Information will produce effective policy

Information will produce effective policy


Can you detail us about the objectives and activities of European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet)? What role does EEA play to ensure this network functions effectively

Prof Jacqueline McGlade
Prof Jacqueline McGlade
Executive Director
European Environment Agency (EEA)

Can you detail us about the objectives and activities of European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet)? What role does EEA play to ensure this network functions effectively?
Eionet is our partnership network. It consists of 32 member nations and 7 West Balkan cooperating countries. Overall, Eionet involves more than 350 national institutions and over 1000 experts across Europe.

The Eionet partnership is crucial to us as it supports the collection and organisation of quality-assured national data and information used for assessing Europe’s state of environment. This information serves to support the European Union, member and cooperating countries in making decisions on improving the environment, integrating environmental considerations into economic policies and moving towards sustainability.

As set down in our founding regulation, we are responsible for developing the network and coordinating its activities. We convene regular meetings and workshops with the 39 National Focal Points and the national experts nominated for currently 27 thematic and issue-based areas such as air quality, climate change, river quality, waste generation, biodiversity and energy. These face-to-face meetings serve to strengthen and maintain good contacts between all partners and are underpinned by regular electronic communication. People networking is essential for the sustainability of Eionet.

Moreover, very early on, we identified, together with our Eionet partners, a set of priority data flows. As far as possible, data and information, which need to be reported by the countries in the framework of EU or international obligations, are developed and used within Eionet. This coordinated and prioritised approach ensures that data collected once at national level can be made accessible to many recipients and used for many purposes at national, regional and international level. It also enables countries to focus on fulfilling legal and moral reporting obligations.

To improve the collection, exchange and use of environmental data and information across Europe, the SEIS – Shared Environmental Information System – concept has been established.

How is SEIS different from INSPIRE? Do EIONET and SEIS have legal sanctity just as INSPIRE has?
The European Commission proposed SEIS through its February 2008 Communication. SEIS is being developed on the basis of a set of principles which aims to create an integrated web-enabled, EU-wide environmental information system, by simplifying and modernising existing information systems and processes. EEA is a leading proponent of SEIS, plays a crucial role in collecting and providing environmental information, and manages or participates in many ongoing European initiatives contributing to the implementation of SEIS principles.

SEIS is different from the EU Directive INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) which aims to benefit European public authorities (and others) by helping to make available relevant, harmonised and quality geographic information that supports policies and activities impacting the environment. It requires EU member states to share 34 different spatial data themes through a network of ‘services’. INSPIRE also requires the adoption of ‘Implementing Rules’ which set out how the system will operate. EEA has been continuously involved with INSPIRE since its preparatory phase.

SEIS and INSPIRE developments complement each other with INSPIRE having more focus on infrastructure and partly content while SEIS addresses governance, infrastructure and wider content issues.

The legal basis of EIONET is embedded in the EEA regulation (EC) No 401/2009 (updated version) and SEIS is based on the EU Commission’s communication on SEIS (COM/2008/ 0046 final) and potentially on future legislation or revision of existing legislation.

We aim to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvements in Europe’s environment through the provision of sound, independent information to decision makers and the public.

We provide information on environmental topics such as climate change, air pollution and how the environment is impacted by sectors such as transport and industry, but we also work across sectors, covering a wide range of sustainability topics including ecosystems and green economy – to name a few. We use data and information from member and cooperating countries, from citizens and from science to underpin indicators and assessments on the environment. The role of geospatial data is increasing dynamically, so is the EEA spatial data infrastructure and its services – prominently available through Eye on Earth.

What is EEA’s role in bringing together all member countries and sensitise them to frame policies that are in sync with the goals of EEA?
It is true that if we have the right policy framework then it will use available information effectively, but it is also true that the right information will help produce effective policy! We bring together member and cooperating countries not to frame policies but to develop the information systems needed by countries, Commission, parliament and others to frame policies in line with our goal to provide quality information to assist policy makers in policy framing and implementation as set out in our founding regulation. In short, we are information providers not policy framers or makers.

Does the EEA work with private companies to provide information/ services?
We work with private companies to provide information and services. For example, on Eye on Earth which is a global public web service for creating and sharing environmental information. This brings together scientific information with feedback and observations of millions of ordinary people.

One can view the latest air and bathing water quality for the majority of Europe as well as provide feedback. One can even share this data with friends and family using a number of social networking sites.

Availability of technology knowhow and human capacities form the next step after setting up the right policies. Does EEA enable and empower its member nations on these aspects as well?
SEIS is the instrument to develop technology, human capacity and environmental information jointly with sixty countries across Europe and around the Mediterranean including our member and cooperating countries. Projects under this umbrella provide tools, training and networking opportunities.

Can you detail how EEA ensures interoperability between its data sets and that of member states?
We encourage the use of open standards and are member of several standards initiatives (e.g. OGC incl. board level). We strongly support the implementation of INSPIRE. SEIS and Eye on Earth are strategic initiatives which also support this.

Environment issues are mostly trans-boundary and more often have global scope. What are EEA’s priority activities in this direction?
We included a review of global megatrends in our latest State and Outlook Environment Report (SOER 2010). We are active on climate change and biodiversity/ecosystems which are the main global environmental issues. We are also active on transboundary air pollution and the marine environment at the regional level.

What are EEA’s goals in the area of climate change? How is EEA utilising geospatial technology in achieving these goals?
Climate change is one of our core activities – we work with a number of partners both within Europe and also internationally. One of the main ways in which we achieve our objectives of supporting European countries and policymakers and to raise awareness of climate change and its impacts, is by providing relevant information on climate change in Europe.

We particularly help support the implementation of legislation on climate mitigation and adaptation in Europe, the evaluation of EU policies and the development of long-term strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. EEA’s various information products (e.g. data, indicators, assessments, projections) focus on both climate change mitigation (greenhouse gas emission trends, projections, policies and measures), and on climate change impacts and adaptation actions in Europe. For example, we are the European data centre on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation and will maintain and manage the EU Clearinghouse on climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation from 2012 onwards. We will be extending our work on climate change to the European neighbourhood through the development of SEIS with these countries.

Geospatial data will increasingly play an important part in monitoring various aspects of climate change and its impacts. Through the Agency’s role as in-situ coordinators of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme, we are liaising very closely with various GMES services that are developing a number of different spatial information products that link remote observation data with in-situ observations relevant to the climate thematic area. We are also exploring with other groups around Europe on how to improve the spatial resolution and verification of e.g. greenhouse gas emission data which can help lead to improved climate modelling in the future.

UN and its affiliated organisations are already working on environment issues at several levels in Europe and globally too. How does EEA coordinate with UN bodies to maximise the benefits to the European nations?
The aim of our international cooperation and partnership activities is to enhance cooperation, coordination and exchange of information with non-EU countries, UN and regional bodies, international organisations and secretariats of international conventions. We do this to continue to support the information needs set down in EU and international environmental legislation, especially in the EU’s 6th Environment Action Programme and more generally in the external dimension of EU environmental policy.

We have a long history of cooperation with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), both at regional as well as at global level, in particular in the areas of networking and building partnerships, global, regional, sub-regional crosscutting and thematic assessments and knowledge development and management. The overall objective in the area of networking and partnerships is to strengthen the institutional framework at national and regional level which is needed to support the creation of a credible, transparent evidence base and policy interface in the countries. Europe has frameworks – Eionet and SEIS – which can be used as models by UNEP in addressing challenges around knowledge governance at global level. This will be especially important for the establishment of UNEP-Live.

In the area of assessments, the overall objective of collaboration is to strengthen the ability of countries to provide the evidence base needed for developing policy relevant assessments at various levels. Cooperative work around assessment activities makes the best use of synergies and strengthens information exchange. The overall objective of EEA/UNEP cooperation in the area of knowledge development and management is to strengthen efforts to make use of modern information technology for environmental data, information and assessments aiming to provide integrated access to these, following the concept of transparency for data (SEIS and Eye on Earth global public web service). Sharing existing tools, infrastructures and standards is an important element in establishing UNEP-Live in the global context.

We also have a long history of cooperation with United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The main aim of this partnership is to avoid duplication of effort, to maximise on possibilities for joint work and, in particular, to support and provide inputs to the “Environment for Europe” process. UNECE is an important partner in the ongoing ENPI-SEIS process to extend our work on SEIS to neighbourhood countries and the Russian Federation to underpin the regular assessment process endorsed by environment ministers at their meeting in Astana in September 2011.

What are the future plans of EEA to reach out to the target population more effectively?
With the Eye on Earth global service, we have launched a major initiative to innovate ways in which environmental data and information can be exchanged. Eye on Earth is a global public web service for creating and sharing environmental information. Examples of the wide range of potential users include policy and decision makers, environmental organisations, emergency responders, GIS professionals, the scientific community and citizens. The web service is facilitated by EEA, technology leaders, cutting-edge innovations and cloud technology. Eye on Earth applies principles in line with the principles of SEIS regarding the collection, exchange and use of environmental data and information such as managing information as close as possible to its source; collecting information once and sharing with others for many purposes; and using open software standards for sharing.

During the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi, which is scheduled to be held from 12-15 December 2011, we will be launching the Eye on Earth Network. Its goal is to collect and share vast amounts of environmental data and information from a wide diversity of sources. This will help expand and improve the environmental knowledge base, especially for Europe’s environmental community, as additionally for the global community. Online Web applications will also allow users to manipulate the collected information to create new knowledge, without the need for technical expertise. Much of the website will be open and accessible to anyone in the world. It will also have ‘sub-sites’ that can be managed by, for example, organisations or countries. We will have our own sub-site. Similar to YouTube, data and information can be shared within closed groups or with the entire Eye on Earth network.