Constraints to accessing information on environmentally sound technology have included: high direct costs combined with lack of financing; barriers related to the proprietary nature of information systems or technology; lack of technical and managerial capacities; the lack of knowledge on the potential contribution of ESTs to development objectives (resulting in lack of demand). A recognized problem is the weakness of vertical information flows between environmental/cleaner production agencies at one level and industries and non-industrial users at another. The horizontal information flow among different environmental agencies seems to be smoother.
The UNEP Industry and Environment Programme Activity Centre (IE/PAC) has embarked on a strategy emphasizing information exchange to create awareness of the need for cleaner production and, thereby, increase the demand for the transfer of cleaner production technology. The Cleaner Production Programme has no legally binding international agreement nor any special financial mechanism supporting either national programmes or technology implementation, which made it difficult to promote technology transfer within the framework of the Programme. The Cleaner Production Information Clearinghouse was thus developed under the Programme with the aim of becoming an effective information dissemination system providing relevant, timely and updated information.
The important role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the transfer of ESTs, especially in developing countries, is increasingly recognized. A study commissioned by UNIDO's Industrial and Technological Information Section (INTIB) concluded that there is a clear indication of a growing demand for environmental information in SMEs in the developing countries, at the same time, a shortage in information supply. The main factors contributing to this information shortfall include the general tendency for information provided on advanced technology to be mostly targeted to the developed and not to the developing countries. Even in cases where information systems target users in developing countries, these are either large corporations, consultants or researchers at universities or research institutes which may have advanced communication capabilities. The use of advanced technology and information systems for information transfer does not take into account the limited communications and data handling capabilities in the SME sector in developing countries, and therefore restricts their access.
The [Seoul Plan of Action concerning Information Exchange about ESTs], adopted at the Workshop on the Promotion of Access to and Dissemination of Information on ESTs, suggested the establishment of a "consultative mechanism" to enhance cooperation and compatibility among existing and planned systems for the exchange of information related to ESTs, particularly those operated by - or with the support of - the UN system and under international conventions. A draft outline for the suggested consultative mechanism proposes implementation in two phases. Major actors in the first phase would be UN agencies and organizations, secretariats of the relevant international conventions, and other selected international organizations such as the OECD and the IEA. In the second phase, the mechanism may be extended to the participation of other actors, such as managers or private sector information systems related to ESTs as well as business and industry associations.