Monitoring provides you with tangible information on a regular basis over an extended period of time about past and present conditions of the environment. In addition to environmental information, monitoring systems also collect social and economic information that is relevant for understanding environmental issues. A monitoring system may be developed for a number of objectives, such as:
- assess the quality of the environmental situation, and enhance public awareness;
- determine compliance with national or international standards;
- assess population exposure to pollution, and the impact on human health;
- identify threats to natural ecosystems, and develop early warning systems;
- identify sources of pollution and estimate pollutant loads;
- evaluate the effectiveness of pollution control measures;
- provide inputs for environmental management, traffic management and land-use planning;
- support the development of policies, determination of environmental priorities, and other managerial decisions; and
- support the development and validation of managerial tools (e.g., database models, expert systems and geographic information systems).
Source: ADB 2002
Monitoring and observation takes place at various levels, including community, regional, sub-regional, national, global and outer space. It is usually not feasible to set up a dedicated monitoring system specifically for an IEA. Establishing and maintaining monitoring systems is costly and requires long-term planning. It is important that monitoring systems have a stable institutional base and carry out their activities according to proper technical and scientific standards. Monitoring systems, however, need to also evolve over time to address new environmental issues and make use of new technical capabilities. IEAs as an important “customer” for monitoring systems can play an important role by pointing out problems with data sets from the user point of view that may need to be addressed over time. This may mean that rather than ignoring issues where data is problematic IEA could rather point these out and bring it to the attention of the public and decision-makers, which may be the first step towards addressing them.
At the national level, data are usually collected by the central bureau of statistics or equivalent office, and/or by certain ministries (e.g., environment, land, water, agriculture) who run networks of measurement stations and undertake statistical surveys. Public organizations at state/provincial levels are typically also involved in data collection, as are municipal governments. The advantage of using data from government sources is that monitoring is likely to be more systematic and ongoing. Another important source includes data from scientific projects by academic and research organizations. However, project-based data are often limited to the lifespan of a project. There may be similar constraints when dealing with data produced by non-government organizations with uncertain funding. At the same time, increasing interest in community-based monitoring indicates that grass-roots civil society initiatives may be a new source of data to count on in the longer future, particularly if technology becomes more affordable.
Data from international, national and regional monitoring systems are often compiled in databases. National monitoring systems are sometimes able to draw on data from both the regional or ecosystem level and international sources, such as statistical compilations of data from UN or other international agencies. International satellite observation systems provide valuable information as well. At the same time, international organizations often use data collected at national—and sometimes regional—levels to compile global databases. Thus, in practice the data collection and dissemination flows can be quite complicated. Over the years, several global observation and data compilation programmes have been initiated to harmonize, support and improve basic data collection efforts, and make them useful and available for the users, including scientists, governments, civil society and the public at large. (See Box 4.) With regard to international efforts to harmonize satellite-based monitoring the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) stands out as a prominent initiative.
Despite the considerable investment in monitoring at all levels and explosive progress in the technical and information management aspects, data availability and quality is a persistent problem for IEAs. This holds true for issues such as renewable energy, waste disposal and processing, land and coastal degradation, water consumption or deforestation. The challenge for IEAs is that data are needed for a wide range of environmental and socio-economic issues versus just a narrow issue; that data is often needed for different spatial units; and, that the assessment requires time series. When limited to those environmental indicators for which there are sound, regular, country statistics available, one arrives at a small set of broad indicators, such as those contained in the Millennium Development Goals under Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/).
Box 4: Examples of data compilations and monitoring systems
National-regional data sources
International data collecting sources
- OECD has developed solid environmental data collection systems. OECD Environmental Data Compendium and Environmental Indicators reports are published in book format every two years.
- UN Regional Commissions are collecting environmental data from countries at the regional level, sometimes in cooperation with UNEP.
- UN Statistical Division collects country data in cooperation with UNEP and coordinates with similar surveying by OECD and Eurostat, into account data collection activities by other organizations such as FAO, UNFCCC and GEMS-Water. (http://unstats.un.org/unsd/default.htm)
Some major multilateral environmental agreements that have prompted data reporting:
Global Environmental Observation coordination – in-situ and satellite remote sensing
- Global Observation Systems include land, oceans and climate (GTOS, GOOS, GCOS, together labelled G3OS, see http://www.gosic.org/), guided through an Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) and supported by the IGOS Partnership (http://www.igospartners.org/). Global Earth Observation initiatives
- Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS, http://www.ceos.org/)
- United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA, http://www.unoosa.org/)
- Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS, http://www.epa.gov/geoss/)