Global Conference on access to Environmental Information
INFOTERRA 2000, an international conference to focus attention on the important issue of access to environmental information was held at Dublin Castle, Ireland, from 11th to 15th September this year. Public access to environmental information is becoming increasingly important in the new millennium. Access to information empowers citizens to take positive action in the areas of environmental protection and sustainable development. The conference was hosted by the Department of the Environment and Local Government of the Republic of Ireland in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Around 177 countries participated in the conference to set new directions for delivering timely and reliable environmental information to decision-makers and the public at large.
Opening the conference, Irish Environment Minister, Hon. Noel Dempsey T. D. said: “Environmental information is an essential tool to assist in bringing about the changes in lifestyle necessary to achieve a more sustainable society in the 21st century. Finding the best means of communicating the right information is a global challenge”. Ireland is committed to continuing its cooperation with UNEP to increase access to environmental information both within Ireland and also in several developing countries through the Irish Aid programme. Minister Dempsey further added that UNEP, through its revitalised global network for information exchange, UNEP-Infoterra, has played a leading role in improving access to environmental information through the development and dissemination of models of best practice”.
The conference brought together environmental information experts from all continents and representing the ministries of environment, environmental protection agencies, non-governmental organisations, inter-governmental organisations and the United Nations. The focus of the conference was the practical measures needed to establish and operate a national information service on environmental matters and in particular (a) the definition of environmental information, (b) the identification of users groups and supplies of information, (c) networking among institutional stakeholders on the supply side, (d) the infrastructure and tools needed to provide the information service, (e) the promotion and evaluation of the service.
The INFOTERRA 2000 agenda focused on policy, legal, institutional operational and technological aspects of environmental information access within the overall framework of the reform of the INFOTERRA .The agenda was structured around the INFOTERRA business plan. An international gathering of environmental information professionals offers a unique opportunity to share information and experience on access to environmental. In response to the interest expressed by United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to use the 2002 Special Session of the UN General Assembly as a timely occasion to examine the principles embodied in the convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters , the declaration calls on States to consider according to the convention or developing a similar convention at the regional or sub-regional level.
Speaking on behalf of UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toefer, Deputy Executive Director, Shafqat Kakakhel, reiterated UNEP’s commitment to partnership building among the governments, NGOs, centres of excellence and private sector stakeholders in order to increase access by all users to environmental information. This commitment is in response to several mandates articulated in Agenda 21, the Nairobi Declaration and the malmo Declaration. Mr. Kakakhel emphasise that “the UNEP-Infoterra consortium structure is a national level partnership and therefore represents the most important foundation of our global goals”.
For more information, please contact: Ms. Beth Ingraham, Information Officer, Division of Environment Information Assessment and Early Warning United Nations Environment Programme Nairobi, Kenya. [email protected] Web: www.unep.orgn
- The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as the global authority in the field of the environment, should be given full support in developing a state-of-the art global environmental Internet portal.
- Enhanced networking and coordinating mechanisms, predominantly in the form of consortia, shall strengthen partnerships, including with non-governmental organisations and private bodies, to achieve a sustainable interactive information system as well as improving international cooperation.
- The national consortia should be established, as appropriate, through memoranda of understanding between Governments of participating countries and UNEP, and should be composed of centres of excellence having the best available information on priority environmental issues.
- Participating Governments should appoint appropriate focal points for policy and operations with a view to maintaining optimal relations and delivering high-quality information and data.
- Non-governmental organisations shall be included in consortia where they are centres of excellence holding key environmental information or represent the interests of major user groups.
- Each national consortium shall promote its integrated information service in order to gain recognition in the user community.
- The information services shall provide as a two-way information flow between UNEP and the Governments of participating countries, and also among Governments of participating countries.
- National consortia, in coordination with UNEP, shall, as appropriate, use Web-based technologies and establish protocols and standards for delivering the integrated information service.
- New models for the horizontal, decentralised collection and dissemination of information should be considered in order to provide independent avenues for non-governmental organisations and other civil society actors to submit and analyse information on environmental matters of relevance to local communities.
- National focal points will seek feedback and comments from user groups on the information service that they provide.
- The enhanced global network shall be renamed UNEP Infoterra.
- Cooperation between UNEP Infoterra and other relevant bodies such as the Århus Convention secretariat and the Convention task forces is of mutual benefit and should be maintained and strengthened.
- States which are not signatories to the Århus Convention should be encouraged to consider the option of acceding to the Convention where this fits their particular circumstances, and to explore the possibility of undertaking similar initiatives in their own region or subregion, taking note of the Convention and other relevant instruments such as the Inter-American Strategy for the Promotion of Public Participation in Decision-making for Sustainable Development, as potentially useful reference documents in this context.
- The special session of the United Nations General Assembly marking the tenth anniversary of the Earth Summit should give consideration to the possibility of developing a global instrument promoting the application of principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, with broad involvement of non-governmental organisations and taking account of the Århus Convention and other regional initiatives.