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Infoterra to make environmental information more accessible


Nairobi, November 1998

A radical re-invention of INFOTERRA, UNEP's global environmental
information exchange network, is needed if it is to meet the public
demand for better access to global environmental information in the
new millennium, according to the programme's Advisory Committee.

Meeting from 16-18 November here at the headquarters of the United
States Environmental Protection Agency, the eighth session of the
Advisory Committee called for reform of the INFOTERRA Programme based on
the concepts of the public's right to know, on the principles of the
recently adopted Aarhus Convention on access to information, and in the
spirit of the recommendations of the United Nations Secretary General's
Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements.

In a message to the meeting, the Executive Director of the United
Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, emphasized the
right of all citizens to know about their environment. Stressing
INFOTERRA's new role as UNEP's global advocate on this important
issue, he added that "UNEP, through its INFOTERRA Programme, is ready to
work in partnership with Governments and other stakeholders to improve
public access to environmental information". This, he said, "is the
logical starting point towards engaging civil society in a meaningful
participatory process resulting in sound environmental decision making".

The Committee, made up of governmental and non governmental
representatives, called for reform of INFOTERRA on three levels.
First, at the national level, it recommended greater stakeholder
participation in the provision of an integrated environmental
information service. This would be accomplished through the
establishment of a networking partnership of major environmental
information service providers and user groups.

It is envisaged that this consortium structure would involve
stakeholders from government, business, academia, centres of
excellence and non governmental organizations. It would be flexible
in size and in subject coverage depending on national priorities and
local conditions, while also being adaptable globally throughout the
INFOTERRA network of 178 member countries. There would be heavy
emphasis on new technologies for information dissemination with a
capacity building programme to assist developing countries and
countries in transition. The government designated INFOTERRA National
Focal Point would be the primary liaison between the consortium and UNEP
under a new agreement to be negotiated between UNEP and national host

Welcoming the new consortium idea, Mr. Harjit Singh, Director of
India's Environmental Information System (ENVIS), said the
decentralized multi sectoral structure reflected the ENVIS approach
which worked well in a large, diverse country such as India but was
flexible enough to be adapted to other countries. "Citizens of all
countries, large and small, have a right to know about their
environment and a flexible system was needed in each country to
guarantee public access to the information required for better
decision making", he added.

Secondly, at the regional level, the Advisory Committee called for
partnership building, with an expanded role for INFOTERRA's Regional
Service Centres. The main focus of this initiative would be to share
information and experience on global and issues. The INFOTERRA
Secretariat was

requested to re examine the role, location and organization of these
Centres in consultation with the Advisory Committee. North South
partnerships among INFOTERRA member countries was also recommended in
order to strengthen the capacities of Southern members.

Thirdly, the Advisory Committee recommended that UNEP strengthen its
INFOTERRA Secretariat to manage this revitalized global programme. A
business plan to implement the reform measures and the new structure
were required and should be developed in consultation with the
Advisory Committee. It was also recommended that the proposals for
INFOTERRA's reform be submitted to UNEP's Governing Council for
approval when it meets 15 February 1999 in Nairobi.

Mr. Jeremy Wates of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
highlighted the key role that INFOTERRA could play in implementing the
information provisions in the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information,
Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in
Environmental Matters, which was adopted this June by the member countries
of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. "Being a global network,
INFOTERRA can also carry the good practices required under the Convention
into other parts of the world", he added.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the Governments of
Austria, Botswana, Chile, China, Denmark, India, Ireland, Malaysia,
Samoa, Senegal and the United States, and non governmental
participants from EEB, Development Alternatives and Environment
Liaison Centre International (ELCI). The Organization of American
States, the US EPA and the US Department of State also sent observers. The
meeting was chaired by US EPA environmental information specialist, Dr.
Linda Spencer, representing INFOTERRA USA.

For more information, please contact:
Ms. Beth Ingraham, Information
Officer, INFOTERRA Secretariat,
UNEP Division of Environmental Information, Assessment
and Early Warning,
Nairobi, Kenya, Tel: (254 2) 624299,
Fax: (254 2) 624269

UNEP Information Note 1998
Ms. Beth Ingraham, Information Officer
The Global Environmental Information Exchange Network
Division of Environmental Information and Assessment
United Nations Environment Programme
P.O. Box 30552
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: (254-2) 624299 or 623273
Fax: (254-2) 624269
Email: [email protected] or 
[email protected]

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