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Satellite data stimulates major environmental policies

Ashbindu Singh


Ashbindu Singh
Regional Coordinator
UNEP Division of Early Warning & Assessment – North America
Washington, usa
Email: [email protected]

What are the key environmental issues of the world as identified by UNEP? What are the main programmes/ strategies to tackle these issues?

UNEP has identified climate change, land degradation, forest loss and degradation, biodiversity loss and habitat fragmentation, freshwater access and pollution, marine and coastal zones degradation, atmospheric pollution, urban and industrial contamination, and waste as key environmental issues. However, we found both – striking similarities and dissimilarities among regional environmental priorities. Environmental risks to human health are high on the priority list in North America and transboundary regional environmental problems and climate change are major concerns in Europe. Of more immediate concern in the developing world is poverty alleviation and food security.

There are a large number of programmes, policies and Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA) to address environmental issues. An analysis of policy responses indicates that typically these responses focus first on institutional and constitutional issues, and then on the implementation and enforcement of often disjointed sectoral environmental legislation and regulations. Subsequent actions dedicated to developing comprehensive strategic and integrated plans for the protection of the environment, such as National Environmental Action Plans, and an array of concerted command-and-control measures. Later, attention has been given to introducing market-based incentives to research, creating conducive environments for voluntary, flexible, and innovative actions, and stimulating increased participation and commitment by all sectors of society.

Policy response is often constrained in developing regions by weak institutions, insufficient human and financial resources, ineffective legislation, and a lack of compliance monitoring and enforcement capabilities.

What was the primary objective behind the creation of UNEP’s Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA)? What are the division’s primary activities?

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading programme responsible for environmental governance in the UN system and, therefore, plays a crucial role in carrying out the mandate and achieving the original purposes of the UN. The UN’s General Assembly Resolution 2997 (1972) set out the mandates of UNEP and its Governing Council. They include:

  • To promote international co-operation in the field of the environment and to recommend, as appropriate, policies to this end;
  • To keep under review the world environment situation in order to ensure that emerging environmental problems of wide international significance receive adequate consideration by governments; and
  • To promote the contribution of the relevant international scientific and other professional communities to the acquisition, assessment and exchange of environmental knowledge and information.

The Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) is the division responsible to “keep under review the world environment situation.” It conducts scientific assessment, provides early warning information, the access and delivery of environmental data and information to the international community and capacity building. In implementing the mission, DEWA focuses on three strategic directions:

  • Strengthening the scientific base for decision-making by undertaking timely, policy relevant and scientifically credible environmental assessments.
  • Enabling governments to develop improved environmental data and information systems for early warning and decision making by supporting monitoring and data collection systems and developing indicators for assessments and reporting.
  • Supporting environmental governance for sustainable development by strengthening cooperation with and building capacity of national, sub-regional, regional and international institutions for assessment, monitoring, data management and reporting.

Among its many activities, DEWA is responsible for producing UNEP’s flagship publication Global Environment Outlook (GEO) report, the GEO Yearbook, regional and subregional state of environment reports, and providing support to international reports such as Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Global International Water Assessment and others.

It works closely with other UNEP Divisions, UN agencies, the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the scientific community.



The pair of images shows the retreat of Alaska’s Colombia Glacier between about 1980 (left) and in 2005 (right). (Source: www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov)