(Otto G. Simonett, UNEP/GRID-Arendal)
At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, the need to improve environmental information for decision-making has been explicitly articulated (Agenda 21, Chapter 40). Various international and national organisations are now involved in the establishment of environmental information networks world-wide. These networks are expected to improve assessment of the positive and negative effects of development activities nationally and internationally.
The meaning of the term 'environmental information network' can, however, be very broad: The term 'environmental information' alone is used for all forms of data and information products, such as pollution databases, geographical information, technical guidelines and laws, news services, films, etc. Also the term 'network' can have different meanings, it can refer to a physical computer network (such as the Internet), it could, however, also refer to an institutional structure. Because of this wide use of the same wording, one usually has to make further inquiries as to the concrete nature of the network one is dealing with.
The mission of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Division of Environment Information and Assessment is 'to provide the world community with improved access to meaningful environmental data and information, and to help increase the capacity of governments to use environmental information for decision-making and action planning for sustainable human development'.
UNEP/DEIA is developing an environment and natural resources information network in countries with economies in transition in Central and Eastern Europe. This programme focuses on the strengthening of institutions and management capacities in existing national and regional structures. The term 'network' thus has a distinct institutional significance. The programme focuses on spatially referenced information, aggregated on the national or regional level, which thus can be processed with Geographic Information Systems. One aim of the programme is to establish and strengthen UNEP/GRID-compatible centres organised in an international network. The programme is expected to improve decision-making on environment and development issues on both national and regional levels. These improvements will stem from:
The programme implemented by UNEP/GRID-Arendal is now providing preparatory assistance to countries with economies in transition in Central and Eastern Europe to formulate project proposals in support of national and international environment assessments. The programme aims to:
One of the most important long-term products to which the project will contribute is the next world-wide State of the Environment Report, scheduled for the year 2002. This milestone document is expected to be generated with the help of governments and institutions throughout the world.