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Role of information

Information is the foundation of sustainable development and is fundamental to successful planning and decision making. If decisions are made without sound data and information, they will be little better than best guesses and are likely to be wrong. Economic and social data are widely available and are relatively reliable and well understood. The situation with environmental data and information is somewhat different. High quality, comprehensive and timely information on the environment remains a scarce resource, and finding the 'right' information can pose problems: data are more difficult and expensive to obtain. It is also difficult to find indicators that capture and reflect the complexity of the environment and human vulnerability to environmental change. Environmental data acquisition remains a basic need in all countries.

Despite the problems, scientific consensus based on best available data and knowledge, although sometimes partial and limited, has proved a powerful tool for bringing environmental issues to international attention, and prompting action. There have been great improvements in environmental research and monitoring but it is important that these efforts are maintained and improved to ensure a flow of timely and reliable information. A sub-set of that information needs to underpin early warning in relation to disasters and emerging issues, and to the factors underlying human vulnerability to environmental change.

The provision of information will benefit from:

  • Structured and nested monitoring and observing systems including global satellites for collection of timely and reliable data on environmental components, using harmonized units of measurement and terms.
  • An effective, globally acceptable environmental information system supported by a harmonized set of data, indicators and indices and closely integrated with socio-economic information systems to provide basic information for decision making.
  • Maximizing the use of the Internet as a cheap and effective means of information exchange worldwide.
  • Identifying indicators and indices to capture the sustainability of environmental trends as well as trends in human vulnerability to environmental change.
  • Tools to create a knowledge base accessible to environmental policy and decision makers.
  • Presentation of complex data and information in an easily understandable form to decision makers.