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United Nations System-Wide
  December 2000  
    The Second

Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development

Hyperlinked version for the Internet

Prepared for the UN System-Wide Earthwatch Coordination, UNEP
by Jan-Stefan Fritz


Box 1. Advisory Bodies to Multilateral Environmental Agreements

Technical Working Group of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes (Basel-TWG
Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD-SBSTTA
Advisory Committees of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES
Committee on Science and Technology of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD-CST
Scientific Council of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS
Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC-SBSTA
Assessment and Technical Options Bodies of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Ozone
Interim Chemical Review Committee - Rotterdam Convention on PIC for Certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade (PIC-Interim CRC)
Scientific and Technical Review Panel of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar-STRP

The following are referred to in MEAs as advisory processes: 
GESAMP is referred to in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 related thereto (MARPOL 73/78) 
IUCN is identified as the advisory body on natural sites under the World Heritage Convention (WHC), and it provides scientific support to CITES and Ramsar 

    This section includes scientific advisory bodies, established by meetings of Parties to multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) to advise them on specific issues. While their role as advisors is relatively similar, differences occur in the way these bodies are organized, their internal dynamics, the nature of their work, and interrelations.
Organization and Dynamics

The most important fact to remember about bodies listed in Box 1, is that - with the exception of the last two - all are created by governments as subsidiary bodies. This warrants noting because, in addition to scientific or other considerations, political considerations also determine their organization and dynamics as well as their work and relations with other advisory processes. 

Types of subsidiary bodies

i. Small expert groups

In general terms, two types of subsidiary body are created to advise the Parties to MEAs. The first type is open to representatives from all Parties, and the second is a small expert group. Smaller bodies are usually established to provide specific technical advice to MEAs. Some notable examples include the scientific and technical advisory bodies to CITES, PIC, Ramsar, and Ozone Conventions. In such cases where only a limited number of experts are invited to participate, criteria for invitations usually include strict stipulations for regional representation. Most conventions identify between 5 and 7 regions, from which a representative number of experts is appointed. Other criteria by which participants are appointed include their expertise in relevant matters and, to a lesser extent in technical bodies, gender. Since it is often difficult for Parties to find a consensus on the criteria used to select experts, regional distribution and expertise are the two that are consistently applied. 
ii. Open advisory bodies
Those bodies open to representatives of all Parties range in size from about 50 - 200 individuals. Prominent examples of this type of subsidiary advisory body include those created under the Basel Convention, CBD, CMS, UNCCD, and UNFCCC. Depending on the criteria agreed to by Parties, experts will be appointed by their governments, to a greater or lesser extent as government representatives or independent experts. While these advisory processes consider scientific, technical and other information, participants represent a wide range of backgrounds and include many diplomats. From this perspective, many open advisory bodies are ‘framework bodies’. To incorporate the necessary technical expertise for writing reports and for deliberations, open advisory processes employ a variety of means to facilitate their work. This includes: establishing ad hoc expert or working groups, holding ad hoc specialist meetings, and appointing rosters of experts. 
Rosters of Experts
Rosters have become a popular feature of framework advisory processes. All three Rio Conventions - biodiversity, climate change and desertification - have begun establishing them. The rosters serve to provide supplementary specialized knowledge to what is provided by members of the framework process. Ideally, rosters aim to balance the need for intellectual independence while maintaining a close link to intergovernmental negotiations. Though many resources have been invested in establishing rosters, experience with their use is relatively limited. Some uses include selecting individuals for meetings and report writing. However, the complicated process and investments (both administrative and financial) needed to establish them, have raised many questions about the criteria used to appoint experts and whether this constrains recourse to non-listed experts, identifying appropriate tasks, and cost-effectiveness. Other specific debates have focused on such issues as: regional representation, gender balance, independence of expertise, and disciplinary representation. Although not included in this section, GEF-STAP is a useful example of the successful application of an expert roster. Some principal features of STAP's roster include: a well-defined sphere of contribution, it gives advice on operational programming, quality control mechanisms exist for appointing and retaining experts, standards for advice have been established, its activities are reviewed, and it supports the scientific community in some developing countries.
Technical Advice vs. Substantively Broader Advice



Work and Outputs

Similar to distinguishing between expert bodies and open advisory processes, a distinction can also be made between those bodies that provide technical advice and those that provide substantively broader advice. Those processes furnishing advice on broad issue areas - notably the Rio Convention subsidiary bodies - have a challenging task. Perhaps the most challenging of these tasks is the need to balance the furnishing of specific advice with an understanding of the issue area as a whole. In this, these bodies reflect two of the dominant trends visible in many contemporary advisory processes. On one hand, advice to many MEAs is becoming increasingly technical and specialized. Many MEAs require highly specialized knowledge relating to problem identification, articulation, and alternatives for action. On the other hand, there is an increasing need for broad advice on the intra- and inter-relations between ecosystem and social dynamics. For example, this can be seen such agreements as the Biosafety and Kyoto Protocols. 

Balancing Science and Traditional Knowledge



Balancing the broad and the specific, means that scientific advisory processes must increasingly seek support of other communities. For example, CBD- SBSTTA must now consider the relations between indigenous knowledge, scientific knowledge, and the international law of intellectual property rights in light of the Biosafety Protocol and Convention Article 8(j). More broadly, the CST of the Desertification Convention devoted time at its third session to the importance of local and traditional knowledge in managing drought and combating desertification. Balancing knowledge gathered by science advisors and civil society will become an important element in the implementation of the Convention, which will invariably require the use of existing skills and traditional tasks. In general terms, one writer on the subject has noted that: 
 “... technical change does not transform societies independently of other factors unrelated to technology as such. The social and cultural factors - the attitudes and the beliefs attached to economic, political and social organization - influence the role that science and technology play in a given society.”i
The importance of NGO support work
In addition to broadening the type of knowledge needed, many advisory processes increasingly rely on NGOs. These provide such services as: necessary support including environmental monitoring and data management, promoting the work of convention across a wider community, and contributing other expertise. Two notable examples are CITES and Ramsar-STRP. For its part, STRP has a number of International Organization Partners: IUCN provides secretariat services to the Ramsar Convention, Wetlands International maintains the Ramsar Site Database, and Birdlife International and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) promote Ramsar values and provide support to Ramsar activities. In this respect, STRP reflects an increasing emphasis among many advisory processes on: 
integrating more closely the work of NGOs and other international organizations; 

improving and ensuring the quality of reports to decision-making bodies by drawing on as many sources as possible (the question of quality is regularly emphasized in meetings of advisory processes, as a result of which more consultant reports are peer reviewed before being submitted to government representatives); and 

opening meetings and workshops to NGOs and other relevant participants. 

IUCN not only serves the Ramsar Convention, but also others, including the World Heritage Convention wherein it is named the advisory body on natural sites. In fact, as a mix between intergovernmental and non-governmental organization, IUCN is a good example of the value that the balance between government and NGO interests can bring. 
The process of furnishing scientific advice
Once formulated, advice is furnished in either draft decision or report form. The standard process for advisory processes to deliver findings is to forward them to the Secretariat for distribution to Parties. Often a small presentation is made to Parties by a representative of the advisory body. In this sense, the science-policy bridge is strong. Subsidiary bodies provide advice on request. However, there is a weak link between what is invested to synthesize knowledge and the ‘intellectual mileage’ derived from it. To appreciate the full range of materials that advisory processes prepare, one must consider not only those forwarded to Parties, but also the numerous background and technical reports that are prepared by or on behalf of the advisory body. These reports are often filed after meetings, rarely if ever referred to again. This concerns particularly the larger advisory processes, responsible for deliberating on a wide range of issues. While this is not inherently a problem, the question arises whether more effort could not be made in treating these reports as a resource to be accessible for future purposes. 
    A case in point is the CST of the Desertification Convention, which had several reports prepared on various aspects of traditional knowledge. Though these were important documents for its third session, their contents were not considered in detail or used for specific purposes by the COP. While the real relevance of these reports will become apparent in the work of an ad hoc panel on traditional knowledge and in national reports to the Convention, they are a resource potentially useful for other purposes. They are available on the Internet, but a broader question may be whether it might be useful to have a centralized point of access allowing readers an overview of all traditional knowledge reports published UN system-wide. For more detail, see the list of recommendations
Convention Implementation
The science-policy bridge is also being expanded by some MEAs, which involve their subsidiary advisory processes in implementation. For example, the joint meetings of the UNFCCC’s SBSTA and Subsidiary Body on Implementation are aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Convention (adverse effects and response measures) and making preparations for implementation of the Kyoto Protocol (compliance). The joint meetings of the Technical and Legal Working Groups of the Basel Convention are a another example. 
Making Increasing Amounts of Information Accessible

Information Technology

One priority for advisory processes in recent years has been to organize knowledge for better access. The amount of information that many advisory processes must managed is so large and detailed that new means are needed to organize it, while maintaining and even improving access. Since publication of the first Report on Scientific Advisory Processes, use of the Internet has increased substantially and the websites of MEAs and their advisory processes have become much more sophisticated. The first Report observed that more attention needed to be devoted to ensuring the completeness and improving the quality of information provided by advisory processes. Since then, the situation has greatly improved. Now background documents, meeting reports, decisions and even some live footage are generally available. Concerning the biodiversity conventions a step has even been taken to harmonize the information that is presented in the form of a joint website (see coordination below). See also Annex 1 for an overview of what information is provided by the websites of some major advisory processes. 

    A useful complement to the official documents and reports is the meeting coverage of the independent Earth Negotiations Bulletin, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. It provides excellent coverage of all major environment and sustainable development related negotiations and intergovernmental deliberations. 
Using IT to Reduce Costs
Beyond providing increasing amounts of information via the Internet, little use has been made of video conferencing or other IT-based means of reducing costs. Information technology is generally used in addition to, rather than in place of, traditional means of communication and meeting. However, some examples of cost-saving uses of IT exist. For example, Ramsar-STRP conducts some of its work over a closed e-mail discussion group, and the Interim Secretariat for PIC is considering an office automation project. 
The Increasing Emphasis on Interlinkages


During the past few years, an increasing interest has emerged to better coordinate the work of MEAs and their subsidiary bodies. Two meetings were held in 1999 on coordinating the work of MEAs and their subsidiary bodies. The first was a UNU sponsored meeting entitled Inter-linkages – Synergies and Coordination between Multilateral Environmental Agreements (Tokyo, July 1999) and the second was a UNEP Consultative Meeting on Collaboration Among the Scientific and Technical Subsidiary Bodies of Multilateral Environmental Conventions (Bonn, October 1999). These meetings highlighted three broad areas of focus concerning the management of MEA-relevant environmental information: 

harmonizing information systems and information exchanges (includes standardizing databases, indicators and related information requirements, etc.

coordinating the work of the subsidiary bodies of MEAs 

streamlining National Reporting 

The UNU conference provided the impetus for a UNU Inter-linkages Initiative which will involve many activities to promote increased coordination between the conventions through to 2002. Unfortunately, the UNU Initiative has placed little emphasis on synergies among advisory processes or, in fact, the possibility of using advisory processes to promote synergies amongst MEAs. 

Bilateral Collaboration through MoUs
In practice, coordination has come mainly in the form of bilateral collaboration on specific issues. Often, memoranda of understanding (MoUs) are signed to provide general frameworks for cooperation between contracting Partners. Most conventions involved in work related to each other have now signed or are in the process of signing MoUs. Since most MEAs are only recent creations and their MoUs as well, the results cannot yet be assessed.
Most recently, coordination is also being pursued through the Internet, by providing common windows to a variety of activities. Unfortunately, there are relatively few examples to date. One notable example is the website created to provide a common face to the legally distinct biodiversity conventions (CBD, CMS, CITES, Ramsar and World Heritage). While the website does not yet have a high profile, it offers a good comparative overview, listing links to each Convention according to 20 criteria, including contact details, document availability, national focal points and national reports.  (for more information, see: http://www.biodiv.org/rioconv/websites.html)
Improving Global-National level Coordination
A third area of coordination being pursued is between MEA subsidiary bodies and related national activities. One problem already identified is that while similar information or reports are often required by various conventions, reporting requirements and schedules are not harmonized. Similarly, different ministries from the same country sometimes submit contradictory information to the different conventions. Concerning biodiversity, an effort is now underway develop a harmonized reporting system. Several reports on harmonizing information have already been prepared by WCMC for UNEP and the biodiversity convention secretariats.ii

Box 2. Bodies Providing Science for Intergovernmental Deliberations

Commission on Sustainable Development - Ad Hoc Open-Ended Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Energy and Sustainable Development
Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) 
Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (concluded) 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 
Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) 
Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility
World Conservation Union (IUCN) 
World Commissions 

- Independent World Commission on the Oceans (1995-1998) 
- World Commission on Dams (IUCN/World Bank)(1998-2000) 
UN Specialized Agencies and Affiliated International Organizations (the following list is indicative only): 

FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES), and the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS
IAEA’s Nuclear Safety Programme, and Nuclear Sciences and Applications Programme 
UNESCO's intergovernmental scientific activities (International Geological Correlation Programme (IGCP), International Hydrological Programme (IHP), Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST), and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC
WHO’s Cluster of Sustainable Development and Human Environment activities, which include programmes on Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality and Air Quality. 
WMO’s Applications of Meteorology Programme, Atmospheric Research and Environment Programme, Hydrology and Water Resources Programme, World Climate Programme and World Weather Watch. 

Science for Capacity-building or Catalytic purposes vs. regulatory purposes
The bodies included in this section furnish advice to intergovernmental deliberations, mainly by providing information for capacity-building or catalytic purposes. By contrast, those included in the first section were created to furnish advice for regulatory purposes. Three types of bodies have been included in this section: intergovernmental bodies; commissions of eminent persons; and bodies which may include governments, but which are generally independent. 
    Each of the bodies considered here are distinct in terms of their organization, internal dynamics, work, outputs, uses of information technology, and relations with other bodies. In other words, each body was created for different purposes, by different sets of actors. However, they are similar in that they serve as important mechanisms for bringing science to policy deliberations. This is done in several ways, including catalyzing action and agenda setting, establishing authoritative standards, and supporting effective action. These roles are interrelated and bodies may contribute to one or more of these roles. 
Catalyzing Action by introducing new concepts and setting terms of debate

Catalyzing Action and Agenda Setting

An important role played by bodies included in this section is to catalyze policy action by using science to set the terms of debate. Before the international community of states begins policy deliberations on an issue, there is often a need to highlight the importance of that issue and consolidate current thinking. In such cases, advisory processes that can harness scientific knowledge and present it in policy relevant terms are useful. Sometimes, this may lead to concrete action, such as negotiations on a legal agreement. At other times it may simply introduce new terms or concepts, which serve to frame diffuse debates. Perhaps the pre-eminent example of a body that both shaped the policy framework and introduced new concepts was the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Its work publicized the term ‘sustainable development’ and led to the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The term sustainable development served to provide a conceptual framework to subsequent discussions on environmental protection and human development, while UNCED paved the way for at least three Conventions. 

    Similar expectations, though focused on specific issue areas are held-out for other more recent World Commissions of eminent persons, including the World Solar Commission, the World Commission on Dams and the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century. The longer-term outcomes of these remain to be seen. Many also hold high expectations for the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), which was proposed in the final report of the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF). Many observers hope that UNFF will catalyze support for deliberations on a legal-binding agreement relating to forests. Finally, and most successfully to date, IPCC is an example of a scientific body that has had a tremendous catalytic influence on intergovernmental deliberations. Established several years before the Convention on Climate Change was signed, IPCC has played a substantial and on-going role in setting the terms of debate underpinning climate change negotiations. 
Agenda Setting by establishing the basis of policy deliberations
A second contribution of bodies included here is to influence intergovernmental negotiations so that these incorporate a significant scientific component. This may be done either by providing intellectual frameworks or by developing the agenda of ensuing intergovernmental deliberations. While very similar to the catalytic role discussed above, the role of agenda setting is more immediate and direct. The actions of the scientific body directly influences intergovernmental deliberations. 
    For example, through its Ad Hoc Working Group on POPs, IFCS established the basis for intergovernmental negotiations towards the recently signed International Convention for Implementing International Action on Certain POPs. Similarly, the CSD-Energy Group is expected to identify scientifically-based priorities and the basic agenda for deliberations on energy at CSD-9. 
Establishing Standards for Policy to live up to


Setting Authoritative Standards

A third role bodies in this section play is to establish authoritative scientific standards for policy deliberations, decisions and even implementation. There are several criteria which influence whether a body is accepted as providing standards for policy. Above all, the body must be recognized as providing independent, authoritative information that is presented clearly to policymakers. Often, but not always, scientific consensus is an important factor in establishing the authority of an advisory process. However, whether a process is judged to be authoritative does not reflect whether scientific consensus exists. Instead, this reflects more a consensus amongst policy makers that the knowledge provided is the ‘best available’. How exactly this works in practice varies from case to case, so unfortunately an in depth consideration of this is beyond the scope of this short Report. However, while calls for ‘scientific consensus’ may be useful this will, in all likelihood, not affect whether science is reflected in policy or not. 

    There are several examples of bodies that are generally considered to be authoritative and have thus set scientific standards which influence policy. IPCC, GEF-STAP and IUCN are examples of such bodies. IPCC is important to the degree that its assessments of climate dynamics are almost universally accepted as the standard which policy outcomes should manage. STAP provides similar scientific standards to the GEF, which is among the largest multilateral sources of funding for environment-related, capacity-building projects. STAP is interesting for its role in influencing and shaping operational programmes through scientific and technical advice, and for being among the few advisory processes that is specifically tied to a financial mechanism. This distinguishes it from most advisory bodies, which provide advice to policy deliberations. In addition, STAP’s work contributed to the establishment of the Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA), which is in turn expected to provide standards for GEF’s International Waters focal area. What makes STAP so valuable is that its work is regularly reviewed and evaluated, clear criteria and standards exist to guide its work, and outputs are clearly defined and targeted. Finally, IUCN also plays a unique role with its expertise in applying ecosystems approaches to protected areas. Together with the Biodiversity Convention’s SBSTTA, the Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems (PAGE) coordinated by WRI, and UNESCO’s MAB Programme, IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management has played a leading role in defining and now implementing an ecosystems approach. The ecosystems approach is now a standard framework for preparing environmental assessments and for the implementation of CBD. 
Supporting Policy Deliberations with Scientific Knowledge

Scientific Support

On the edge of what may be considered scientific advice, there are many further activities also bringing scientific knowledge to intergovernmental deliberations. Two prominent examples include WCMC and GESAMP. Briefly, WCMC contributes to Conventions on Biodiversity, Migratory Species, World Heritage, CITES, and several other international policy-relevant initiatives. For its part, GESAMP contributes SoE reports to its sponsors as requested, it is identified as a scientific advisory body in the MARPOL 73/78 Convention, and it provides input to other global and regional marine conventions. 

The Role of the Scientific Activities of International Organizations
Other examples of scientific support include the scientific activities of international organizations. Traditionally, these were often viewed as distinctively scientific activities and thus maintained only the minimum necessary relations with policy deliberations. However, since 1992 most take Agenda 21 and its priorities as guidelines for their work. This work mainly consists of acting as catalysts for national-level research, building national research capacities, and informing intergovernmental processes where relevant. As there are many such activities a thorough consideration of them is beyond the scope of this Report. However, some notable examples that warrant noting include: FAO’s work on agriculture, fisheries, forestry and food insecurity; UNESCO-IHP’s support for freshwater activities, the IOC’s support for oceans-related activities, and MAB’s work on ecosystems; as well as, WMO’s work on climate variability and predictability. 
    Their main means of providing support is to mobilize the scientific community to work on specific projects of international relevance. Sometimes this involves institutionally or programmatically linking national or local projects to intergovernmental activities. In most cases, it has involved facilitating international meetings of scientists and encouraging these to be ‘policy relevant’. For many scientific activities of international agencies, though not necessarily the ones listed above, uncertainty about what constitutes ‘policy relevance’, in addition to low public profiles, have resulted in lean budgets in recent years. Many such scientific activities still need to balance their desire to maintain scientific integrity through academic independence with the fact that they are intergovernmental entities which should serve public interests. 

Box 3. Major Recent Contributions to State of the Environment Knowledge:iii
(in reverse chronological order / only some of the most recent reports are linked) 

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (ongoing process through 2004) 
World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Frayed Web of Life (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/World Bank, 2000) 
The Living Planet Report , (WWF, 2000) 
Global Environment Outlook - 2000 (UNEP, 1999) 
Emerging Environmental Issues for the 21st Century: A Study for GEO-2000 (SCOPE/UNEP, 1999) 
Protecting Our Planet – Securing Our Future: Linkages Among Global Environmental Issues and Human Needs (UNEP/NASA/World Bank, 1999) 
Critical Trends: Global Change and Sustainable Development (UN, 1997) 

Global International Waters Assessment (UNEP/GEF, to be completed in 2003) 
Climate Change: IPCC Third Assessment Report (IPCC, to be published in 2001)
A Sea of Troubles (GESAMP, to be published early 2001) 
Land-based Sources and Activities Affecting the Quality and Uses of the Marine, Coastal and Associated Freshwater Environment (GESAMP, to be published early 2001)
Human Development Report (UNDP, 2000) 
World Development Indicators (World Bank, 2000) 
Poverty Report: Overcoming Human Poverty (UNDP, 2000) 
The Kosovo Conflict: Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999) 
World Disasters Report (IFRC, 1999) 
World Health Report (WHO, 1999) 
State of the World’s Forests (FAO, 1999) 
Synthesis of the Reports of the Scientific, Environmental Effects, and Technology and Economic Assessment Panels of the Montreal Protocol (UNEP, 1999) 
World Resources 1998-1999: Environmental Change and Human Health (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/World Bank, 1998) 
The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (FAO, 1998) 
Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World (UN/SEI/WMO, 1997) 
Health and Environment in Sustainable Development: Five Years After the Earth Summit (WHO, 1997) 
World Atlas of Desertification (UNEP, 1997) 
Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation on Plant and Animals (UNSCEAR, 1996)
Climate Change 1995 (IPCC, 1995) 
Global Biodiversity Assessment (UNEP, 1995) 
Global Waste Survey: Final Report (IMO, 1995) 

- Global Climate Observing System (GCOS)
- Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)
- Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS

Global syntheses for better understanding and policy
This section highlights a third distinct type of scientific advice to international processes. Rather than being created by governments or providing inputs into intergovernmental processes, Box 3 lists contributions made by international organizations to improve general knowledge of the state of the world’s environment. These contributions are generally provided in the form of environmental assessments and other collections of information on the state of the environment (SoE). As with the previous section, these assessments take on a myriad forms, structures, dynamics and outputs. For purposes here, assessments and observing systems are relevant as providers of policy-relevant information about the SoE. 
Overcoming the problems of past global SoE Reports
Since the Stockholm Conference (UNCHE) in 1972, printed reports have been the predominant way of providing policy-relevant, scientific information on the SoE. In the last few years a broad palette of reports has been published, covering a wide range of environment and sustainable development related issues. Surprisingly, given that no formal mechanism exists to coordinate what is published and by whom, there is little overlap. At the same time, as useful as many of the existing reports are, they have faced many challenges over the years: their policy-relevance was questioned, finding a readership was often difficult, and reports were out-dated within a day of publication. For those reports presenting data tables additional problems arose, as recently highlighted by the GEO-2000 Report: differences in criteria definition, uneven spatial coverage, inconsistent reporting time periods, data gaps, conceptual difficulties of measurement and differences in measurement method.iv Similar challenges also face efforts to revitalize the UN-sponsored global observing systems GCOS, GOOS and GTOS. 
    In response to this variety of challenges, many recent assessment processes and observing systems have embarked on efforts to reorient themselves in such a way as to: define their contributions to knowledge more clearly, target a specific audience, broaden their impact, and organize their work using innovative approaches. 
Reorienting the Contribution of SoE Reports



Defining their Contribution

One important question facing the assessment reports is defining the type of knowledge they seek to provide: is it more data presentation or analysis; and should it include natural sciences, social sciences, or even other types of knowledge. In recent years there has been a move away from publishing data sets, toward proffering policy-relevant observations about the state of the environment, developing future scenarios, identifying linkages between environment and social issues, and recommending plans of action. By making this shift, assessments are testing the balance between presenting hard data and making qualitative observations. This is a difficult balance if they are to avoid offering policy prescriptions, as has been recommended by some.v The real difficulty is that policymakers do not find data useful as indicators of policy priorities, but they do not want specific policy prescriptions either. The mark of a successful assessment is thus often the one that is judged to be sufficiently analytic to be interesting, while sufficiently quantitative to avoid being labelled as ‘biased’. How this plays out in practice changes from assessment to assessment and from time to time. 

Linking Ecosystems and Social Analyses
Along with the trend to provide evaluations rather than data, there is also increasing interest in assessing the linkages between environmental issues, as well as between these and human development. The importance of this lies in the simultaneous need for more specific and broader information, as discussed previously. Several reports exist along these lines, including a UNEP/NASA/ World Bank sponsored report sub-titled Linkages Among Global Environmental Issues and Human Needs, and a UNU-sponsored meeting on Inter-Linkages between MEAs. The latter proposed the creation of an open-ended ad hoc panel to further examine inter-linkages related issues. 
The Ecosystems Approach



In future, it will become increasingly important for assessments to offer both specific data and information, while also insightfully analysing the relevance of that information to other areas of environmental or human concern. This would probably be most useful to policymakers, if specific problems are identified at regional, transboundary, national and local levels. One attempt at striking this balance is the ecosystems approach. This has become a principal framework for addressing in management terms the linkages between individual environmental problem areas and human impacts. In addition to the major assessments being published using this method, including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the World Resources Report: People and Ecosystems, the Ecosystems Conservation Group (comprised of UNEP, FAO, UNESCO, UNDP, IUCN, WWF, and the World Bank) has also prepared several substantive reports on ecosystem-related matters. 
Linking SoE Reporting and the Impact of Conflicts and Disasters
The balance of environmental and social analyses also underlies a new interest in assessing the effects of conflict on the environment. A recent report by the UNEP Balkans Task Force (now Balkans Unit) on the environmental effects of the Kosovo crisis is the first of its kind. The UNEP-BTF was also involved in evaluating the impacts of the Baia Mare mining spills in early 2000. A similarly interesting report was recently prepared by UNEP on the environmental impact of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone in Guinea.vi Through such reports, and those on health and the environment, disasters, etc., a better picture is available of the linkages between human actions, policy frameworks and environmental consequences at meaningful regional and local levels. In this respect, assessment reports can serve important and policy-relevant reference purposes. 
The Importance of Strengthening the Global Observing Systems



In order to improve the ability of assessments to balance technical specificity and social context, it will certainly also become more important to implement the global observing systems. These provide a baseline set of data that can be applied for purposes ranging from the local to the global. Despite global monitoring efforts being cited as priority areas for UNEP since 1972, this has translated into little financial support and effective programming. The need for national agencies to support international efforts was advocated by former Head of the UK Meteorological Office, J.C.R. Hunt, in an editorial some years ago to the International Herald Tribune.vii He noted that international efforts required support from national levels in order to provide the essential knowledge for addressing climate change; though this applies to most aspects of global environmental change as well. The challenge facing the implementation of observing systems is that they must be able to provide particular and useful knowledge, from a myriad set of possible measurements. 
    To focus its efforts to provide accurate, continuous data useful for forecasting, GCOS has begun collaborating with SBSTA. In response to a request from the Parties to the UNFCCC, GCOS also prepared a report on the adequacy of global climate observing systems.viii
SoE Reports as indicators of progress
In addition to their specific contributions, SoE reports sometimes also implicitly serve to review international action and the implementation of MEAs. Well publicized reports are often referred to in the media as indicators of progress in tackling one issue or another. Most recently, the GEO-2000 Report was widely cited for its argument that the global environment is continuing to deteriorate. Similarly the IPCC Reports are also widely cited. At the same time, most reports have been poorly circulated relative to what was invested in their preparation. A case in point is the Global Biodiversity Assessment of several years ago. While certainly extensive, this report is inaccessible to most readers and consequently received little broader attention. 

Expanding the Readership of SoE Reports

Identifying a Readership

There have been many debates about the use of printed assessments and whether “anybody actually reads or uses them”. Part of the problem arises out of the fact that in the past few assessment reports were prepared for a defined readership. This lack of readily identifiable readership is closely linked to difficulties in defining ‘policy relevance’ at an appropriate scale; which to most policymakers is at regional, transboundary, national and/or local levels. Constant debate on this issue and the search for financial resources have resulted in some change. 

i. Linking SoE Reports to policy frameworks

ii. Conducting Reader Surveys

The new Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA) is an example of an assessment which serves a broad purpose, but which is also tied to a specific readership. GIWA is funded by GEF, largely because the final assessment will provide a scientific framework for GEF’s International Waters focal area. Beyond this, GIWA could also be useful because it serves each of the nine super-regions and 66 sub-regions for which the analysis is being carried out. 

Preparations for the GEO-3 provide another example. While not tied to a specific readership, the GEO team is conducting an Internet-based Reader Survey in order to improve the effectiveness of the third Report due in 2002. 

iii. Timing SoE Reports to Major Events
A third means being employed to improve readership is timing report publication to correspond with major events. For example, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and World Resources 2000-2001 reports, are being published to coincide with the UN Millennium Assembly. The GEO-3 Report is to be published for the Rio+10 Event in 2002. 
Using SoE Reports to Improve National-level Capacity

Broadening Impact through Capacity Building

Increasingly, there is also a recognition that SoE assessments are not only about having a readership, as important as this is. The ability of assessment and observation processes to contribute to capacity building is something that is being experimented with in a few cases, though it is still too early for an analysis thereof. However, the benefits of linking assessments to capacity-building could include, amongst many others: building a firmer knowledge-base for future assessments, building confidence in the assessments themselves, improving relevance by including the concerns of more contributors, and broadening the long-term impact of the assessment. 

    The Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, the GEO-3 process and GIWA, are all also seeking to extend the impact of their work by engaging in capacity building. All three processes are establishing regional assessment processes to strengthen both regional capacity and the final ‘global’ product. The GEO process has developed its process the furthest and has had a number of regional centres prepare environmental assessments and related products.
    The possibility of capacity building through the earth observation systems is less clear so far. One problem in the past has been the reliance on high-technologies, such as satellite remote sensing, accessible only to few people and institutions. At the same time, the need for more systematic information world-wide, especially from developing countries, is important in the implementation of conventions and effective capacity building. If the earth observation results were made available, with assistance in interpretation, for national and regional decision-making, there might be more support for them and a better build-up of information from developing countries. 
Employing IT to improve information management

Employing Innovative Processes

In addition to defining a readership and building capacity, a third approach to improve the definition and impact of assessment reports and observation processes is to employ innovative processes to manage them. For example, as the most ambitious assessment process, the GEO series of reports was established to be participatory and ongoing. Research centres and individuals world wide are involved in a process that illustrates the possibility of being open while remaining efficient. The GEO process has, however, become so complicated and extensive that there is now a search for effectiveness through the Internet. Thus, there are now efforts underway to launch a GEO Support System on the Internet as a means of facilitating contributions and interactions between contributors.

    Building Linkages

Assessments and observing systems also play another important role as conduits for linkages between international agencies. So, for example, the Millennium Assessment, the World Resources Reports, GIWA, and the GESAMP reports are all collaborative efforts between various agencies. In fact, GESAMP is considered by many to be an excellent example of substantive collaboration between international institutions. 

SoE Reports and Observing Systems as means of Improving Inter-Agency Collaboration
The ability of international agencies to collaborate on a substantive basis is a successful means of promoting coordination. The global observing systems are among the more ambitious efforts to build substantive collaboration between major UN bodies involved in environment and sustainable development related work. If these are implemented, they would provide the infrastructure needed for common knowledge basis for all agencies to strengthen their respective assessment and advisory functions. Similarly, the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, the Linkages Report, World Resources reports and GESAMP reports all serve to pool the resources of various international institutions. 

    i  Jean-Jacques Salomon, 'The 'Uncertain Quest': Mobilising Science and Technology for Development,' Science and Public Policy (V.22, N.1, February 1995) p.10.

ii  See, for example, the Feasibility Study for a Harmonised Information Management Infrastructure for Biodiversity-related Treaties, written by Timothy H. Johnson, Ian K. Crain, Martin V. Sneary on behalf of WCMC (August 1998), and the background paper prepared by Mark Collins for the 1999 UNU Interlinkages Conference entitled 'Harmonization of Information for MEAs'

iii  For another extensive list of recent and ongoing environmental assessments see the Survey of Ongoing and Planned Science Assessments Related to the Proposed Millennium Assessment, updated December 1999 and available at http://www.ma-secretariat.org

iv  GEO-2000, Nairobi: UNEP, 1999, p.xix

v  See Inter-Linkages: Synergies and Coordination between Multilateral Environmental Agreements, Tokyo: UNU, July 1999, p.25.

vi  The Environmental Impact of Refugees in Guinea, Report to the Secretary General on the Findings and Recommendations of the Pre-Assessment on the Environmental Impact of Refugees in Guinea, Nairobi: UNEP with UNCHS and UNHCR, 1999.

vii  J.C.R. Hunt, 'Another Task for Kyoto: Strengthen Data-Gathering,' International Herald Tribune (December 1997).

viii  GCOS, 'Report on the Adequacy of Global Climate Observing Systems,' GCOS Report N.48, prepared for UNFCCC COP-4,October 1998.

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