP's initial thinking on the scope and themes of GEO-3 was available (UNEP/EWWP6/5), providing an opportunity for partners to "buy into" the report at an early stage and to participate actively in its development. Areas of cooperation could include preparation of sectoral inputs, improvement of data sets, collaboration in regional consultations, identification of emerging issues, and review of conclusions and policy options. An electronic information management system is being designed for GEO-3 that should facilitate inter-agency reviews and inputs. Earthwatch Coordination will be the channel for UN system inputs to the GEO process. Partners were encouraged to consult within their organizations and to advise the Earthwatch coordinator of the contributions they would like to make. The responses received in time will be submitted to the first GEO-3 production meeting in Bangkok, 3-7 April 2000.
18. The UN University referred to its 20-30 year time frame and key policy prescriptions for its inputs to the Secretary-General's millennium report, which would be relevant to GEO-3. FAO offered to contribute to GEO in the area of food insecurity and vulnerability. UNHCR found future predictions of refugee flows chaotic and impossible to predict, and wondered how they could contribute.
19. In reviewing the outline of GEO-3 provided, there were a number of comments on the direction and content of the report. The overall aim, as described in the working paper, was not understandable. Questions were raised about the appropriateness of a 30-year time frame for policy assessment, but this may be more suitable for environmental issues than for socio-economic questions. One issue not addressed in the outline was how to consider surprises and the capacity of society to deal with them.
20. There was a more general concern about the number of reports being prepared for Rio+10 in 2002, and particularly the potential for overlap between the GEO-3 report and the Trends report planned by DESA. Was there a need for two reports? While one had an environmental focus and the other a sustainable development focus, there needed at least to be close coordination between them. It was suggested that a member of the GEO team should sit on the Trends report advisory group and vice-versa for technical coordination. An effort across the whole UN system would be necessary to ensure that all the reports produced complemented each other and presented coherent messages, rather than contradicting each other. The use of common core data sets and consistent scenarios would help to achieve this.
21. A report was presented on actions taken by the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development on some issues referred to it by the last Earthwatch Working Party. The relevant texts were distributed in a working paper (UNEP/EWWP6/6) for discussion and further action by the Working Party. Reference was also made to the decision of the UNEP Governing Council at its 20th session, already discussed at the last meeting, which urged major actors in data compilation and in global report production 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 (GC 20/1). The IACSD has requested proposals from UNEP as to how, in practical terms, this concept of core data sets could be implemented.
22. While little progress had been made since the last meeting on common core data sets in 1996 (http://www.unep.ch/earthw/cordatwg.htm), UNEP has established a core data working group for its GEO-3 report process which was developing a strategy to meet its needs. This could be circulated to agencies as a working document for another interagency meeting of experts on core data sets that could plan the way forward in this difficult area. The meeting could agree on data sets for which an agency was prepared to take responsibility, while identifying others that required additional resources and an institutional home. It was agreed to organize this expert meeting in June to prepare recommendations on core data sets for the September meeting hosted by the Canadian Government. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) representative offered the protected areas data being assembled for the new version of the UN List of Protected Areas as a possible core data set.
23. Reports were given on other bodies that had taken relevant decisions. A recent meeting in Russia on environmental monitoring in Europe has called for the establishment of an environmental monitoring system in Europe with a working group under the Economic Commission for Europe. The Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has called for national reports on contributions to the global observing system for climate following guidelines prepared by GCOS. The UNU reported on a multi-agency project on the impacts of extreme events that is reviewing the capacity of society to process available information at the time it is received, and whether adequate information triggers a response. The project could produce a case study and policy brief on this issue as inputs for the September meeting.
24. In introducing this item, the secretariat referred to the new UNEP environmental observing and assessment strategy (UNEP/EWWP6/4) which proposes the joint creation of an electronic environmental information meta-system which could link sites across the UN system-wide Earthwatch and other partner organizations in a coherent integrated framework. There is considerable potential for increased interaction and coherence between these sites and systems. Modalities for the development and coordination of such a system had been requested at the last working party, and were to be the subject of an expert planning workshop on environmental information systems being organized by UNEP immediately after the Working Party.
25. Progress in building effective decision-support systems using environmental information seemed surprisingly slow given the rapid development of technological capabilities, and the meeting considered the reasons for this. What do the users and decision-makers really need in terms of environmental information? It is not simply metadata to other sources. They want to know what is happening to the environment, where, when and how much. They want to know the implications, costs and risks, and what they can do about them. This would include access to solutions such as legislation, regulations, technologies and institutional arrangements. It is necessary to look both at the capacity to deliver information and the capacity to receive and use it. What are the resource implications, constraints and options? Each organization should ask what they have that is going in this direction, and how we can start linking and integrating the parts into a coherent whole. What mechanisms are needed to make this all happen?
26. In the discussion, reference was made to the gap between the grand vision and the state of the art. The data are often not good enough for reliable use. User communities are not yet well defined. Is it is somebody's interest to provide the information? The lack of funding and institutional support was also a problem. It was easier to set up a web site than to maintain it. There was often the need to build awareness in the organization of the benefits of making their data available to others. Organizational structures often limited the data put out, and it was necessary to demonstrate the advantages to the organization in order for it to give it the necessary priority. Timeliness was important, as the motivation to disseminate information diminished rapidly after an activity. UN bodies often lacked both the capacity and institutional willingness to share information beyond their own immediate clientele.
27. Various potential components of a system-wide electronic information system were described, including the national reports and links to country data on the UN sustainable development web site, the prototype global observing systems information center and the web sites developed for the El Niño in 1997-98, the public management information system for Afganistan, the TEMS database on monitoring sites at GTOS, and the FAO databases and decision-support systems such as ARTEMIS, the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), the forest resources information system, land cover in south-east Asia, a local level system on grazing capacity in Pakistan, and WAICENT. These are not all publicly available. It was noted that the retrospective databases in FAO would be of great interest to the GEO-3 report if access could be provided.
28. The WCMC described the similar challenges they faced in integrating their own numerous databases, where the web solutions like Internet map servers now made linking possible. It was necessary to define the geographic scale and the user community, to guide users more actively to well-structured information, and to empower them to answer their own questions. A web site should not be a stand-alone activity, but should be supported by elements in each activity in the organization. This often required changes in organizational culture and management approaches. The very high use of a successful web site (1.2 million users per year at WCMC) would attract the interest of top managers.
29. It was agreed that UNEP would take the next steps in preparing standards and mechanisms for integrating its own environmental information, as a possible model for system-wide efforts. A system-wide meeting of technical experts could be convened later.
30. A short report was presented on recent developments in the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) Partnership between the Global Observing Systems and their sponsors, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) of the space agencies, the International Group of Funding Agencies (IGFA) and major global research programmes (WCRP, IGBP). Details are available on the IGOS home page created and hosted by Earthwatch (http://www.igospartners.org). The successful meeting in November 1999 between representatives of the IGOS partners and the subsidiary bodies of the major environmental conventions demonstrated the usefulness of the IGOS approach to reinforced cooperation and user-responsiveness.
31. The G3OS (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS) secretariats also briefed the meeting on recent developments, with a written progress report provided by GOOS (UNEP/EWWP6/Inf.3). GCOS emphasized its developing relationship with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the progress made in information systems and their use stimulated by the El Niño events. GTOS advised that its annual report would soon be available. It referred to the significance of the planning now underway on observations of the terrestrial carbon cycle, recently approved as a theme within IGOS. The general feeling was of hopeful progress in the global observing systems, and this should be reported to CSD-9, as requested by Earthwatch Working Party 4.
32. The representative of the Basel Convention asked the advice of the meeting on the feasibility of observing illegal hazardous waste dumps from space. While some limited technical solutions could be envisaged, they would be costly to implement. It was suggested that the European Union was working in related areas of the applications of space monitoring, and might be a good source to approach.
33. In the light of the consultation under previous agenda items on the different strategic elements and activities across the UN system and beyond of relevance to Earthwatch, the meeting recommended that Earthwatch coordination should give the following activities priority in the year ahead:
a) updating and reformating the compendium of information on each partner organization on the Earthwatch web site, which could become a map to relevant information sources within each organization;
b) organizing a June meeting of experts on core data sets;
c) implementing, jointly with DESA DSD, the Task Manager functions for Chapter 40 in preparation for CSD-9 in 2001, including helping to prepare the September meeting and the Secretary-General's report, and organizing the demonstration of information technologies for decision-making at CSD-9.
34. It was proposed that Earthwatch should make a greater effort to involve the Convention secretariats in its work, in order to strengthen the links between the secretariats and other parts of the UN system, as it had already done with the Global Observing Systems. This might involve including agenda items for the next meeting of particular interest to the conventions.
35. It was decided that Earthwatch and DESA would jointly organize a special meeting in November to review the Secretary-General's report on Information for Decision-making and Participation before its finalization. The Earthwatch Working Party should be organized after CSD-9 to consider how to implement the results of the review of Chapter 40: Information for Decision-making.
36. It was agreed that the secretariat would circulate the draft report of the meeting rapidly for any corrections that might be required prior to its adoption.
(Geneva, 13-14 March 2000)
1. Opening of the meeting
2. Approval of the agenda and adoption of working procedures
3. Report by the secretariat on progress in Earthwatch
4. Task Manager functions for Chapter 40
5. Indicators of environment and sustainable development
6. Review of the UNEP Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy
7. Review of international scientific advisory processes
8. UN system preparations for input to the Global Environment Outlook 3 process
9. Relevant decisions of other bodies
10. Electronic information networking between Earthwatch partners
11. Integrated Global Observing Strategy and Global Observing Systems
12. Future strategy and work programme for Earthwatch coordination
13. Other business
14. Date and venue of the next meeting
15. Demonstration of new technologies in information for decision-making
16. Adoption of the report of the meeting
17. Closing of the meeting
(Geneva, 13-14 March 2000)
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Ms Mary Pat Silveira
Mr L. Ludvigsen
Mr Einar Bjorgo
Mr Jocelyn Fenard
Mr Lowell Flanders
Dr. Zafar Adeel
Mr Arthur Dahl
Mr Ron Witt
Mr Mark Collins
UNITED NATIONS AGENCIES
Mr Paul Reichert
Mr Alan R. Thomas
Mr Hugh Livingston
Ms Merle Opelz
Mr Yves Treglos
Mr Gennadi Souchkevitch
Mr Alexander Karpov
Mr Victor Boldirev
UNITED NATIONS CONVENTIONS
Mrs Asa Granados
Preparations for CSD-9 on Information for Decision-making (Chapter 40 of Agenda 21)
Summary of Key Issues for 2001
The following elements, among others still to be identified, may be the focus of attention in CSD-9:
(a) the development of indicators as tools to support national decision-making processes and the progress made in this direction by the CSD Work Programme on Indicators of Sustainable Development;
(b) the possibilities opened up by new technologies, the decline in essential observations due to reductions in government support, and the need to shift from data collection in research programmes to operational systematic observing mechanisms and institutions;
(c) the particular problems of data collection in developing countries, and the difficulties in obtaining and combining data from different ministries for an integrated view of sustainable development;
(d) weaknesses in the data collection, analysis, assessment and reporting processes and recommend necessary improvements to eliminate bottlenecks in the information system, including inconsistent methodologies and inadequate harmonization:
(e) progress in the collection and use of traditional information under the Convention to Combat Desertification, and other instruments and agreements;
(f) new multimedia technologies, and tools such as indicators and animated graphical presentations that are opening new avenues for preparing and presenting information in formats more easily understood by decision-makers and the general public;
(g) practical applications of GIS and map-based information tools that have expanded rapidly in recent years as tools allowing for visual assessment of impacts and of resources available to address problems and emergencies;
(h) public access to environmental information, as exemplified in the adoption in 1998 of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters;
(i) problems of non-uniform standards and methods for handling information and new issues of intellectual property rights to data and information;
(j) the need for harmonization and rationalization of development data and indicators in an attempt to address the growing number of data requirements of UN-system programme activities, as now being addressed by ECOSOC;
(k) efforts to make electronic sustainable development information as widely available as possible.