A series of environmental crises in recent years has necessitated supply of information to increase awareness and knowledge of environmental degradation and its implications upon the complex systems of our planet. Collection, dissemination, and accessibility of environmental information is considered of great benefit to the tasks at hand, including establishment and/or strengthening of environmental information systems at the national level. Dissemination of information from existing programmes may be facilitated and encouraged among interested countries and local institutions. Governments at the appropriate level, and with the support of the relevant international and regional organizations, may promote information exchange and cooperation with respect to national planning and programming among affected countries, inter alia, through networking.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
Paragraph 18 of the UN/ECE 1998 Arhus Declaration recognizes that mechanisms for coordinated monitoring, data collection, processing and management of environmental information in the European region are still inadequate. The declaration recommends a high priority be given to improving these mechanisms as well as the state of environmental information to support decision-making and to improve the availability of reliable environmental information to the public. With this in mind, it calls for closer cooperation between all governments, organizations and existing information and observation networks.
In response to the 1972 Stockholm Conference's call for an international mechanism for the exchange of environmental information, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) set up the International Referral System (IRS), later called INFOTERRA. INFOTERRA operates through a network of institutions, designated by governments to act as national focal points (NFP). Each NFP prepares a "who's who" of environmental expertise in its country and selects the best sources for inclusion in INFOTERRA's International Directory. INFOTERRA is currently the largest environmental information system in the world that links national and international institutions and experts. Its network covers 149 countries and its International Directory includes 6,500 institutions. INFOTERRA has also established a network of centres of excellence which are contracted to answer environmental queries forwarded to them. They include UNEP's GEMS, GRID, IRPTC and Environment PACs. Global Resource Information Database (GRID) was launched within the framework of GEMS in 1985 and became a Programme Activity Centre in 1991.
GRID uses computer technology to compile geographically-referenced environmental data collected by other organizations, to supply these to GRID users, and to help nations and institutions to acquire geographic information systems (GIS) and related satellite image-analysis technology so that GRID can develop into a global environmental information exchange network. GRID operates through seven regional centres. Each serves as a kind of environmental switchboard to provide data to users in its region. GRID projects have included estimating the number of elephants left in Africa, setting up an environmental database in Uganda, and evaluating new methods of using satellite data to map and monitor the tropical forests.
In the case of UNESCO, action in support of this strategy involves collecting, reviewing and disseminating data on environmental issues and responses to them.
Telecommunication and computer software innovations such as INTERNET and their increasing usage are continuing to facilitate the dissemination of and accessibility to environmental information.
The mission statement of the European Environmental Agency (EEA) concentrates on providing environmental information. The EEA provides a number of products on environmental issues and the state of the environment in the EU. One of the tasks of the EEA is to 'ensure broad dissemination and accessibility'. The EEA gathers its information through a wide range national agencies and European Topic Centres. The results are used primarily by DG XI and other EU institutions. Due to the policy of publicising all the information they provide, their products are also used by other groups in society. Others are encouraged to submit their own data if they feel they can contribute.