Structure of the Environment Watch Information Network(EWIN)

Information-sharing through networking is recognized as a key productivity-enhancing activity in efforts for keeping the environment under review. The rapid developments in information technology are offering increased and new opportunities. Networks are important for vertical and horizontal exchange and distribution of information for assessments, indicators and early warning of environmental problems by countries, international agencies and other stakeholders.

The proposed information network is a network of networks, built on existing and where needed new networks linked together through a distributed set of focal points reflecting the various modules of the conceptual framework. The network will be developed in an incremental manner and consist of the elements described below.

(a)  National networks and focal points

  • The basic building block of the information network is the national environmental information network, comprising thematic and functional focal points. Thematic focal points will include, for example, information focal points for the multilateral environmental agreements. A government­designated national focal point will be responsible for contacts with the global information network, often through regional information networks (see figure 3 below). The Executive Director, in cooperation with relevant partners, will facilitate the establishment and strengthening of national environmental information networks upon request, subject to the availability of resources.

(b)  Regional networks and focal points

  • The information network will also, where feasible, through regional focal points, be organized into regional environmental information networks consisting of national environmental information network and national focal points (see figure 3 below). For example, the European Environmental Information and Observation Network (EIONET) will be the regional environmental information network and the European Environment Agency (EEA) will be the regional focal point for EEA member countries.
  • Additional regional networks will be incrementally established where feasible with the support of UNEP and partners. In Africa, for example, the Africa Environment Information Network (AEIN) under the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) will be expanded to include all African countries. The Executive Director, in cooperation with relevant partners, will facilitate the establishment of additional regional environmental information networks and regional focal points, subject to the availability of resources.

(c)  Thematic and functional networks and focal points

  • The information network will also, as appropriate, link relevant parts of existing thematic and functional networks such as the UNEP Global Resource Information Database (GRID) and Global Environmental Information Exchange Network (Infoterra) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and UNEP joint coordinated Global Land Cover Network (GLCN). The Executive Director, in cooperation with relevant partners, including the private sector, will facilitate the establishment of thematic and functional networks and focal points corresponding to the agreed modules, subject to the availability of resources.
  • Fig 1. The Environment Watch information network will consist of national focal points (NFPs) central to national environmental networks linked together in regional and or subregional networks coordinated by regional focal points (RFPs) as appropriate. Thematic and functional focal points would also link together as indicated by the arrows and constitute associated thematic and functional networks.

(d)  Guidelines for the operation of and connectivity within the network 

  • A set of generic guidelines for the operations of the network will be developed through consultations. The guidelines will outline the roles and responsibilities of national, regional, functional and thematic focal points and set forth criteria for environmental country profiles and data portals. They will also define the necessary requirements for metadata and for standardization, classification and interoperability of data sets by using existing standards and classification systems such as the global land cover classification system. The guidelines will be based on existing experiences and practice and allow for customized approaches in different regions. The question of de-identifying the country of origin of potentially sensitive national data will be addressed.

  • The guidelines will also reflect the agreed modules of the Environment Watch system, including a set of environmental indicators. It will set the stage for the collection of reliable time-series data at the national and international levels, which again will facilitate early warning, policy formulation, planning, priority-setting, reporting and measurement of environmental performance.

  • An electronic system of internet list servers will be established to maintain communications with focal points and national networks. Information held by the network in electronic form will be accessible through an open web-service-based discovery tool interoperating with information services worldwide, using best-practice, non-proprietary standards and protocols promulgated in conjunction with the Internet Engineering Task Force, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Open Geospatial Consortium and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.
  • EEA has communicated to the Executive Director that its national focal points have requested it to coordinate activities relating to Environment Watch for the EEA member and collaborating countries.
  • The current pilot phase of AEIN was developed with the support of UNEP through guidelines, manuals and capacity-building workshops and has already strengthened national, subregional and regional assessment processes.
  • The objective of the FAO/UNEP joint coordinated Global Land Cover Network (GLCN) is to achieve a global harmonized database on land cover, the most fundamental database for monitoring environment and sustainable development.