GRID-Arendal Occasional Papers 1998 #2
UNEP's Capacity Development in Environmental Information
The Environment and Natural Resources Information Network
(ENRIN) in Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS
Otto Simonett, Dan Claasen, Nickolai Denisov, Claudia Heberlein
Table of Contents
This occasional paper for the first time presents GRID-Arendal's rich
experience in strengthening environmental information management capacities in
Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS through the implementation of UNEPs
Environment and Natural Resource Information Network (ENRIN).
The main part is dedicated to an evaluation of ENRIN implementation today,
focusing on funding, the institutional framework and the outputs. With the goal
to improve the programme's implementation and also to provide inputs to related
initiatives, the principal challenges are highlighted and discussed,
recommendations for ENRINs future are also given. Complementary to the
evaluation, a concise project description and the ENRIN directory for Central
and Eastern Europe and the NIS are also presented.
The paper has been written by Otto Simonett, Nickolai Denisov and Claudia
Heberlein from the ENRIN project team at GRID-Arendal, with valuable inputs
provided by Dan Claasen, who is coordinating ENRIN activities globally at UNEP
Headquarters. The GRID-Arendal carto(graphic) team - Petter Sevaldsen, Philippe
Rekacewicz and Emanuelle Bournay - have made the publication visually
Through this publication, GRID-Arendal hopes to reach an audience of
professionals interested in methodologies and information from 'behind the
Arendal, December 31
Part I – Programme Description
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.
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
The overall objective of UNEP's ENRIN
(Environment and Natural Resources Information Network) initiative is to improve
access to environmental information for decision making by catalyzing and
assisting capacity building in environmental information management.
UNEP is implementing ENRIN in a decentralized manner, with regional
coordinators in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, North
America and Latin America and the Caribbean, which all have adopted the
methodology to serve specific regional needs. This paper focuses on Central and
Eastern Europe and the NIS (Newly Independent States), which, since 1994 is
being implemented by GRID-Arendal. This paper gives an overview on the
activities in this region to make an evaluation of the achievements to date and
come up with conclusions which may also be of relevance to other ENRIN regions
as well as capacity building projects world-wide.
This paper gives an overview of the ENRIN activities in the region and
evaluates its current achievements. The conclusions presented may have relevance
for other capacity building efforts in this field.
ENRIN's main objective is to improve the availability of environmental data
and information for decision-makers and the general public. It thus contributes
to the implementation of Agenda 21,
40 by strengthening national environmental information management
capacities. The recently signed Aarhus
Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and
access to Justice in Environmental Matters will also have direct
implications on the programme in Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS.
Through ENRIN, participating national and sub-regional partner institutions
and agencies are 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 benefit for UNEP is better access to information of significance
for international assessments.
The following table summarizes the objectives of ENRIN:
The ENRIN approach is the result of various processes involving UNEP's staff,
counterparts and outside experts world-wide. The initiative is rooted and
integrated within UNEP's Division of Environmental Information and Assessment
and Early Warning. ENRIN is being coordinated on a regional basis (Africa, Latin
America, Asia and Europe), UNEP headquarters are responsible for policy and
overall coordination .
The four stages of programme implementation are summarized in the table below
and explained further on.
Assessment: following-up the request of a government- usually the
Ministry of Environment - a study on the capacities and needs in environmental
information management in a country is conducted according to UNEP's Terms of
Feasibility Study & Pilot Activities: start-up activities
generating environmental information products (SoE reports, metadatabases etc.)
and resulting in a detailed implementation proposal based on an in-depth
assessment of information needs, capacities and institutional set-up.
Implementation: with bilateral or multilateral donors as partners,
capacity building projects are implemented by the national counterparts using
local and international consultants under UNEP/ENRIN coordination and
Operational Network: result of the implementation phase is a fully
operational national environmental information facility. The nodes of this
network in the region participate in national and international environmental
assessments and related activities. UNEP maintains a minimal degree of
management and networking activities.
A mixed funding strategy, based on initial seed funding from UNEP
increasingly replaced by counterpart and donor contribution and eventually by
the market is generally adopted. It is as shown on the diagram below:
4. Institutional Framework
To function in a sustainable way, two aspects are of particular relevance:
the institutional network and user-orientation. Environmental information always
comes from many sources. It is therefore relevant to manage information in a
network of closely cooperating institutions (governmental, private, research).
User orientation is necessary to focus on the demands, to ensure demand-driven
operations and to establish a sustainable economical base for information
ENRIN operates on the basis of a network of national and international
institutions. As a rule, the focal points for UNEP's programmes at the national
level are national environmental authorities (Ministries of Environment or their
The main aim is to strengthen their capacities in managing and disseminating
information on the State of the Environment.
Typically, a national node functions best as a privately (or semi-privately,
such as foundation etc.) organized technical entity appointed by and managing
information on behalf of the Ministry of Environment taking strategic and policy
decisions. Cooperation is ensured by a steering committee composed of the
various national and international stakeholders. Market-orientation can be
complemented with contracts with the Government.
On the international and regional levels the implementation of ENRIN is
coordinated with other international organizations, regional programmes,
bilateral and multilateral donors, NGOs and private enterprises. The main
cooperating partners in Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS are the EEA, WHO,
UNDP and the World Bank.
Recent examples of regional cooperation are 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,
and regional SoE reporting projects in the Caucasus and the Aral Sea Basin.
Results of the ENRIN programme range from tangible information products to
more broader outputs related to institutional cooperation and networking and
strengthened capacities at the national level:
assessment reports are being compiled by ENRIN's national cooperating
partners. These reports present an overview of environmental information systems
in participating countries, assessing the capacities and needs of the existing
network to provide easily understandable environmental information to users.
Solutions to improve the current situation are also outlined. More practical
information (existing SoE reports, conventions signed by the Government,
organizational set-up, contact addresses etc.) is listed in the appendix. The
assessment reports are available both in printed and electronic format. By the
end of 1998, 19 (out of 27) countries have finalized the assessments in the
Workshops are held both internationally, regionally and nationally. These
workshops are intended to serve as fora for institutions and individuals active
in environmental information management, including national governmental
organizations, international organizations, NGOs, and private organizations.
National workshops are instrumental for consensus-building among the various
stakeholders to find the best possible solutions for the long-term network
implementation. From 1994 to 1998 various national (4), regional (6) and
thematic (4) workshops have been conducted under ENRIN.
ENRIN regularly organizes training courses on the subjects relevant to an
environmental information production line: Internet programming, SoE reporting,
GIS, (carto)-graphic production. In conjunction with the establishment of GRID
centers, training programmes and consultations relevant to project management
and administration are also organized.
Methodology Development, Templates
Under ENRIN, tools and templates relevant to environmental information
management are being developed and made available to users. Priority products
- electronic state-of-the-environment reports for countries, regions and
- systems of indicators for environmental reporting.
Electronic State-of-the-Environment (SoE) Reports
Very efficient tools to aggregate and to disseminate environmental
information are indicator-based, electronic State-of-the-Environment
(SoE) reports. Useful information (text, maps, pictures, tables) can be
accessed in a straightforward manner, the technology also allows the use of
different languages. ENRIN encourages countries to use a standardized template
(initially developed for Norway in 1992) based on a pressure - state - response
framework of organizing environmental indicators. This will allow
cross-comparison on the various indicators among the countries. So far, 21
countries in the region have generated electronic SoE reports under ENRIN, the
first having been Georgia in 1996. More recently, GRID-Arendal has also
developed a model for urban electronic state of environment reports, which are
in the process of being implemented by various cities in the region (Moscow,
Tbilisi and others).
Environmental Information Centers (National GRID nodes)
The principal output of ENRIN are national and regional environmental
information facilities , which – if desired by the host governments – can also
be designated as national GRID nodes. The typical tasks of such an Information
Center (GRID node) are outlined below.
Tasks of a National Environmental Information Center
- Popularized indicator-based state-of-the-environment reports (electronic
and paper) approximating international standards
- Catalogue of environmental data and institutions in the country
- Assistance to national environmental information initiatives through
mapping, assessment and graphical production
- Inputs (data, maps, graphics, Internet support) to regional environmental
bodies, initiatives and conventions
- Inputs to Pan-European SoE reporting (e.g. the follow-up to the Dobris
Assessment) on a regular basis.
- Inputs to global state-of-the-environment reports (e.g. Rio + 10,
- Assist in the streamlining and popularization of reporting to the global
conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Ozone and
A table of ENRIN outputs is shown below:
Part II – Status and
The experience up to date shows that the ENRIN approach has met fertile
ground in Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS. Most governments are
interested in participating in the programme. The relevant international
organizations, in particular the EEA and WHO, are cooperating partners. Since
1994, UNEP has provided a total of USD 600,000 seed funding to the programme.
This has been complemented by USD 1.2 million additional project funds from
bilateral (Norwegian, Swiss, German, Dutch) and multilateral (The World Bank,
The country matrix gives a good overview of the general progress with various
achievement indicators (agreement, assessment, workshop, feasibility study, soe
on the Internet, implementation, operational). It clearly shows where ENRIN
implementation has advanced and where it has not. There are however some
drawbacks resulting from this generalized display:
- The matrix shows progress without reference to qualitative considerations.
- Since it focuses on ENRIN it does not provide a general status of the
environmental information networks in each country.
- It presents only the first development phase and does not monitor longer
term implementation of the programme.
- Since all countries are displayed in the same manner, it hides differences
in each country, such as specific organizational complexities.
For project implementation purposes, another matrix of cooperating partners
and donors has been developed. This has proven to be an excellent planning tool,
serving as a 'checklist' when organizing country visits, workshops and other
This evaluation is based on the rich experience in Central and Eastern Europe
and the NIS. It is presented in a concise and illustrated manner with the
ambition to share the knowledge gained and at the same time to revise the
methodologies used. Three main aspects are being analyzed: the resources and
funding model, the institutional framework, and finally, the products, tools and
outputs, all of which are of course somewhat interrelated. The evaluation first
gives a descriptive overview of the main issues, which are then summarized in a
box highlighting advantages, disadvantages and the main challenges.
I. Resources and Funding Model
ENRIN was designed to be a catalytic programme with core funds provided by
UNEP to conduct basic activities in the countries (introduction, assessment,
workshop) and to subsequently develop projects funded by donors, sharing costs
with the implementing organizations. Eventually, the resulting networks are
expected to operate in a sustainable manner with very limited inputs from UNEP
and other donors.
UNEP core funds
Although UNEPs total contribution has been significant (USD 600,000 over five
years), this is however not sufficient to maintain the same degree of activities
in the whole region over time. Besides that, annual funds from UNEP have been
decreasing since 1996. Therefore, priorities have to be changed periodically to
cover as many aspects as possible of the programme (production, publishing,
training, project development, coordination etc.). This can result in
discontinued follow-up activities. Overall, however, ENRIN has been able to
maintain a high degree of presence, steadily advancing the implementation in the
Donor funded projects
From donors, an additional USD 1.2 million was leveraged during the last five
years, which is about the double amount of UNEP's core funding. This is
considerable, however still not sufficient: The total donor input required for
the full extension of ENRIN to all the 27 countries of Central and Eastern
Europe and the NIS until the year 2002 has been estimated at USD 5.6 million. At
the current level of donor support, only about 2.4 million would be raised by
2002, leaving a gap of over USD 3 million.
Soliciting funds from bilateral and multilateral sources can be very time
consuming and often burdened by bureaucratic and procedural obstacles.
Nevertheless, interactions with funding sources have to be increased.
The ENRIN methodology puts relatively strict demands on in-kind contributions
from counterparts. Matching contributions in staff time, office space and
supplies are solicited from the implementing national institutions. It is
however a known fact that due to scarce resources these inputs are usually not
of the desired quality. In addition there is an evident lack of resources for
tight control: the reality may differ from impressive figures on paper and
counterpart contribution often is rather symbolic than real.
Finally, the model foresees a significant contribution from the market to
ensure the networks sustainability. This can be in the form of services provided
by the counterpart institution or eventually by recovering costs on information
products. The latter is currently underexplored, partially due to underdeveloped
markets in the region (as a matter of fact also in the West). Here, in the
medium term, the national offices of international organizations (UNDP, World
Bank) may play a role to bridge the gaps until 'real' clients appear in the
countries. The case of GRID-Warsaw has shown that sustainability is possible if
market principles are introduced at an early stage and the ambitions are at a
II. Institutional Framework
The base to ENRIN is a governmental institutional framework linking national
environmental authorities with UNEP. The wider landscape, however, opens up to
include a broader spectrum of non-governmental organizations, the private sector
and a broader spectrum of other governmental organizations.
UNEP, as the 'mother' organization of ENRIN, plays a very important role in
creating a solid institutional root for the programme. Through its ties to UNEP
the programme has a global dimension: Pooling experience from different regions
(e.g. Asia Pacific and Central and Eastern Europe) contributes considerably to
ENRINs efficiency globally.
Although there are mechanisms of coordination within UNEP, which in the case
of ENRIN function rather well, at times institutional discipline could be
better. For instance a closer integration with INFO-TERRA, and the expansion of
UNEPnet, the 'green lane on the electronic highway' into the region are very
much desirable today. UNEP's most recent strategic development points in the
The 'Environment for
Europe' process, in which UNEP is participating, is an example of well
functioning coordination with other international organizations and donors.
Regular meetings with partners and donors also take place and in some cases
(EEA, WHO) cooperative agreements are introduced. Cooperation and streamlining
of activities by the international organizations is very important to avoid
duplication: For financial reasons, different ministries or even different
ministerial departments will try to implement as many international projects as
possible. Pressure from the international level may be necessary to rationalize
information flows. The agreement with the EEA aims at the complete integration
of ENRIN with the EEAs EIONET: UNEPs role being the preparation for the national
focal point institutions to EEA membership, eventually implementing the same
standards in the whole region.
National Focal Points
In the countries, focal points are normally appointed by the respective
Ministers of Environment or equivalent. Assigning focal points is based on
simple bureaucratic procedures, usually an exchange of letters is sufficient;
this is fully harmonized with the EEA. The success of the cooperation however
often depends on personal qualifications and engagement and stable bureaucratic
structures. Environmental information management is a rather complex field which
requires a high degree of competence. If personnel changes occur too frequently,
most project time is spent explaining and re-explaining what should be done
instead of actually doing the work.
Some counterparts may be very well qualified from a technical or scientific
point of view but inexperienced in management. A strictly technocratic approach
to environmental issues will not bring the desired improvement of the situation.
Needed in addition is the ability to communicate in simple linguistic terms: a
component often underestimated or neglected by international organizations and
not understood enough by the national counterparts.
It is hardly avoidable to encounter 'travel clubs', groups and individuals
working in ministries more interested in international travel than in advancing
the projects. Realistically seen, such trips may often be needed to secure a
minimal income for the individuals as government wages tend to be below
subsistence level. In general, however, many highly qualified and dedicated
professionals have been assigned as counterparts. In the field of environmental
information management in the region, the often feared 'brain drain' is not as
severe as one might have expected.
The level of cooperation between the various stakeholders within a country
varies from country to country. Some countries have bueraucratic routines, such
as interministerial working groups in place. Here as well, there are competitive
elements to be taken into account, resulting in information not flowing as
freely as it should. In some countries, NGOs and the private sectors are engaged
in ENRIN activities on a regular basis, in others this is slightly suppressed by
bureaucracy and needs to be developed.
The 'end users' of information in the countries are today unfortunately still
the 'most unknown', the 'least explored'. Here extensive surveys – user needs
assessments – need to be conducted. It is a must to involve the omnious
'decision makers', journalists, teachers and students in future workshops and
III. Products, Tools and Outputs
ENRIN activities result in a series of 'products' and 'tools' and 'outputs',
which have been described earlier. Some are of more technical nature, related to
databases or the Internet, others are more institutional, such as workshops and
training courses and organizational capacities. The 'climax' of ENRIN is a fully
functional, EIONET-compatible network consistent of institutions managing
environmental information. These elements make up ENRIN's profile and through
this contribute in one way or another to the programmes successes or failure.
This evaluation will start with the more complex, long-term outputs and then
move to the more simple, practical tools.
It has been recognized that networks are efficient tools to facilitate
processes and inducing action both nationally and internationally. Involving
many players at various levels and with diverse backgrounds, networks are also
considered to be participatory and democratic. Today's modern communication
tools, above all the Internet, have contributed tremendously to boosting
networks and making them the 'in' thing of international cooperation in the
There is however a need for networks to focus on a topic which can be clearly
defined, to have a certain degree of coherence (rules for participation) and
that there exists a base for sustainable operation. Otherwise their impact and
longevity may be far less than expected.
ENRIN in a way fulfils the criteria for being a 'live' network, its root in
bureaucracy bears some obvious advantages. One danger - as with all networks -
is that over time it may become too much based on individuals and degenerate
into a so-called 'old boys network' neglecting its organizational
Operational national node
Despite the network character of the ENRIN, national 'hubs' - institutions
mandated for and capable in environmental information management are a core
element of the programme. Often, host governments are very interested in
establishing a GRID center in their countries, which would be designated as the
national focal point for network operation and data and information provision.
The institutional set-up of such a center is quite crucial: On the one hand it
has to serve the needs of the host government, on the other it will also have to
be capable of operating in the market because the Ministries of Environment are
not in a position to provide the funding. Patent recipes do not exist, best
practice today are carefully balanced 'hybrids'.
It can well be envisaged that such a national node is operating under a
different label than GRID, this decision is however left to the national
cooperating partner. So far, experience has shown that 'GRID' remains a rather
Workshop, Training Courses
Under ENRIN, various types of interactions take place: International and
national workshops and seminars, training courses and meetings. The main topics
of these interventions are closely related to the programme: Regional seminars
to introduce the programme, workshops to identify and to establish national
networks and find consensus on the activities and training courses in specific
topics, GIS, cartography, the Internet. Visits of focal points to operational
GRID centers (Arendal, Geneva, Warsaw, Budapest, Moscow) are one of the most
efficient ways to familiarize with goals and methods, presenting a real case of
'best' or 'worst' practices. This shows that general office administration and
management training may for Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS be as
relevant as training in technology.
Technical responsibilities for organizing these events is increasingly passed
on to the national focal points, which however does not change the fact that
general initiative is still expected to come from outside, i.e. the
international organizations, not the least to give it enough prestige.
National State-of-the Environment Reports, Metadatabases (Information
about data holdings)
Typical products coming out of the ENRIN process are electronic environmental
information products relevant to users in the countries and abroad. These
products in are exposed to trends, with changing 'fashions' over time.
Currently, emphasis is put on electronic state of the environment reports,
showing in an easily understandable manner the state of a country's environment.
Earlier, central national data, GIS and metadatabases have played a more
significant role than today; for the future trends show products more directly
aimed at users at the local level and suitable for stimulating individual
action. An example are state of the environment reports for cities or the
information products relevant to the follow-up of local Agenda 21.
Here, ENRIN operates in an area between research and application: Outputs are
usually needed before the models or tools are fully developed, updates in the
methodology are implemented 'while doing the work'. It would be desirable to
invest more resources in the development of the prototypes, this is however not
possible under the current structure because ENRIN per se is not a research
Part III - Outlook
As an overall conclusion three issues can be pointed out as crucial for
ENRIN's future activities and the programme's sustainability both
internationally and in the countries: to design the programme more consequently
according to user needs, to streamline environmental reporting in the countries
and to shift environmental information management to more market
The actual user needs for environmental information exist at different levels
in each country, but the precise nature of these various needs require more
attention and clarification.
These needs have to be systematically assessed and taken into account when
establishing environmental information networks. In particular, the 'end-users',
the media and the educational systems will have to play a more prominent role in
directing the programme. Information products will have to be even more
user-friendly and contain information and recommendations for users to act
directly. This may also need a diversification in scope by taking more local and
regional needs into account.
International demands for environmental reporting from countries are
considerable today and with the ratification of additional conventions are
expected to grow. Action has to be taken to streamline reporting to avoid
duplication and make it more cost-efficient. Streamlining is in the first place
an institutional challenge both to international organizations and the national
governments, methodological and technical solutions will nevertheless remain
Governmental funding alone will never be sufficient to cover environmental
information management. Innovative methods will have to be developed to have
more of the activities covered by the market, i.e. the users contribute in parts
to the cost of information.
The 'environmental information landscape' displayed here gives a conceptual
overview of the needs and the products relevant to UNEP in the years to