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One of the primary objectives of the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP) is to catalyse co-operative action between nations to address environment
and development issues of international significance. Part of that process is
the undertaking of authoritative and coherent global assessments of the scope
and magnitude of the environmental issues. It is clear however that the
authority of such assessments is severely dependent on the ability to integrate
national and sub-national data, rather than to depend on making assumptions
about the national and regional significance of findings based on global data.

Agenda 21, Chapter 40 on information for decision-making outlines the needs
of improved capacities for information management to make environmental
information better accessible at all levels. To meet these needs, UNEP's
Division of Environment Information and Assessment's (DEIA) is providing
preparatory assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in
transition with the aim to strengthen their environmental data and information
management capacities through its Environment and Natural Resources Information
Network (ENRIN) programme.

The overall objective of the ENRIN initiative is to help ensure that
environmental factors and their complex interactions with socio-economic policy
and planning are incorporated in the development plans and actions at national
and international levels. The programme is designed to catalyse and assist
capacity building of institutions participating in environmental information
networks. Through ENRIN, national and sub-regional partner institutions and
agencies are being enabled to collate, store, manage and disseminate
environmental data and information and to use modern information technologies to
assess environment and development issues for decision-making, policy setting
and planning. The main objective is to improve the availability of environmental
data and information for international action. However, this process will also
benefit national decision-makers and the general public, thus contributing to
the implementation of Agenda 21 on the national level.
UNEP/GRID-Arendal is
one of the twelve centres of UNEP's Global Resource Information Database (GRID)
network, aimed at providing access to environmental information, carrying out
data distribution and cataloguing, archiving and analytical services using
modern geo-information, data-base and telecommunication technologies. Since
1994, UNEP/GRID-Arendal in close co-operation with UNEP headquarters, UNEP
Regional Office for Europe and UNEP/GRID-Geneva has been implementing
capacity-building projects in the field of environmental information and
state-of-the-environment reporting in countries with economies in transition in
Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) within the setting of the ENRIN programme. The
organisational and technological framework of this implementation is presented
and discussed below.

Organisational Framework


The current UNEP's approach towards institutional networking in the
field of environmental information is the result of various processes, involving
both UNEP's staff and counterparts as well as outside experts world-wide. The
ENRIN initiative has grown from UNEP/GRID and UNEP/GEMS (Global Environmental
Monitoring System) in the late 1980's. Currently the implementation is being
co-ordinated on a regional basis (Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and
Europe), with UNEP headquarters responsible for overall policy, co-ordination
and the marshalling of the data and information sources of UNEP and its partners
for international state-of-the-environment assessments.

The ENRIN CEE programme currently involves 17 out of the 27 countries of the
region. The main components of the programme as being implemented are as

  • the compilation of regional and national assessments of
    environmental information needs and capacities;
  • the establishment of co-operative agreements with governments and
    international organisations;
  • the development of strategies and proposals to strengthen
    national and regional information networks compatible with UNEP and other
    international organisations and securing support of other donor programmes for
  • the co-ordination and management of national and regional
    implementation projects and the provision of direct assistance
    and training
    in information management tools and technologies;
  • the encouragement of, and assistance to, network partners in the wide
    dissemination of public domain information products.


ENRIN operates on the basis of a network of national and international
institutions (Fig. 1). As a role, the focal points for UNEPís programmes at the
national level are the national environmental authorities (Ministries of
Environment or their equivalents). Correspondingly, one of the ENRINís main aims
is to strengthen the capacities of the national environmental authorities, or
institutions co-operating with them, by increasing their ability to handle and
deliver information on the state of the environment. It is evident, however,
that relevant environmental information can only be collected and aggregated by
a range of collaborating institutions such as sectorial agencies, academic and
research institutions, and NGOs. The process of such collaboration is strongly

Organisation of the ENRIN network

The implementation of the ENRIN programme is discussed and co-ordinated with
other international organisations, regional programmes, bilateral and
multilateral donors, NGOs and private enterprises. Co-operating international
organisations with the interest in the CEE region are the EU (EEA, PHARE,
GEF, REC (Regional Environmental Centre), WCMC and the regional bodies concerned
with the Baltic Sea (HELCOM), the Danube, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the
Aral Sea. One of the recent examples of regional development is the
UNEP/GRID-Arendal's BALLERINA initiative (BALtic Sea Region On-Line
Environmental Information Resources for INternet Access) which aims at
developing a personal and institutional network of Internet-based environmental
information providers in the Baltic Sea region.

Implementation and Funding

The implementation of the programme is composed of the four major stages:

  • Assessment (6 months): Following-up the request of a government
    or a sub-regional agency, an assessment on the capacities and needs of
    environmental information systems according to ENRIN terms of references is
    commissioned from a counterpart. The assessment is presented in a workshop
    with all key players in a country or region participating.

  • Feasibility Study (1 year): Main goal of the feasibility study is
    a detailed implementation proposal based on in-depth assessment of the
    information needs, capacities and institutional set-up. Feasibility studies
    are normally coupled with pilot activities generating environmental
    information products, e.g. state-of-the-environment reports (see a sample
    below), environmental data-bases, or data and institutional catalogues.

  • Implementation (3 - 5 years): Provided that bilateral or
    multilateral donors can be gained as partners, the three to five year
    implementation phase starts. The projects are implemented by the counterpart
    using local and international consultants under UNEP/ENRIN co-ordination and

  • Operational network: Result of the implementation phase is a
    fully operational national or sub-regional environmental information network,
    capable of using modern information technology to generate environmental
    information products useful for a wide range of users, in particular planners,
    policy-makers and the general public. The nodes of this network participate in
    UNEP's and other organisations' environmental assessments and
    information-related activities. UNEP maintains a minimal degree of management
    and networking activities, i.e. newsletters, provision of tools and
    technologies, definition of common formats, participation in UNEP's workshops
    and seminars, regular focal point meetings.

Since the established network should be both long-term sustainable and able
to produce internationally harmonised information products, a mixed funding
strategy of ENRIN activities is generally adopted as shown on Fig. 2.

ENRIN funding model

UNEP's seed funds are used primarily on the initial stages (and to a much
lesser extent on consequent stages) to ensure that the programme is implemented
according to unified standards. However, to achieve final sustainability, a
national counterpart should gradually take over a major responsibility for the
national operations through both securing direct governmental funding and
entering a market of information services. (Experience has shown that
institutions with strengthened environmental information management capacities
can well be market-competitive.) During the intermediate stages of
implementation the involvement of bilateral or multilateral donors who are
willing to support particular projects is of crucial importance.

Technological Framework

Technological and methodological base has always been an important part of
ENRIN's implementation. Although being a primarily institutional networking
programme, ENRIN makes an extensive use of up-to-date tools and approaches to
ensure efficiency of its nodes' operation. The tools adapted to the use in the
network are developed by either market or UNEP and are based on state-of-the-art
information technology.

Data Identification

The purpose of data identification is to find and catalogue the
sources of data relevant for the preparation of national or regional
state-of-the-environment assessments. The types of data to be identified and
referenced are environmental monitoring data, statistical data, results of
environmental mapping and remote-sensing activities, integrated and sectorial
reports on state-of-the-environment, and research data of relevant coverage and
resolution. The range of data holders of interest typically includes ENRIN
counterparts themselves together with their subordinated institutions, sectorial
agencies (e.g. those responsible for mineral resources, water resources,
forestry, fisheries, public health), statistical offices, mapping authorities,
universities, independent research institutions, and NGOs.

The first step in identifying the sources of data is ENRIN's assessment
, which among other issues outlines the existing institutional set-up
of environmental information management and the information-related
responsibilities of various agencies. The assessments normally contain specific
information about existing environmental data-sets and data-bases, environmental
information products, and institutional contacts. The experience with the
production and use of assessment reports for CEE countries (13 reports prepared
in 1995-96) has proved that even such 'pro-catalogues' can already be invaluable
tools for answering data and information requests.

An advanced tool for cataloguing environmental institution contacts and
data-sets (i.e. the so-called 'meta-data') which is provided to ENRIN focal
points is the UNEP/GRID's Housekeeping Tool. The software has been
designed to manage both UNEP/GRID's internal meta-data and the assets of those
organisations willing to co-operate with UNEP. In UNEP/GRID's discussions and
consultations on this subject it has been determined that, given the multitude
of hardware and software meta-data solutions, the most important aspect of the
meta-data directory is its structure. Therefore, it has been decided to use a
harmonised and easy-to-use structure accessible by the widest possible user
audience. The tool is designed to allow simple data entry (there are only ten
mandatory fields for an institution entry or a data-set entry), uncomplicated
data queries and easy data exchange between any organisations that use a basic
international meta-data standard, such as the ''Directory Interchange Format''
(DIF) of NASA and the Committee of Earth Observing Satellites (CEOS).

Data Integration

Data integration is a necessary step in the compilation of
user-friendly information products from numerous and diverse data-sets on
pressures, environmental conditions, and societal responses. An efficient data
integration methodology also contributes to an overall cost-efficiency of the
information systems involved. It is a strong believe of the authors that prior
to planning or starting new monitoring activities it is worthwhile trying to
collate and present in an understandable way the already existing information.
The information gaps found thereby will clearly indicate what efforts are needed
on the level of primary data collection.

The GIS technology is being used in the process of data integration
for both aggregating data reported by different spatial units (e.g. data
resulted from monitoring natural ecosystems versus statistical reporting data
reported by administrative units), and for visualising spatially distributed
information. (Further detail about the use of GIS technology in the context of
environmental and sustainable development reporting is found in Box 2H.)

The use of indicators for environmental reporting has lately become
a priority issue in developing data integration and reporting techniques. The
commonly recognised advantages of indicator-based reporting are a possibility of
the use of consistent definitions, a suitability of indicators for tracing,
albeit partly, cause-effect relationships as well as making temporal and
cross-country comparisons, and the (ideally) comprehensibility of
indicator-based reporting products to a non-technical user.

Since the preparation of the first indicator-based electronic version of a
Norwegian report to the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992,
UNEP/GRID-Arendal in collaboration with other partner institutions has been
working on improving the indicator framework of this publication. It has also
been used as a model for developing indicator frameworks for the Internet-based
reports on state of the environment of ENRIN partner countries. This work is
constantly discussed and harmonised with international organisations involved in
indicator development, among others the OECD, UN DPCSD, EU EEA, and the Nordic

The survey and analysis of state-of-the-environment reporting programmes in
CEE recently carried out by UNEP/GRID-Arendal in co-operation with the Central
European University have shown that indicator frameworks used by many CEE
countries have already much in common with those recommended by international
bodies (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Indicators in national environmental reports

Fig. 3: Indicators in national environmental reports


Ministry for Environment and Regional Policy, Budapest, 1994

ISSUES Pressure State Response
Climate change - CO2 emissions by
sector (t)

- Energy consumption (t)

Eutrophication and water quality - Use of fertilisers (t)

- Wastewater composition (t)

- Groundwater quality (*) - Groundwater protection (*)

- Wastewater treatment

- Population connected to public sewers (t)

Soil/ land - Land use change (t)

- Areas withdrawn from agricultural use (t)

- Natural soil properties

- Soil loss due to erosion, and area affected

Bold -- part of the OECD core-set of environmental indicators
(OECD 1994)

Italic -- part of the Nordic set of environmental indicators
(Statistics Norway 1995)

Underlined -- part of the DPCSD working list of indicators of
sustainable development (UN DPCSD 1996)

* -- sub-national information

t -- temporal (trend) information

Full survey results are available at

In particular, as far as the UN DPCSD working list of indicators of
sustainable development is concerned, most of state-of-the-environmental reports
in the CEE contain indicators from all the four UN DPCSD categories (social,
economic, environmental, and institutional), often with a good correspondence
for pressures (or driving forces) and a developed institutional response side.
On the other hand, the national implications of the global issues (e.g. global
warming or ozone layer depletion) are still underrepresented.

Generally speaking, a truly comprehensive harmonisation of national and
regional state-of-the-environment reporting with UNEP's and other international
organisations' standards and recommendations, as well as with parallel reporting
initiatives within countries (e.g. national reporting programmes on sustainable
development), still remains a major challenge. The international bodies, in
their turn, should pay adequate attention to the experience and expertise that
is available in the countries and regions themselves.

Data Provision

The ENRIN's approach to the provision of environmental information
aims at making it easily accessible to users. The Internet has been chosen as
the main tool to reach the widest possible audience, at the same time enabling
the cost-efficiency of production and the employment of user-friendly formats
for information presentation, in particular visualisation. The availability of
Internet service world-wide is growing dramatically, and even in regions with
yet limited access to Internet its potential for channelling information to the
international audience is commonly recognised. The use of the Internet also
makes it possible to routinely produce a wide range of derivative electronic
(CD-ROMs) and paper products for their distribution in less
technologically-developed areas.

The Internet is currently used for providing users with most of the
outputs of ENRIN activities. The ENRIN publications, including country
assessments, are made available on the UNEP/GRID-Arendal's home-page as soon as
they are produced. Information from data and institutional catalogues is
integrated and released on the Internet to enable external access and search
opportunities. The national state-of-the-environment reports or their prototypes
are placed on the Internet by UNEP/GRID-Arendal and/or those ENRIN focal points
that already have good Internet connections. Six CEE countries have now
completed their prototype reports on the Internet according to UNEP's
methodology. The Georgian national state-of-the-environment report was the first
one officially launched in 1996 on the Internet (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Georgian state-of-the-environment report on the Internet

Georgian state-of-the-environment report on the Internet

In order to facilitate access to Internet for countries with poor
telecommunications, UNEP has started the establishment of its own 'green'
communications system known as UNEPnet. The system will employ Internet
standards to provide its users with flexible access to environmental
information, common services and communications conventions. The UNEPnet will be
partly based on a Mercure satellite network donated to UNEP by member
states of the European Space Agency (ESA). The first phase of the Mercure is to
become operational in 1997.


The experience up to date shows that the UNEP/ENRIN approach has proven to be
successful in developing capacities for environmental information management and
communication. The interest in participating in the programme is very high among
governments, regional bodies, and the relevant international organisations. If
the current momentum can be maintained, environmental information will soon be
notably better accessible to a broad range of users - planners, politicians and
the general public, across boundaries and - thinking of Central and Eastern
Europe - from and to previously 'closed' regions. In particular the 'popular'
indicator-based state-of-the-environment reports on the Internet have a
potential to reach millions of users.

The main challenge for UNEP will be to maintain a minimal but effective
management service to the network to ensure its sustainability. This could be
achieved through streamlining procedures for network participation, providing
efficient information management tools (Internet, meta-databases) and templates
(state-of-the-environment reports), and well functioning communication
(UNEPnet). Priority has also to be given to co-ordination with related
international programmes, in particular those involved in sustainable
development reporting.

The work should be continued to co-ordinate the development of
indicator-based reporting frameworks with interested institutions. As soon as
the proposed set of indicators of sustainable development is internationally
tested and agreed, further effort should be made towards a comprehensive
harmonisation between the programmes reporting on state-of-the-environment and
on sustainable development. Streamlining corresponding institutional networks,
both nationally and internationally, will make these efforts more efficient and
finally benefit the users of environmental and sustainable development
information world-wide.


State-of-the-environment reporting, access to information, institutional and
electronic networking, capacity-building, meta-data, geographic information
systems (GIS), Internet, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Resource Information Database (GRID),
Environment and Natural Resources Information Network (ENRIN)

Related publications

Brox, A. (Ed.) UNEPnet and Mercure. Information Package.
UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 1996.

Denisov, N. and A. Semichaevsky. Survey of the State-of-the-Environment
Reporting Programmes in Central and Eastern Europe.
UNEP/GRID-Arendal and
Central European University, 1997 (in preparation).

Langaas, S. (Ed.) BALLERINA Workshop Report. Stockholm, 13-14 June
UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 1996.

Rump, P.C. State of the Environment Reporting: Source-Book of Methods and
Environment Canada, RIVM and UNEP, 1996.

Simonett, O. Geographic Information Systems for Environment and
GRID Information Series No 19. Nairobi: Earthwatch, UNEP/GRID,

Simonett, O. Environmental and Natural Resource Information Networks.
Countries with Economies in Transition and Central and Eastern Europe.

UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 1994.

Simonett, O. (Ed.) Integrated Environmental Information Systems in
Support of Decision-Making in Countries with Economies in Transition.
Proceedings from the UNEP/OECD/IEC Moscow Seminar 29-31 May 1995.
UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 1995.

Simonett, O., Claasen, D., Baranowski, M., Kakuyo, B. and S. Shrestha.
UNEP's Capacity Development in Environmental Information Systems: The ENRIN
(Environment and Natural Resources Information Network) Case Study.
presented at the OECD/DAC Workshop on Capacity Development in Environment, Rome,
December 4 -6, 1996.

Simonett, O. and N. Denisov. Environmental and Natural Resource
Information Networks in Countries with Economies in Transition and Central and
Eastern Europe. Annual progress report 1996.
UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 1997.

Tveitdal, S. (Ed.) The Role of the Electronic Highway in the Preparation
of Environmental Information for Decision-Making.
Arendal, Norway,
September 1, 1995. Executive Seminar Report. UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 1995.

NOTE: Individual countries' assessments of environmental information systems
and the proceedings of regional ENRIN workshops are available from
UNEP/GRID-Arendal and at its home-page.

UNEP offices' home-pages

Office for Europe: