United Nations System-Wide


October 1999

Replaced by a Concise Version of February 2000 and an Extended Version of March 2000
For the most recent draft, see the UNEP Strategies page

 Executive Summary
 Vision, Mission and Strategic Goals
 Objectives for UNEP Assessment Functions
Assessment and Reporting
Environmental Observing
Data Analysis and Integration
Strategic Oversight and Early Warning
 Restructuring of UNEPís Programmes
 Activities for Strategy Implementation
Assessment and Reporting Modules
Environmental Observing Modules
Data Analysis and Integration Modules
Strategic Oversight and Early Warning Modules



1. This action strategy outlines a phased programme for environmental observing and assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP's mandate is to analyze the state of the global environment, assess global and regional environmental trends, and provide early warning on environmental threats. To fulfil that mandate, and in recognition of rapidly changing circumstances that pose new challenges and opportunities for UNEP, this strategy outlines significant changes in UNEP's operational activities and structure.

2. The broad international political support for UNEPís role in environmental observing and assessment expressed at recent Governing Councils underscores a very significant opportunity to transform UNEPís work plan and increase its effectiveness. If fully implemented, this strategic plan will give UNEP a significantly enhanced role within the United Nations system and around the world as a reliable, authoritative source of environmental information. It will enable UNEP to lead more effective efforts to address rising environmental challenges by catalysing and coordinating activities within the international system and by acting in partnership with governments, the private sector, and civil society.

3. The functional elements of the strategy, and the more focused role for UNEP in implementing them, include:

a. Assessment and Reporting, where this strategy recommends a more sharply defined operational role and an expanded collaborative role, responding to user needs for policy-relevant information and driving the whole information system;

b. Environmental Observing, where this strategy recommends expanded catalytic and partnership roles, working with global and national monitoring agencies and with new bottom-up monitoring networks to fill critical data gaps;

c. Data Analysis and Integration, where this strategy recommends both catalytic and operational roles to build a reliable and harmonized base of information for decision-making;

d. Strategic Oversight and Early Warning, where this strategy recommends enhanced operational roles to ensure the whole system works effectively to deliver timely outputs.

4. The strategy calls for UNEP to provide a wider range of more policy-relevant and timely information products, in print and via electronic media, including:

a. Short, timely reports on environmental situations and threats for global and regional policy-makers and integrated global assessments for UNEP Governing Council, environmental ministers, and the public.

b. Integrated data on status and trends for international decision-making bodies and conventions and information networks and systems for expanded public access.

5. Beyond these specific outputs, a major product of UNEPís efforts will be the partnerships that create a more efficient global system of observing, assessment, and reporting. These include:

a. Strengthened collaborative links for participatory assessments that enhance UNEPís reporting within the international system. UNEP has a lead operational role in the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process. It also collaborates with other partners in global sectoral assessments of freshwater, the marine and coastal environment, desertification, islands, ecosystems, etc., and contributes to the scientific assessment processes that support the international environmental conventions, among others.

b. New partnerships with remote sensing agencies in support of specific observation and early warning systems that significantly expand the base of environmental information; and active encouragement of more participatory, bottom-up approaches to environmental observing.

c. Development with partners of an Internet-based environmental information meta-system (system of systems). This will bringing together new integrated information frameworks and harmonized, readily-accessible data sets to support assessment and decision-making across the international system, including UNEPís own assessment activities. It will also reduce national reporting burdens.

d. Strengthened analysis and reporting by collaborating partners at a regional level, enhancing regional capacity for informed decision-making affecting the environment and strengthening UNEPís participatory assessment process.

e. Stronger links with the scientific community, other UN agencies, policy experts, and users to facilitate UNEPís strategic oversight and ensure the quality and credibility of its assessments.

6. Administratively, the strategy proposes a number of changes in the UNEP Division of Environmental Information, Assessment, and Early Warning (DEIA&EW), including:

Consolidation -- combining existing separate activities into a single coherent system. GRID centres, for instance, should focus on data analysis and integration, supporting UNEP's assessment and early warning both directly and by catalysing analysis supportive of UNEP's mission by other agencies.

Regionalization -- strengthening regional capacity building, and transforming national focal points into integrated environmental information networks, in cooperation with the Regional Coordinators and UNEP's Regional Offices. This will ensure better public access to environmental information, and provide national nodes for UNEP's environmental information network.

Expansion -- expanding Earthwatch for strategic oversight; strengthening UNEP's assessment coordination capabilities; creating a capacity to catalyse needed changes and synergies among observing systems at the global, national and grass-roots levels; and expanding regional environment and natural resources information networking activities for independent analysis and reporting, in support of UNEP's assessment and early warning missions.

7. To implement the strategy, programme modules are identified for each function, designed to produce the specific products described above. Some modules require rapid implementation; others are intended for further development and later implementation. Further modules should be added for additional priority environmental issues as these emerge. Together, these modules constitute an ambitious but realistic plan, transforming existing activities into a coherent, unified programme and launching bold new efforts.

8. In summary, the strategy can be characterized in several ways:

a. a user-driven strategy -- focused around key issues, driven by the needs of policy and decision makers, which determine assessment activities, which in turn guide observation and analysis;

b. more ambitious strategic goals -- reflecting UNEP's leadership role on the environment within the UN system and its guardianship role for the environment for all life on Earth, including people;

c. more focused programmes -- reflecting greater clarity about UNEP's role and ability to add value in each element of the strategy; and

d. modular implementation -- starting with a few key issues and demonstration products, allowing programme elements to be put in place piece by piece as funding becomes available, within the overall strategic framework.


This paper describing the new UNEP Environmental Observing and Assessment Strategy includes the following sections:
- the vision, mission and strategic goals;
- objectives for UNEP assessment functions;
- outputs;
- restructuring of UNEP's programmes; and
- activities for strategy implementation.
The activities are assembled in a series of modules which can provide the basis for specific projects or be implemented in a phased manner as funds become available, while still forming parts of a coherent whole. The paper highlights the major thrusts of the strategy without attempting to be all inclusive.

2. This strategy is the result of an extensive year-long process, starting with a comprehensive review by a number of outside advisers, and including wide consultation on discussion documents within UNEP and with many outside partners, and the distribution of drafts at the UNEP Governing Council and over the Internet. Background for the strategy, including an analysis of past activities, is available in a Reference Paper (http://www.unep.ch/earthw/unepstrf.htm). The reference paper is based largely on background reports prepared by outside consultant organizations and UNEP. It documents UNEP's mandate in more detail, amplifies the strategic goals for observing and assessment, describes information products and priority issues, places the strategy in the context of other strategies and larger strategic frameworks, and reviews the lessons learned from UNEP's past experience. The strategy reflects a consensus that major change is needed, and widespread support for its major elements. It provides essential guidance to the UNEP Division of Environmental Information, Assessment and Early Warning in developing its future structure and work programme. Implementation of the strategy will lead to inputs from a wider circle of partners and governments, the establishment of specific partnerships and the expansion of collaborative activities.


3. UNEP must strengthen its role as the leading global environmental authority. It must set the global environmental agenda and provide a timely, credible and reliable source of integrated information about the environmental problems of the planet and human society. It cannot do this alone, but must marshall the efforts of the UN system, other international organizations, governments and civil society, and distil the results into policy-relevant outputs.


4. UNEP's mandate for environmental observing and assessment, set forth in the 1972 Stockholm action plan and renewed in Agenda 21 and the 1997 Nairobi Declaration, is to analyze the state of the global environment, assess global and regional environmental trends, and provide early warning information on environmental threats, based on the best scientific and technical capabilities available. The UN Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements, reporting in June 1998, confirmed this mandate. It recommended that UNEP transform its Earthwatch function into an effective, accessible, science-based system that meets the needs of environmental decision makers and the public.

5. UNEP has a unique integrating role on the environment within the international system, with a mission to focus on linkages among the various environmental issues and sectoral policies. It must provide timely information to meet the needs of environmental decision-makers and the public, and stimulate greater involvement of regional and sectoral stakeholders in environmental assessment processes. Fulfilling this mission, in its role as guardian of the environment for all Earth's peoples, is the aim of this strategy.


6. Four strategic goals are set for UNEP's Observing and Assessment Programme:

a) to strengthening the quality and availability of policy-relevant information and assessments so as to improve local, national and international decision-making that affects the environment;

b) to report globally on the state of the global environment, including the causes of environmental degradation and the impact of policy responses;

c) to catalyse, encourage, and assist the evolution of an improved and more coordinated global observing and assessment system, focused to a greater extent on policy-relevant outputs;

d) to increase regional capacity for environmental data collection, analysis, and reporting as a foundation for the global system.


7. UNEP has been given a broad and challenging mission but, with limited resources, it cannot do everything. Instead, UNEP must define carefully those functions across the whole chain of information flow, from collecting raw data to delivering processed information and policy recommendations, where it has a comparative advantage at the international level and the capability to be effective. This strategy outlines objectives and activities for four such functions: assessment and reporting, environmental observing, data analysis and integration, and strategic oversight and early warning. UNEP should ensure that all these activities are integrated into a single efficient system. The needs of users for reports and early warning information should determine the assessment processes, which in turn should define the data to be collected and analyzed. The appropriate role for UNEP--how UNEP can best contribute significant added value or leverage other contributions--varies greatly from area to area, and this strategy is accordingly specific for each area. These functions are essentially the responsibility of UNEP's Division of Environmental Information, Assessment and Early Warning (DEIA&EW), but will require collaboration across all parts of UNEP.


8. Environmental assessment involves evaluating the state of and the trends in the planetary environment, its life support systems, and the natural resources on which humanity depends. This has always been an essential function of UNEP, and one of the most important activities for exercising its role in the international community. As the flow of environmental information has increased and the number of actors involved in environmental assessment at local through global levels has expanded enormously, the role of UNEP's environmental assessments and reports has had to evolve. This strategy continues and accelerates that evolution. In particular, integrated assessments are now needed that evaluate the inter-linkages among issues, driving forces, and policy responses. Also needed are assessments that make use of such tools as scenario analysis, modelling, and geographic information system (GIS) analysis. This will provide users with better insights into where current trends may lead, how impacts differentiate by region, and what alternative policies may achieve.

9. UNEP has both a direct operational role in assessment and a catalytic and collaborative role within the international system. In its operational activities, UNEP should:

a) Prepare and publish authoritative global integrated environmental assessments, building on and strengthening the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) report and the regionalized, participatory process that supports it.

b) Increase its focus in its own assessments and information products on providing environmental guidance to the key elements of the international system, including the UNEP Governing Council, the Commission on Sustainable Development, and through them ECOSOC and the UN General Assembly; the multilateral financial institutions; specialized UN bodies such as FAO, UNDP, WHO, etc.; and especially the international environmental conventions.

c) Consult regularly and develop partnerships with these groups to determine user profiles and needs for environmental information, to discuss the relevant results from UNEP's assessments and their policy implications, and to analyze the actual use of the reports produced.

d) Give additional emphasis in its own assessments to causes, impacts, and policy responses and to evaluating the adequacy, performance and global environmental impacts of societal responses and development programmes.

e) Develop specific and timely environmental information products for its main target groups: policy-makers, international decision-making bodies, and international environmental conventions, which can also provide the basis for outputs to the media and the general public.

In its collaborative and catalytic assessment activities, UNEP should:

f) Establish partnerships with thematic or sectoral assessment centres and programmes, stimulate the creation of scientific assessment bodies where needed, and participate as appropriate in sectoral assessments targeted to specific policy-making processes. It should both contribute to sectoral assessments and incorporate their insights and findings into UNEPís integrated assessment, strategic oversight, and early warning efforts.

g) Strengthen the capacity of a selected set of well-regarded collaborating centres in developing regions to undertake regional analysis, assessment, and reporting, involving a wider range of scientific and policy expertise, in order to increase significantly the amount of policy-relevant information on regional and global environmental issues.

h) Catalyse consultations and inter-linkages among the international scientific advisory processes involved in assessments of the environment and sustainable development, to improve their coherence and effectiveness.

i) Promote access to environmental information, and facilitate the flow of information between the organization and its partners, through provision with many partners of integrated environmental information services.

10. In UNEP's operational role, its assessment and reporting strategy must be driven by user needs for environmental information of policy relevance, focusing specifically on the needs of the international system. Within that context, it should define the information products (reports, bulletins, electronic services, etc.) able to meet those needs. For example, it might prove useful to provide web or other electronic information access for UNEP's Permanent Representatives to give them status information on the environment and the processes for its assessment in their regions. To be sure of focusing its assessment and reporting activities in this way, UNEP should establish a structured dialogue with each of its target groups within the international system. These dialogues should include regular meetings to understand their information needs and specific efforts to discuss with them the results of UNEPís assessment activities and their implications.

11. In addition to UNEPís own integrated assessment activities, however, there are other global and sectoral assessment and reporting activities relevant to the environment, such as international energy assessments and the scientific assessment processes that undergird the international environmental conventions. UNEP is a partner in sectoral assessments of freshwater, the marine and coastal environment, desertification, islands, ecosystems, etc. UNEP needs to maintain the internal capacity and administrative structures to cooperate effectively with other organizations and to participate actively in such assessments, where appropriate, to ensure that its perspective and an integrated view of environmental issues are incorporated in the assessments, to gain early access to findings and results that can inform its own assessment and reporting activities, and to strengthen its strategic oversight of environmental issues.

12. To support its assessment and reporting strategy, as well as its early warning activities, UNEP needs to significantly upgrade its technical capacity to portray information visually--in maps, multi-media presentations, web sites, and video clips--so as to be able to communicate it to policy-makers and to the media more effectively.


13. To fulfil its mission to analyze and assess the global environment, UNEP depends upon data and information gathered by a wide variety of sources. These sources together constitute the elements of a global environmental observing system. However, UNEP itself neither collects any primary data nor directly manages any observing systems. Moreover, the collection of basic environmental data and information is fragmented and often inefficient: poor data undermine assessment conclusions and lead to bad policy decisions. To improve global environmental information and to fill critical data gaps, UNEP must play a catalytic role in encouraging changes in existing observing systems and in stimulating the development of new systems. This strategy calls for UNEP to:

a) Catalyse more effective data collection and analysis to meet assessment and early warning needs. This is necessary at all levels, not just at the global level. For this, UNEP should engage a wide variety of partners, including other UN system entities, national observing agencies, and efforts within civil society and the private sector, using its convening role and its leadership mandate for the environment.

b) Provide leadership that can help to re-orient existing observing efforts to produce more policy-relevant data. It should support the Integrated Global Observing Strategy and Global Observing Systems, set forth policy-relevant information needs, and build a consensus on critical data gaps and how to fill them.

c) Actively encourage the creation of additional innovative observing efforts, especially those that are bottom-up (and thus have the potential of adding local as well as global value) and those that can provide early-warnings or help to fill data gaps.

d) Work to strengthen regional centres, thematic centres and scientific processes that can assist with observing methodologies, data standards, quality control and harmonization, so as to improve data compatibility.

14. UNEP's efforts to improve observing systems must be driven by its early warning role and by the information needs of policy-makers and assessment processes, within UNEP and throughout the international system (including the global environmental conventions).

15. In exercising its catalytic role for environmental observing, UNEP and its partners need to assess periodically the priority needs for environmental data. This will include identifying weaknesses and gaps in global and regional data sets, and problems of harmonization and quality control. To do this, UNEP needs to engage and maintain a dialogue with observing agencies and organizations, use its convening power to host workshops and other meetings. It should use its moral authority as the environmental conscience of the UN System to suggest priority information needs to observing agencies, such as by addressing specific requests for contributions to monitoring agencies or national governments by or in the name of the Executive Director. UNEP can also form partnerships with observing agencies, host secretariats, and sponsor or endorse new initiatives.

16. A review of past experience suggests that a sustainable global observing system must be built on and closely linked to national and local components. Past experience also suggests that a successful global observing system cannot operate parasitically--it must return useful information to its national and local suppliers of data. The emerging global observing system will of necessity include many different components: remote-sensing systems, a wide range of in situ instruments, and reports from human observers. This strategy suggests phased implementation of activities (modules) designed to catalyse improvements in all three types of systems, tied to specific policy or assessment needs. These activities greatly expand UNEPís existing UN system-wide Earthwatch coordination activities.


17. Reliable assessments require a solid foundation of scientific data that are quality controlled, integrated into coherent and harmonized data sets, and analyzed for their significance in an environmental policy context. Data usually need to be summarized in graphics, maps, tables or indicators to become useful, easily understood information. This process by which data become information is one of the weakest links in the chain of information flow, as its importance is often underestimated and insufficient resources provided for it. A high proportion of existing data is of such poor quality or so difficult to compare that it fails to pass this step successfully. While UNEP should not become a major data compiler except for its own assessments, it should work with partners to facilitate and coordinate improved access to reliable data sets developed and maintained by many organizations. Such data sets should cover the state of the environment, environmental trends, the causes or drivers of environmental change, and the physical, biological, and social impacts of environmental change and degradation.

18. UNEP should therefore play both catalytic and operational roles in data analysis and integration, including assembly of harmonized data sets that are essential to environmentally sustainable development. This strategy calls for UNEP to:

a) Stimulate and establish an expanding base of high-quality, regularly-maintained and commonly-available processed data sets to support its assessment activities and those of other entities. This will require collaborative efforts and partnerships with other international agencies, regional organizations, collaborating centres, national agencies, and civil society groups.

b) Focus the activities of GRID centres on analysis and data integration efforts that support UNEPís assessment role, and on catalysing needed analysis by other groups.

c) Catalyse the development of an integrated information framework for environmentally sustainable development, and promote and seek to make use of advanced modelling and analysis tools and advanced methods of presenting and disseminating information.

d) Make greater use of the potential of the Internet to build an electronic environmental information meta-system, linking in its integrated information framework the distributed data sets and analyses developed and maintained by many groups. With common data protocols and built-in review processes, such a system can become a credible and widely available source of information.

e) Take the lead in coordinating and encouraging the development of a coherent set of environmental indicators for its assessments and reports, as part of the global effort to develop indicators of sustainable development.

19. Environmental assessments and early warnings need a foundation of reliable, readily understandable information. This often must be assembled from many different data sources through processes of analysis and integration, including essential steps of quality control and harmonization. UNEP needs to become a sophisticated user of data and information provided by others, with the capacity to analyze and evaluate its quality and appropriateness for its own use for assessment and early warning. It should make efforts to create more broadly accessible core environmental data sets that can also support other assessment and decision-making processes.

20. UNEP should also strengthen and make more effective use of its own analytic capacity, especially that represented by its GRID centres. It should extend its capacity by out-sourcing analysis, modelling, data integration, and indicator development through cooperative agreements, and engage in limited efforts to increase the capacity for analysis in selected regional centres in support of its assessment and reporting goals.


21. UNEP should take an expanded operational role in strategic oversight of the assessment of environmental issues and in building cooperative environmental early warning mechanisms using the latest information and communications technologies. To that end, this strategy calls for UNEP to:

a) Strengthen its own assessment capacity so as to be able to assess and highlight the linkages and interactions among environmental issues and sectoral policies and bring them to global attention.

b) Build collaboration with existing networks in the UN system, intergovernmental and regional organizations, the scientific community, and non-governmental organizations to identify emerging environmental problems and potential crises.

c) Strengthen its strategic oversight of the whole global system for environmental observing and assessment and report periodically on the state of the observing system itself, identifying gaps and needed improvements, and organizing feed-back from the later stages of the policy cycle to the observing and assessment tasks.

d) Develop specific mechanisms for long-term early warning of significant environmental problems which could result in human or environmental disasters, emergencies or conflicts requiring international action.

22. Strategic oversight and early warning are both extensions of the assessment function, but are treated separately in the strategy to emphasize the important role of UNEP in ensuring that the global systems to observe and assess the environment are working effectively. UNEP should continually survey how the international system is responding to environmental issues, and point out gaps or new needs that require attention. Early warning addresses the need to anticipate and avoid environmental crises and to deliver environmental information more rapidly. An important first step will be to establish criteria for identifying issues or areas pertinent to early warning. Separately, UNEP should also link to networks and mechanisms developed by others to allow its decision-makers timely access to information on environmental crisis situations.


23. The strategy is designed to provide a wider range of more policy-relevant and timely information products, in print and via electronic media, including:

a) Short, timely reports, assessments and information products (such as the UNEP/EEA concise annual assessments) that keep policy-makers informed of the global and regional environmental situation, particularly where it threatens human health and well-being and environmental sustainability. This is one mechanism for long-term early warning.

b) Periodic integrated assessments of the global environment, such as the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) reports and 10-year reviews of the state of the world environment, intended to measure the effectiveness of international environmental management actions for the UNEP Governing Council, environmental ministers, and the public. These include GEO-3 in 2002, the World Resources Reports, and associated products such as GEO for Youth, and the Environment Outlook reports on the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean Small Island Developing States.

c) Adequate scientific data on the global environment assembled, integrated and organized into core data sets and indicators so that the status and trends can be summarized for each necessary global report for international decision-making bodies and conventions. These should be derived from global observing systems, partnerships with data producers, and projects such as the new integrated observing system for water quality.

d) A network of transparent and accessible environmental information systems for expanded public access, in which all partners participate and which are able to provide different types of essential information to all users, stakeholders and decision-makers from global to local levels. This should build on initiatives such as the electronic environmental information meta-system and integrated environmental information services at national level. Such systems should incorporate sets of indicators in an integrated information framework.

24. Beyond these specific outputs, a major product of UNEPís efforts will be partnerships that create a more efficient global system of observing, assessment, and reporting. These include:

a) Strengthened collaborative links for participatory assessments that enhance UNEPís reporting within the international system, focused operationally on the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process and collaboratively on such ongoing activities as assessments of the marine environment and the effects of land-based activities, the Global International Waters Assessment, assessments of freshwater, desertification, ecosystems, biodiversity and small islands, and the scientific assessment processes that undergird the international environmental conventions.

b) New partnerships with remote sensing agencies on activities that significantly expand the base of environmental information and early warning systems; and active encouragement of more participatory, bottom-up approaches to environmental observing.

c) Development with partners of an Internet-based environmental information meta-system, or system of systems. This will bring together new integrated information frameworks and harmonized, readily-accessible data sets to support assessment and decision-making across the international system, including UNEPís own assessment efforts. It will also reduce national reporting burdens.

d) Strengthened analysis and reporting by collaborating partners at a regional level, enhancing regional capacity for informed decision-making affecting the environment and strengthening UNEPís participatory assessment process.

e) Stronger links with the scientific community, other UN agencies, policy experts, and users to facilitate UNEPís strategic oversight and ensure the quality and credibility of its assessments.


25. To adapt to the new strategy, the UNEP secretariat needs to restructure its existing observing, assessment and information programmes in the Division of Environmental Information, Assessment and Early Warning as follows:


26. Many of the programme elements of the Division of Environmental Information, Assessment, and Early Warning (DEIA&EW) should be consolidated, refocusing some and eliminating others. All remaining activities should be folded into a single coherent system. Specifically,

a) Long-standing monitoring programmes such as GEMS should be integrated into the Global Observing Systems now being developed on an inter-agency basis.

b) The national focal points established under INFOTERRA should be reoriented to build the partnerships necessary for an integrated environmental information service at the national level, with the assistance of the DEIA&EW Regional Coordinators and the UNEP Regional Offices (see below under Regionalization). They should collaborate with the UN Resident Coordinators and UNDP to provide both national nodes for UNEP's environmental information network (e.g. sources of information for UNEP) and more dynamic national environmental information centres. They will also play a leading role in implementing the public-right-to-know principle and better public access to environmental information, as requested by the UNEP Governing Council (Decision 20/5).

c) Global and regional integrated data centre activities (GRID) should be refocused as global or regional UNEP centres for data analysis and integration, charged with supporting UNEP's assessment and early warning functions both directly and by catalyzing analysis by other agencies that is supportive of UNEP's mission. National GRID nodes in Eastern Europe should be integrated into national environmental information systems. Clear criteria should be established for GRID centres, and UNEP should not be encouraging a confusing multiplication of structures at the national level that it cannot maintain.


27. Regional centres for analysis and reporting, such as those developed for environment and natural resources information networking (ENRIN), should be expanded as new funds become available. Such a limited, focused effort to increase regional capacity for independent analysis and reporting, in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, is critical to support UNEP's own regionalized assessment activity and to improve regional decision-making that affects the environment. The successful Environment Assessment Programme for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok is an appropriate model for this effort. In addition, the DEIA&EW Regional Coordinators, in collaboration with the UNEP Regional Offices, should be given an increased role in regional information collection on the environment and in stimulating the development of integrated environmental information services, including:

a) Assisting DEIA&EW in overseeing collaborating centres, GRID centres, and other affiliated information activities within the region.

b) Maintaining contact with the national focal points, assisting them to establish partnerships with diverse stakeholders to create integrated environmental information services, and linking them to the UN Resident Coordinators and UNDP capacity building. Where there is more than one UNEP-linked national focal point or centre, their combination or close collaboration should be encouraged.

c) Providing information about environmental situations at the regional level that may require some response from UNEP or the international community.

d) Identifying regional priorities and policy concerns as inputs to UNEP's global assessments.


28. DEIA&EW needs to significantly expand its efforts to catalyze needed changes in observing and assessment systems:

a) The efforts of Earthwatch coordination with the UN system and the Global Observing Systems provide a model and a nucleus for these catalytic activities.

b) DEIA&EW should initiate Earthwatch-like catalytic efforts directed at key national or regional environmental observing agencies such as NASA, NOAA, EEA, ISRO and the European Space Agency, to support activities that significantly expand the base of environmental information. It should also stimulate and actively encourage more participatory, bottom-up approaches to environmental observing.

c) Expansion is also needed in the development of regional centres for analysis and reporting, as described above, and in the assessment processes delivering timely and relevant products to UNEP's principal users at the international level.

29. Implementation of this strategy will necessitate some increase in staffing and facilities in DEIA&EW. Assessment and reporting will require an expanded and strengthened core assessment staff and adequate travel budgets, and would be greatly facilitated by upgraded computer and software tools and more reliable electronic communication links. Technical requirements to present information visually will require new in-house skills and equipment, closer collaboration with UNEP Communications and Public Information, and more creative use of external services. The work with observing systems will require fairly senior staff dedicated to specific catalytic activities, with adequate travel and workshop budgets and authority to commit UNEP to collaborative activities. To provide the internal capacity required to use data effectively and to understand its limitations, the Division should include several programme officers with specific data and information-related coordination responsibilities, such as for indicators, data frameworks, or sectoral assessments. The wide geographic spread of GRID Centres, WCMC, GIWA, GPA, etc. will also require dedicated staff to coordinate their data and assessment functions and to ensure that regional activities remain integrated into the strategy.


30. To achieve UNEPís goals and fulfil its mandate, UNEP must translate the functional elements and objectives of this strategy into tangible actions. Yet the overall goals of the strategy are very ambitious, and reach well beyond the present human, financial and technical means available for its implementation. In the short term, UNEP should use the strategy to rebuild the staff in the Division of Environmental Information, Assessment and Early Warning, to consolidate its existing activities, to build the capacity of some collaborating centres in developing countries, to initiate some pilot activities to demonstrate concepts without attempting to be comprehensive, to develop a funding strategy, and to launch discussions with partners on wider aspects of strategy implementation. This can best be done through a modular approach as described below. In the medium term, the momentum of activity generated under the strategy should allow a gradual expansion of the sectors and issues covered, such as to freshwater which is a UNEP priority. In the longer term, a wider range of assessment outputs can be generated and delivered to different user groups, and the electronic distribution of information for decision-making can become more dynamic and comprehensive. Throughout these steps in the implementation process, the strategy will provide a shared vision to strengthen teamwork among the staff, and a coherent framework for programme activities in environmental information, assessment and early warning. Within that framework, individual activities and modules which might appear unrelated can be seen as mutually reinforcing and working toward common ends.

31. For each function described in the strategy, the following modules describe specific activities consistent with the strategic approach. They include core activities that are at the heart of the strategy and can be implemented rapidly with only a moderate increase in resources (Phase One modules). They also describe a number of additional activities or demonstration projects designed to allow phased implementation of particular products or outputs as additional resources become available. This list of modules is not complete, and others will need to be developed for other priority environmental issues, including assessment mandates which the Division of Environmental Information, Assessment and Early Warning (DEIA&EW) is inheriting from other parts of UNEP. Such modules should be developed within the framework of the strategy. As the modules evolve into project documents, they should be described in more detail, including the goal of the activity, the products to be produced, the partners to be involved, the work plan and budget, and the indicators of success. The synergies between the modules also need to be developed. Together, these modules constitute an ambitious but realistic plan, transforming existing activities into a coherent, unified programme and helping to launch bold new efforts.


A-1 Phase One Module: Global Environment Outlook report

32. One continuing core activity is the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) reports requested by the UNEP Governing Council to meet the need for regular integrated, forward-looking assessments of the state of the global environment including a regional perspective. UNEP must build on the early success of the GEO process of participatory assessment, strengthening it to improve both global assessment and reporting and regional/national decision-making affecting the environment. GEO is the most ambitious operational activity in this strategic plan. To produce high quality reports that are technically sound and politically relevant requires the active support of the entire Division and of UNEPís leadership and regular communication between that leadership and the GEO team. UNEP will need access to a wide range of expertise and data to cover not only environmental trends but also the factors driving environmental change and policy responses. This will require broad consultation and partnerships. To function efficiently, the core assessment staff requires strengthening and the addition of professional editorial and publications management expertise. At the request of the Governing Council (GC 20/1), specific outside contracts will be arranged for reports on the GEO user profile and qualitative analysis of the actual use of GEO-1, GEO-2 and the GEO process, for specification of user requirements and preferences through consultation with user groups, and for proposals for new more effective information formats and systems for future reporting.

33. With the release of GEO-2, planning for GEO-3 is now beginning. The Governing Council has requested that GEO-3 should be produced in 2002, serving as the decadal state of the world environment report and the "30 Years After Stockholm" report. It should review the policy actions taken at and after Stockholm, and assess their effectiveness, as basis for making new policy proposals. It should ask to what degree environmental considerations have been integrated into the mainstream of decision-making, and look forward to ask what can be done and should be done with todayís and tomorrowís policy instruments, especially economic and information instruments. The appropriate periodicity for this report series after GEO-3 should be reviewed. Specialized reports from the GEO process should also continue to be produced, including the GEO for Youth report and regional Environment Outlooks such as those for Small Island Developing States.

A-2 Phase One Module: Harmonize UNEPís sectoral assessments

34. As UNEPís in-house assessment activities are brought together under the DEIA&EW, their approach should be harmonized with that of GEO, so that they are mutually supportive and so that sectoral assessments can contribute to GEO. UNEP should cooperate in sectoral assessments of freshwater, the marine and coastal environment, desertification, islands, ecosystems, etc, including GESAMP's assessments of the State of the Marine Environment and of the effects of Land-based Activities, the Global International Waters Assessment, concise annual assessments in partnership with the European Environment Agency, the Millennial Assessment of Ecosystems, and the on-going partnership with UNDP, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute for the World Resources report, among others. Sectoral assessment activities should also be focused on those issues where UNEP can contribute the most: focussing water assessment activities on water quality issues; focussing land assessment activities on the interaction between land management and other issues, e.g., land management and water quality in watersheds, land management and land-based sources of pollution and coastal/marine degradation, land management and biodiversity.

35. Ecosystems and biodiversity will serve as a pilot theme in the first year for issue-oriented coordination of information flow and outputs under the strategy. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre, now being integrated into UNEP, will prepare a strategic overview of the planning and coordination of ecosystems and biodiversity information flow and outputs for decision-making. Close links will be established with other processes such as the Ecosystem Conservation Group now preparing a strategic overview of environmental monitoring and assessment of ecosystems, which can identify gaps and funding opportunities for future work, the Millennium Assessment of ecosystems, and the work of the CGIAR. The UN system-wide Earthwatch will ensure close collaboration with all the UN agencies and environmental convention secretariats. SCOPE will be contracted to provide a case study of sustainable ecosystem management options in Africa, to involve its national committees in developing countries in support of the Collaborating Centre projects, and to initiate electronic networking with participating scientists as an initial stage in scientific community involvement in early warning networking. Working relationships will be established with NGO networks of observing activities relevant to ecosystems and biodiversity, starting with forests and coral reefs, to develop procedures for integrating their outputs into the global observing and assessment process. The UN Foundation has provided funding for the first year of these activities.

A-3 Phase One Module: Create an advisory group to oversee assessment quality

36. The credibility of UNEPís assessments is critical to their success. To enhance and maintain that credibility, UNEP should establish an advisory group including leading scientists and policy experts to provide strategic guidance and quality control for its assessment activity. It should empower this group to play an active role in establishing UNEPís processes to ensure the scientific accuracy and soundness, policy relevance, and over-all quality of its assessment products and in monitoring how those processes are implemented. This outside advisory group can also provide guidance for UNEP in the implementation of this strategic plan.

A-4 Phase One Module: Build regional analytic and reporting capacity

37. Integral to UNEPís own assessment and reporting efforts, especially for GEO, is the need to strengthen the capacity of a selected set of collaborating centres in developing regions to undertake regional analysis, assessment, and reporting, focusing on those centres that can support the GEO effort and that have close ties to or command the confidence of national governments in the region. This focused, limited capacity building should be developed with other partners and supported at a level that can achieve a significant increase in the availability of policy-relevant information pertaining to regional and global environmental issues, concentrating efforts on only a few centres at a time for maximum impact. It should include a more formalized work programme for each centre and multi-year contracts with predictable budgets (where the funding sources permit), allowing the centre to plan ahead and direct more of its innovative potential to UNEP assessments. After consultations and a final selection of the most appropriate Collaborating Centres in each developing region, subcontracts will be concluded with the selected centres, assisted by supporting partners, to produce the required outputs for GEO-3, starting with prototype assessments, harmonized data sets, and retrospective/prospective reviews and scenarios. These will be coupled with capacity-building measures developed with the assistance of UNITAR, including involvement of additional regional experts, visits from appropriate expert consultants and UNEP staff, training courses with the new Training Manual for Integrated Environmental Assessment and Reporting, and meetings for exchange of experience and joint planning. Funding for the strengthening of an initial five collaborating centres is being provided by the UN Foundation.

38. This ENRIN-like activity overlaps with activities discussed below under Data Analysis and Integration, but is also discussed here because it should be driven in large part by the needs of the GEO assessment process. Potential partners in such activities would include GEO collaborating centres and GRID regional centres in developing regions.

A-5 Phase Two Module: Develop additional information products

39. In addition to full assessment reports such as GEO, UNEP should develop additional information products on the basis of consultations with its target groups, including policy-makers, international decision-making bodies, and the international environmental conventions. These might include short briefing reports or newsletters in print and/or electronic form, web sites that provide access and update information to specific target groups, video clips that illustrate environmental conditions or explain environmental processes, and structured presentations in print or electronic form for use with or by decision-makers, among others. UNEP should also consider, for example, whether it needs two streams of assessment products coming from the GEO process focussing separately on agenda setting and on evaluating progress. By developing a wider range of products in consultation with its users, UNEP will be able to communicate its message and convey the results of environmental assessments to its target audiences and to the media more effectively.

A-6 Phase Two Module: Impacts due to the collapse of ecosystem health

40. As more of the world's ecosystems are being fragmented, exploited and stressed, their healthy functioning is being compromised to the extent that many risk collapsing. This emerging problem can be expected to reach acute proportions for certain ecosystems such as coral reefs and other aquatic systems in the years ahead. The collapse of the Black Sea ecosystems is already a case in point. Such collapses in ecosystem health represent significant risks and threats to human health and well-being, to economic activity dependent on their resources, and to the natural environment and its life-support processes. Preventive and corrective measures need to be organized in time. Since the present methods and systems for ecosystem monitoring are poorly developed, a major effort is needed to define appropriate observing methodologies, to establish assessment mechanisms, to raise the funds for these activities, and to begin reporting to decision-makers on those ecosystems where the risk to humans and the natural environment is greatest.

A-7 Phase Two Module: Assessing interactions between pollution, chemical safety, waste management and health

41. With the rapid progress being made in international legal measures concerning chemicals, there is a need to begin designing a monitoring and assessment system able to integrate pollution data from various sources, the work on chemical safety in industry, waste management approaches and their implications, and epidemiological data that may correlate with chemical exposure, so as to develop a coherent view of hazardous chemicals throughout both natural and human systems. There is sufficient evidence of possible synergies between different chemicals in their impacts that more integrated assessment approaches will become increasingly necessary. UNEP and its partners should begin to assemble existing components and to develop a strategy for evolutionary improvements in the monitoring and assessment systems for chemicals.


O-1 Phase One Module: Guiding existing global observing systems to meet policy needs

42. UNEP is already a partner in all three of the Global Observing Systems (GCOS, GOOS, GTOS) and in the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS), which provides a framework for the observing activities of the Global Observing Systems, space agency satellite programmes represented in the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), and global change research programmes. UNEP should dedicate a full-time staff person as liaison to the global observing systems and to IGOS; should offer to host a secretariat for the IGOS Partnership; and should play a more direct role in helping to shape the evolution of these systems. In this time-limited (perhaps 5 years) catalytic role, UNEP should articulate the information needs arising from the global environmental conventions and from ongoing global assessment activities (both GEO and others in which UNEP participates), and advocate a more user-driven, policy-relevant approach to shaping the global observing systems and designing their outputs. Direct discussions should be established between data users, such as the subsidiary bodies under the conventions, and data providers represented by the IGOS Partnership, so that the growing information needs of the conventions can be anticipated in the design of environmental observing systems.

O-2 Phase One Module: Guiding national observing systems to meet global needs

43. In parallel, UNEP should expand its engagement with national or regional monitoring agencies. This will require a full-time staff person assigned to maintain regular contact with national monitoring agencies. As with the Global Observing Systems, UNEP should articulate the information needs arising from the global environmental conventions and from ongoing global assessment activities, and advocate a more user-driven, policy-relevant approach to contributions from national monitoring programmes. By making explicit both the information needs and the policy-relevance of those needs, UNEP can help provide a global mandate for national monitoring agencies and help to legitimize and catalyse specific projects as well as a larger international role for these agencies. By organizing technical workshops, UNEP can also promote harmonization of data, standardization of measurement techniques, and greater international coordination among national agencies. And by directly requesting from observing agencies or governments the collection or release of specific, policy-relevant information, UNEP can help to stimulate significant national actions. Such activities will help to improve the quality of the information flow available to assist environmental decision-making at national and global levels, as well as providing direct support to UNEPís and other international assessment activities and to UNEPís early warning efforts.

44. Specifically, UNEP should endorse and encourage such projects as Global Observations of Forest Cover, a CEOS/IGOS effort to improve remote sensing of forests that can serve UNEPís purposes, FAOís forest assessments, the climate and biodiversity conventions, and national forest agencies. UNEP and its UN system partners should anticipate the launch of new remote sensing platforms such as Landsat 7, the Earth Observing System, and other national systems that promise greatly expanded environmental data by encouraging the relevant observing agencies to give priority to information products that have particular importance to the international community. By legitimizing particular projects and increasing their internal support, and by providing a neutral forum for discussion of joint national efforts or for resolving differences, UNEPís catalytic role can leverage very large resources.

45. A related activity is the opportunity for declassifying national intelligence information relevant to environmental issues held in several national agencies. A request to relevant governments by the UNEP Executive Director could play a critical role, tipping the balance in on-going internal debates and triggering major declassification efforts. High level initiatives will therefore be launched, together with partners where possible, to obtain the agreement of major national observing agencies to provide new global data layers for environmental monitoring, assessments and planning. A related opportunity is suggested by the high priority attached to land use data--for assessment of environmental impacts, for development planning, for a wide variety of national and international purposes--and the almost complete lack of such information on a global scale or even a national scale for many countries. Creating a digital base-map of land use would markedly assist assessment activities and facilitate more informed development planning. A UNEP request to produce and put in the public domain a global land use map, in electronic form, as a base-line for current and future assessments, might conceivably trigger the greening of intelligence information.

O-3 Phase One Module: Catalysing the development of new bottom-up observing networks

46. The rise of the Internet is making possible more distributed, participatory observing approaches -- global networks of local groups or institutions that together can provide powerful new sources of information for both local and global purposes. These new networks can help fill data gaps, can support assessment and early warning activities, and can broaden the base and the political support for environmental observing. UNEP should actively endorse and support the development of such systems, providing credibility for the systems with national governments. UNEP should maintain an active link to such systems, both to gain timely access to the data they collect and to help ensure the objectivity and reliability of the data. UNEP may also be able to support such networks with the analysis capability of the GRID centres. Taking full advantage of such opportunities will require a full-time UNEP staff person to maintain the links and actively participate in shaping these networks and catalysing new ones.

47. There are some prototype bottom-up systems already well under way which can provide the initial focus for UNEPís efforts. One is Global Forest Watch, which is being launched and independently funded as a global network of local forest NGOs by the World Resources Institute and its partners, and which will eventually become an independent entity. Another is Reef Check, linked to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the International Coral Reef Initiative, with potential to lend an active observing component to the Regional Seas programme. The latter is participating in the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) project funded by the UN Foundation through UNEP, and both will explore date integration issues as part of the UNF project to start implementation of this strategy. There is also HABITATís Global Urban Observatory, the funding and rapid implementation of which UNEP should encourage; HABITAT estimates that implementation will require 12-13 staff. UNEP should seek to strengthen the environmental data elements of the Global Urban Observatoryís programme, particularly in the area of air quality, so that it serves both HABITATís and UNEPís assessment needs. All of these networks will collect data using well-defined frameworks, operate a review process to ensure objectivity, report in near real time using web sites on the Internet, and publish global overview reports at periodic intervals, roughly every two years. Each will provide information that significantly extends what can be obtained by remote sensing. UNEP should also seek to catalyse similar networks in other high priority issues where a distributed approach holds significant promise.

48. UNEP should also seek to integrate the output of such observing networks into ongoing assessment activities. Using the analytic capability of its GRID centres, for example, UNEP could link the pattern of forest activities under planned forest concessions gathered by Global Forest Watch to potential watershed changes and their implications for water supply (for the international water assessment) or for flooding danger (for early warning) or for habitat preservation (for the Biodiversity Convention).

O-4 Phase Two Module: Linking national in-situ observing systems to meet global needs

49. National observing systems based on in-situ data collection are much less linked and coordinated than is the case with remote sensing systems. There is correspondingly a major opportunity for UNEP to play a catalytic role in promoting such links and in promoting standardization of measurement techniques and harmonization and integration of the resulting information, starting initially with a limited number of demonstration projects in one or two regions. As with remote sensing systems, UNEP should articulate the global information needs and advocate a more coordinated and policy-relevant approach in specific sectoral areas. UNEP can help provide a global mandate for national monitoring agencies and help to legitimize and catalyse specific projects as well as a larger international role for these agencies. By organizing technical workshops, UNEP can also promote harmonization of data, standardization of measurement techniques, and greater international coordination among national agencies. In implementing such catalytic efforts, UNEP should choose only one or two sectoral areas, such as water quality or other high priority issues, at a time. Additional dedicated staff would be required.

O-5 Phase Two Module: Catalysing an integrated observing system for water quality

50. A specific instance of a needed in-situ observing system concerns water quality. Freshwater is a priority area agreed at the 1997 Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council. A major data gap that impedes international assessments for water is lack of global information about water quality. This suggests an opportunity for UNEP to catalyse a new integrated observing system for water quality, building on GEMS-Water, starting with a few key watersheds and expanding to prototype national systems linked to global as well as local and national needs. The water quality information coordinated by the GEMS-Water collaborating centre in Canada can then be integrated with water quantity data from such programmes as the World Hydrological Cycle Observing System and the Global Runoff Data Centre, and the whole effort should become a component of the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS).

51. Based on past experience, this strategy recommends that global observing networks be based on and tightly integrated with existing local networks, which means that the global network must return added-value products to the local level in return for continuing access to the local data. This is the pattern for weather observations and the resulting weather maps and forecasts, perhaps the most successful of all environmental observing systems.

52. For water quality, a number of other existing activities also can contribute to such an information system. Integration of water supply data into a digital map is already under way at UNEP's GRID-Sioux Falls centre. If local water quality data from provincial or national networks--in countries where these exist, which include most industrial countries and many major developing countries--were integrated into such a map, pollutant loadings could be estimated and an approximate water quality map generated, even with incomplete data. Such outputs would be useful both to local and national environmental officials, as well as providing missing data to global assessments. Such watershed-level analyses, moreover, could be the basis for estimating pollutant and nutrient inflows to estuaries and coastal waters, for estimating the impact of irrigation schemes, dams, or other developments on water quality and quantity, and for providing early warning of the impact of drought, heavy precipitation or other water crises.

53. There also should be links with the work on freshwater biodiversity, since there are many synergies possible between water quality and biodiversity, ranging from the maintenance of pollution-free natural habitats to the use of natural or managed ecosystems for waste water treatment.

54. Obtaining access to local water quality data, building the cooperative networks, developing the analyses and reporting systems and other elements of an integrated electronic water quality information system will take significant effort, requiring the full-time efforts of several staff. Such an activity, however, could give focus and a clear goal around which to integrate UNEPís freshwater activities. The effort should build explicit links to ongoing and planned international water assessments. Pilot activities should start in one or a few watersheds during the developmental phase, in collaboration with users. But the opportunity to help fill a significant data gap and to support a high-priority assessment need seems well worth the effort, given the number of UN system entities for which water data and water assessments are critical. This activity overlaps with those discussed under data analysis and integration, specifically in the need for data harmonization and for analysis to support and integrate the information from the observing system, illustrating the integration of different elements in this strategic plan.

O-6 Phase Two Module: Air Quality

55. UNEP has traditionally played an important part in air quality monitoring through GEMS-Air, especially with reference to urban air problems in mega-cities. However this activity has halted for lack of funding. A new initiative is needed on the relationship of air quality and health, particularly in urban areas. UNEP and WHO should explore targeted and cost-effective approaches to this problem relating air quality monitoring and management measures. Another major emerging issue is the pollution of the lower atmosphere due to combustion of fossil fuels and biomass burning. This is taking place today on a scale requiring regional and international approaches. UNEP should join with logical partners in the UN system such as WMO and ECE to assess the available scientific knowledge on this problem and to make recommendations to the next Governing Council on new initiatives that may be required to observe and assess this problem on a continuing basis.


D-1 Phase One Module: Strengthen and focus GRID centres on data analysis and integration

56. The primary role of GRID centres should be data assembly, analysis, and integration to support UNEPís assessment, strategic oversight, and early warning missions. Their expertise can also assist UNEP in data logistics and electronic reporting. To fulfil this role, the activities of GRID centres should be closely tied to UNEPís assessment, strategic oversight, and early warning activities. The centres should be strengthened in their own analysis and integration capacity, and should also seek to catalyse and encourage data analysis and integration by others. To this end, GRID centres should where possible be co-located with regional institutions that have data missions and expertise. Centres should be encouraged to develop special expertise in a particular area of analysis and/or integration. In light of this refocused role, existing GRID centres should be reviewed and efforts should be made to ensure better regional balance in capacities for independent data analysis, integration, and reporting. The goal of these efforts is to support UNEPís assessment activities as well as to strengthen regional and national decision-making that affects the environment. This activity overlaps with and should be coordinated with UNEPís regional activities in support of its assessment and reporting role, and should be focused on only a few centres at a time to achieve significant impacts.

D-2 Phase One Module: Integrated information system and framework

57. A key theme in the strategy is the need to respond to the "information revolution" brought on by new computer and Internet technologies. One of the features of this revolution is the ability to post any information on the World Wide Web where it is freely accessible to anyone with Internet access. This allows a freedom and creativity in information access and a reduction in delivery costs that was never before possible, but it also challenges users to navigate in the masses of information available, and information providers to organize their information so that it is as visible and useful as possible. One objective of the strategy is to build an electronic environmental information "meta-system" (or system of systems) as a new delivery mechanism for environmental assessments and other policy-relevant information. Building such a web-based meta-system will require shared responsibilities and collaboration within UNEP and with many outside partners. It will be necessary to map out domains of interest and responsibility for each organization, with UNEP providing oversight and integrating functions so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

58. One function of the system will be to make available the core data sets required for UNEP assessments and reports. Assembly of such data sets requires collaboration with partners inside and outside the UN system. Virtually identical efforts are undertaken to assemble data sets for all major international reports on environment and sustainable development and for many internal analyses by international and multi-lateral organizations. These data sets then need to be combined in an integrated information framework to support assessment and decision-making for environmentally sustainable development, improving efficiency and eliminating duplicative efforts. Building on the work already undertaken by UN Statistics Division, UNCSD, and the World Bank, UNEP should take the lead with the Stockholm Environment Institute in a cooperative effort to develop a prototype integrated information framework, bringing together major data providers and key users and forging the relationships required to maintain core data sets over time within such a framework. By catalysing such a system, UNEP would help to transform the expanding but fragmented international data system into a structured platform for supporting assessment and decision-making. If the information in such a framework were accessible as national profiles, among other formats, such a system could also be used by national governments to reduce reporting burdens to international commissions and conventions.

59. The UNEP initiative should build on and not duplicate existing data and information networks. It should make full use of emerging Internet tools for finding, linking, annotating, and displaying information, and build on experience in other fields with organizing such information frameworks. It should implement the development of the framework in large part through cooperative agreements with other institutions, while providing overall guidance and institutional coordination. The aim should be to create a working prototype integrated information framework within two years of initiation, with provision for subsequent review, modification and enhancement, and on-going maintenance and administration.

60. One important component of the environmental information meta-system should focus on highly distilled environmental information and core data sets for policy-making that will highlight issues and summarize the scientific basis for action. This information flow should feed directly into policy-relevant activities, for instance to support negotiations on a new agreement or the implementation of conventions and action plans. It is necessary to ask what information will convince policy-makers to take action, and then assemble it. This will require severe selection of the essential elements, and careful and convincing presentation, including in graphic or even animated formats.

61. One goal should be for the system to become the essential reference that everyone feels the need to consult for the best and most up-to-date information, with the principal target audience being political leaders, diplomats and senior advisers. While most such people are too busy to access the web directly, their staff can draw on the materials for reports and presentations. The same approach will also be widely useful for the media and the public. The format could be much like the briefings such senior officials receive, but interlinked electronically so that it is possible to follow the flow of arguments from one issue to another and identify their interrelationships, or to go more deeply into the core data behind the presentations. UN and other organizations already prepare much material like this in briefing notes, speeches, press releases, mission reports, newsletter articles, and meeting presentations or working papers. It is possible to make wider use of much of this information at little cost by putting it as well in web format and posting it within an integrated framework. In many cases outside partner organizations are already doing the bulk of the work. They need only to be linked into the system, and perhaps encouraged to make their information presentation more compatible. UNEP's strategic function is to be responsible for the higher level organization and integration of this information on the web site. The system would also help to weave together all the different UNEP-related web sites around the world, adding some virtual unity to their diversity.

62. Such a system will require the wide involvement of UNEP staff and other partners making inputs or providing oversight in their own particular areas. (FAO has estimated that it has put about $1 million per year of staff time into its excellent web site.) The system will help UNEP to overcome the relative isolation of Nairobi and the wide geographic scatter of its activities, with everyone contributing to a common and widely visible product. Web page coordination and updating, either directly or through the organization of outside partnerships, will have to become part of the normal work of all programme officers in their own assigned areas of responsibility. This needs to be acknowledged in allocations of staff time. Material on existing web sites of other agencies can easily be linked into the system.

63. Technically, establishing such an environmental information meta-system will require that all relevant programme officers and some secretaries have computers and software capable of efficient participation in this electronic networking through the preparation of web pages and graphics, necessitating replacement of outdated computer equipment and software and its regular renewal. At present, Mercure has linked UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi to the global information super-highway, but within the UN Office in Nairobi the situation is more like the roads of rural Africa. In particular, each responsible officer should have direct access on the web server to the relevant pages for which he or she is responsible, and the ability to transfer files directly. In this way, updating a web page will be no more difficult than sending an e-mail. The necessary training in web page development will also need to be provided.

D-3 Phase One Module: Coordinating and supporting the development of environmental indicators

64. Closely related to the initiative on integrated information systems and frameworks is the need for development of environmental indicators for use in the GEO reports and elsewhere as an important component of sustainable development indicators. Despite widespread activity, environmental indicator development remains a fragmented effort; convergence to consensus indicators has not occurred. As a result, environmental indicators do not yet have the usefulness for policy-making nor command the same attention as do leading economic and social indicators. In cooperation with and support of the UNCSD indicator workplan, UNEP should actively encourage, coordinate, and support the development of improved environmental indicators, including undertaking an inventory of environmental indicators used in the UN system. Its role is not to develop indicators itself, but rather to convene workshops and guide and partially fund research, drawing on its assessment and strategic oversight activities and the needs of its target groups to indicate which types of indicators are most relevant for policy purposes and seeking to forge consensus around emerging indicators that fit those needs, starting with its own needs in the GEO process.

D-4 Phase One Module: Management and dissemination of scientific and technical information

65. UNEP has long played an important role, particularly for developing countries, in providing access to scientific and technical information. Its goal should be to ensure that all who need access to such information can obtain it. With the revolution in information technologies, the tools developed by INFOTERRA and the means now available with UNEPnet and the Mercure telecommunications system are greatly expanding the reach and capacity of UNEP's efforts. There is also a growing potential for partnerships with other environmental information systems and sources. Methods and information products that are now superseded by new information tools and access should be dropped, and new ones developed, always keeping in mind the many users who still lack access to electronic systems and telecommunications. UNEP must continue to provide a bridge between the old archival and new electronic outputs, to ensure that the management and dissemination of scientific and technical information continues to benefit all who need it.

D-5 Phase Two Module: Converting national focal points to environmental information centres

66. The INFOTERRA network of national focal points is being reformed to ensure better public access to environmental information and to advocate the public-right-to-know principle. Many of the national focal points in developing countries have considerable potential to organize environmental information services within their countries for global, regional, and national environmental information; to become nodes that gather country-specific environmental information for UNEP; and to improve public access to environmental information. Such transformed focal points, through partnerships developed with many stakeholders to provide an integrated environmental information service at the national level, will be able to deliver the results of UNEP and other assessments and reports to national and local decision-makers and the general public, thus extending the impact of the whole information system outlined in this strategy, particularly in developing counties. To achieve this will require a major effort to build capacity, possibly in cooperation with UNDP and national UN Houses as they are established. This activity should begin with a small number of demonstration sites.

67. Such work at the national level should involve close collaboration between Regional Offices, Regional Coordinators and DEIA&EW staff. Governments should be encouraged to establish partnerships with a diverse range of stakeholders drawn from Government, non-governmental organizations, academia, centres of excellence, professional bodies and business enterprises aimed at providing an integrated environmental information service at the national level, under a formal agreement with UNEP. This will require developing demonstration sites, convincing governments to accept an active information collection and delivery role for these information services, ensuring that the focal points are suitably located for the new functions, equipping them with computers and Internet access, and providing the necessary training. Redefining the role of national focal points and developing integrated information services will facilitate the flow of information between the organization and its partners by providing a point of information access and delivery within each government.


S-1 Phase One Module: UN Earthwatch

68. The on-going Earthwatch coordination activities should be extended to provide the mechanism for strategic oversight of the whole global system for environmental observing and assessment. Issues to be addressed in system-wide strategic review and planning include: the common ground shared by UN agencies and other organizations in implementation of the early warning function where cooperation would be desirable; the need to address the institutional constraints in observation and assessment of many critical parameters of the environment; the paradoxical problem of significant data gaps in some areas and of abundant data but lack of meaningful analysis of those data in other areas; and the poor understanding of the driving forces leading to the present state of the environment. UNEP is uniquely placed to maintain regular networking and dialogue with all UN system agencies to coordinate environmental observing and information delivery, to develop the UN system-wide Earthwatch web site as a central point of access to information on all observing and assessment activities, to facilitate efforts to provide common and compatible access to data across the UN system, and to develop strategies for the Global Observing Systems and the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS). Earthwatch should organize periodic reports on the state of the observing and assessment system itself, identifying gaps and needed improvements, and providing feed-back from the later stages of the policy cycle to the observing and assessment tasks. This will be an important input to the review of Agenda 21 Chapter 40: Information for Decision-making, at the Commission for Sustainable Development in 2001.

S-2 Phase One Module: Strengthening ties to the scientific community

69. While a separate unit for science in the secretariat is not needed, UNEP needs to strengthen ties with the international scientific community to ensure that its observing, assessment and strategic overview functions are informed by the very best scientific insights and information available. These efforts should include working level relationships with scientific programmes generating data; cooperation with other scientific assessment processes and bodies; strategic collaboration and advisory relationships with the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its subsidiary bodies including the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE); close cooperation with UNESCO on science in support of environmental observations and assessments; collaboration with the UN University and its links with the scientific community; and bringing to the attention of scientists those areas requiring additional research to resolve uncertainties or to guide management decisions. UNEP should devote at least one full-time staff equivalent to this effort.

S-3 Phase One Module: Developing an environmental early warning capacity

70. UNEP should work with its partners to develop the capacity for long-term early warning, using its assessment process and its links to the scientific community, regional organizations and governments to identify emerging issues, areas and "hot spots" where particular effort is needed to avoid environmental crises. This early warning activity should be linked to UNEP's work on environmental emergencies. Effective long-term early warning will require, among other things, that progress in policies be systematically assessed.

S-4 Phase One Module: Timely Access to Environmental Crisis Information

71. As demonstrated with the Southeast Asian forest fire and Balkan crises, UNEP should reinforce its capacity to inform its own decision makers and others with timely information regarding environmental crises through short status bulletins. In creating this capacity, UNEP should initiate collaborative efforts to develop proactive information systems before crises occur, at least for certain priority environmental issues with a high probability of repeated crises. It should build on or link to the early warning systems being developed by other institutions, such as the internet-based Fire Watch system. This will require making better use of electronically-based information tools, satellite imagery and web sites, bringing together existing capacities in UNEPnet, Mercure, GRID and Earthwatch, and linking to many other partners. The formats and protocols for status bulletins, and the criteria for issuing such bulletins, should be developed in consultation with the target groups directly concerned. UNEP will need some staff dedicated to such crisis reporting activities, as well as some flexibility in reallocating staff and resources on a short-term basis. Rapid reporting also requires adequate electronic infrastructure.

S-5 Phase One Module: Funding strategy

72. The implementation of this strategy will require a significant increase in financial resources and staff. A long-term financing strategy will need to include several components. $36 million should be available over 5 years from the Environment Fund for the core functions of UNEPís assessment and early warning programme. To implement this ambitious strategy, UNEP will concentrate these resources on building the necessary staff to catalyze and coordinate the observing and assessment programme components. The expanded and additional activities and partnerships in the priority modules identified in the strategy will need to be supported on a project basis by external donors such as governments and the UN Foundation, within the coherent umbrella provided by the strategy. The UNF/UNFIP is committed to provide the initial impetus to launch the new strategy, and will assist in attracting other donors and partners to broaden the base of support. The Division and UNEP senior management will work to raise additional funds in an increasing ratio to UNF/UNFIP contributions, both to support UNEP activities directly, and to increase the funding base for partners and collaborating centres, so that the whole system becomes increasingly self-supporting, with UNEP maintaining its catalytic and coordinating role. The potential in the medium term to develop innovative funding mechanisms will also be explored.

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