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PROGRAMME 10: ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT

10.1 Scientific and technical information

INFOTERRA: International Environmental Information System

168. The Assistant Executive Director introduced the programme on assessment by making a statement on INFOTERRA, which, he said, had adapted to changing users' needs and technological innovations in broadening access to environmental information and sharing it. He stressed the importance of environmental information in decision-making and noted that the INFOTERRA 3 meeting in Moscow in March 1989 had made some 32 recommendations regarding technical assistance to developing countries, consolidation of the network, regional co-operative schemes, improvement in INFOTERRA operations, new communications technologies and the creation of a database on environmentally sound technologies.

169. One representative stated that INFOTERRA should replan its activities to enhance national and regional environmental information resources in developing countries and to assist them in building an independent capacity to acquire, interpret and apply environmental information in decision-making. He welcomed the pilot companionship scheme, which his country would use as a case study on how to channel approximately $25,000 - $50,000 to developing countries. Another representative requested that national focal points in industrialised countries support the companionship scheme.

170. Several representatives asked the Executive Director to continue to give high priority to the strengthening of the INFOTERRA network.

171. Some representatives requested that the INFOTERRA national focal points in developing countries be provided with material and financial assistance so that they could use INFOTERRA services more effectively.

172. Many representatives endorsed the recommendations of the INFOTERRA 3 meeting and recommended their implementation, especially in operations, network development, new technologies, and the promotion of the INFOTERRA network.

173. One representative recommended that INFOTERRA create a data base on environmentally clean technologies.

174. A number of representatives highlighted the importance of information provided through INFOTERRA in environmental management, and called for an increased allocation of resources to the INFOTERRA Programme Activity Centre, particularly to permit the implementation of the recommendations of the INFOTERRA 3 meeting.

175. It was suggested that INFOTERRA could provide useful information on safe handling of pesticides and also that INFOTERRA should be part of the proposed centre for environmental emergency assistance.

176. Several speakers urged Governments to give high priority and support to their INFOTERRA national focal points.

The International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC)

177. The Assistant Executive Director noted that the responsibilities of the International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC) had increased with the growth in international trade in chemicals; its network of national correspondents now covered 111 countries. He noted further that IRPTC operated a data bank and a global network for the exchange of information on potentially toxic chemicals and was co-operating closely with other international organizations, in particular with IPCS. IRPTC participated in IPCS Task Group meetings and provided data to them. The Register also operated a query-response service and was an INFOTERRA special sectoral source for scientific and regulatory information on chemicals. The Assistant Executive Director also mentioned the important role IPRTC had played in the preparation of the Basel Convention, the further development of the London Guidelines and the incorporation of the principle of prior informed consent. IRPTC was assisting developing countries in establishing national registers of potentially toxic chemicals and provided training to them.178. All representatives who spoke on IRPTC expressed great appreciation of the subprogramme's efforts to provide valid data on chemicals. Several representatives commanded IRPTC as a valuable resource; one said that IRPTC had greatly assisted in the implementation of the London Guidelines, in developing a national register and in providing training within his country.

179. One representative stated that co-operation between IRPTC and IPCS should continue and indicated his country's willingness to continue to provide data to these programmes. Another representative also supported continued co-operation between these programmes, particularly in the area of training.

180. In expressing their support for IRPTC, all representatives said that it should remain a high priority. Several noted that additional resources would be needed to meet the increased responsibilities of IRPTC, in particular those related to implementing the London Guidelines in their amended form, as well as training.

181. Several representatives endorsed the recommendation of the expert consultation on IRPTC for soliciting extra-budgetary resources. They also supported IRPTC's amended objectives and strategies.

182. Given the new responsibilities to which the amended objectives and strategies gave rise, some representatives indicated that they might provide additional support to IRPTC. Suggesting areas for possible improvements, one representative noted the need to strengthen the data bank on chemicals and to consider providing assistance to developing countries in computer science and technology. Several requested a stronger training programme that would increase the participation of officials from developing countries. one expressed his satisfaction with the co-operation between IRPTC and the Centre for International Projects of the USSR Commission for UNEP in this area, and urged industrialised countries to develop similar co-operative arrangements for training.

183. Several representatives expressed support for the initiative to establish national registers of potentially toxic chemicals, others noted the need to strengthen the IRPTC network of national correspondents, and yet another encouraged Governments and industry to contribute information to IRPTC in a usable form.

184. One representative noted the report on the list of environmentally harmful chemicals, but expressed concern at the increased demands on the UNEP budget and on Governments that might result.

185. All representatives who spoke on the proposed amendment to the London Guidelines concerning prior informed consent expressed support for its adoption, most of them noting the need to ensure full co-operation with FAO. All but one, however, considered the development of a convention on trade in potentially toxic chemicals premature.

186. Furthermore, it was noted that IRPTC must be able to assist developing countries in implementing prior informed consent procedures. In this respect, the observer for FAO mentioned his organization's continuing close co-operation with UNEP.

187. Commenting on the successful completion of the Basel Convention, several representatives referred to IRPTC's role in its implementation. One stressed the need for close co-operation between the Register and the interim Secretariat of the Convention.

10.2 Monitoring and assessment

188. The Assistant Executive Director introduced the subprogramme on environmental assessment, GEMS, by outlining its continued work in gathering environmental data through its monitoring network and using this information to produce technical assessments. Those GEMS endeavours entailed continuous close co-operation between UNEP and its United Nations partners, notably WHO, WHO, FAO and UNESCO, as well as with Governments. He outlined GEMS activities in the areas of scientific and technical information, specifically the work of the Global Resource Information Database (GRID) in health-related monitoring, and the recently completed global assessments of urban air quality, fresh water quality and food contamination; natural resource monitoring under the Cairo Programme for African Co-operation; the harmonization of environmental measurement and the Environmental Data Report. The second edition of this report had been completed by the Monitoring and Assessment Research Centre (MMC) in co-operation with the World Resources Institute and the United Kingdom Department of the Environment and would be available shortly. He noted that GRID's activities would be enhanced by the generous donation of computer systems to it by the IBM Corporation.

189. Representatives from some developing countries pointed out their need for training and technological and financial assistance to be able to participate fully in environmental monitoring and assessment programmes.

190. One representative reiterated his country's support for the principles that underlay the harmonization of environmental measurement, which included the co-ordination of international data collection and management activities and the development of common data criteria. He did not, however, support the establishment of a new entity to manage this activity, existing mechanisms being perfectly adequate. He stressed that harmonization of environmental measurement should be carried out within the existing GEMS structure.

191. Several representatives voiced continuing support for the development of the GRID programme, and one stressed the importance of the establishment of GRID regional centres. The sophisticated technology on which GRID was based had to be made more readily available to developing countries. Some representatives noted that this was being achieved through the UNEP/UNITAR training programme, through regional workshops such as that to be hosted by Ghana later in 1989 and through UNEP's distribution to co-operating developing countries of micro-computer systems donated by industry. One representative indicated his country's readiness to be associated with GRID and to assist in its development.

192. The observer for WHO described his organization's long collaboration with UNEP, in particular the GEMS programme and its health-related environmental monitoring activities. He mentioned the recent publication of global assessment reports on fresh water quality, urban air quality and food contamination. He drew attention to the importance of GEMS' health-related monitoring activities to all of UNEP's programmes, climate, atmosphere and fresh water being prime examples.193. All representatives who spoke expressed support for the monitoring and assessment programme. One stated that environmental assessment was an extremely important part of UNEP. He recommended more effective horizontal and vertical co-ordination of the information systems of the three subprogrames and suggested that there was a need to develop an overall information management strategy.

194. Some representatives recommended better use of other United Nations agencies and more effective co-ordination in the area of information systems.

195. The Assistant Executive Director noted the need for an assessment of data and the reinforcement of existing links among assessment, management and supporting measures in the different elements of UNEP's programme.