Policy development and planning for sustainable development and coherent environmental management demands information, national data and knowledge of the state of the environment. As assessments and analyses become multi-sectoral, the degree of complexity generates the need for integrated information. These products in turn require organizational infrastructures for the acquisition, integration, analysis and dissemination of data and information.
A low capability to mobilize information effectively in developing countries and countries in transition reduces the effectiveness of environmental assessment for sustainable development and undermines a society's capacity to devise and implement solutions to environmental issues. Moreover, the focus of most knowledge and information systems lies still often on archiving rather than using or interpreting data, the latter being more effective in delivering information in support of specific end goals.
Above all, the increasing burden on nations to manage resources wisely demands that they have all the necessary tools at their disposal. It is illogical for multi-lateral agencies or industrialized nations to caution the rest of the world about unwise resource use and to make major institutional demands but ignore investment needs in developing the basic components of reliable data programmes. Information gathered by national data collection programmes is ultimately needed and used by both national and international agencies undertaking development activities in these countries.
UNEP has a specific reason for being involved in capacity development in this area. It is mandated to undertake assessments of issues of international significance. To this end, UNEP is creating an international collaborative assessment framework consisting of institutions associated with national and international government organizations. In developing the framework, UNEP understood the need to ensure that partner institutions in developing and transitional economies would be able to acquire the necessary capabilities and capacities to make meaningful contributions to the international assessment process.
UNEP is required to catalyze cooperative action between nations to address environment and development issues of international significance. Part of that process is the undertaking of authoritative and coherent assessments of the scope and magnitude of the issues. Global data aggregations have proved to be inadequate in highlighting priority areas for subsequent management action. It is clear that the authority of global assessments is severely dependent on the ability to include higher resolution, national and sub-national data and aggregate upwards, rather than to depend on making assumptions about the national and regional significance of findings based on global data. To ensure more accurate global assessments therefore, it is necessary to ensure that national and sub-national data sets are available and accessible for international assessments.
For a complete presentation of the ideas and plans behind the programme, see UNEP's Capacity Development in Environmental Information Management, under 'Tools and training' in this web site.