Advancing access to Earth observation information through the Aarhus Convention

Blog / May 12, 2020

Governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs and a range of other stakeholders have joined forces to develop specific Recommendations on the use of Electronic Information Tools to facilitate wider access to environmental information.

This ambitious and very timely process is taking place under the auspices of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (also referred to as the Aarhus Convention) hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The Republic of Moldova is chairing the Convention’s Task Force on Access to Information assigned with this duty. The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) was invited to contribute to this important work by sharing its rich experience in advocating for public access to Earth observation (EO) data.

The Recommendations on Electronic Information Tools aim to promote common approaches and standards to the development, maintenance and enhancement of electronic information tools to support environmental policies and decision making. GEO is pleased to be recognized as an intergovernmental partner working in this area, and looks forward to supporting the implementation of the Aarhus Convention and other relevant commitments. GEO has developed standards and approaches for broad data sharing in the Earth observation community through the Data Sharing and Data Management Principles. These principles guide and support open access to information and can serve as a reference for the development of similar open data policies.

“Effective implementation of the environmental policies in countries very much depends on the availability of well-structured, user-friendly and interoperable environmental information systems.  Such systems have great potential to support evidence-based decision-making, to identify emerging environmental and the related health risks, and to raise public awareness,” stressed Ms. Valentina Tapis, the Chair of the Convention’s Task Force on Access to Information. “Due to rapid developments in this field, exchange of good practices and lessons learnt at international level is crucial for advancing effective access to information across the region and beyond.  I welcome a valuable cooperation with the Group on Earth Observations in this regard and very much looking forward to continue the future work in synergy.”

The need for openly available and timely data on the environment was noted by the Convention’s Meeting of the Parties.  They noted that, “public access to environmental information is critical for supporting the work on a data revolution.” Parties specifically highlighted the cross-cutting nature and wide scope of environmental information and its linkages with geospatial, statistical, meteorological, health, Earth observation and other relevant information.  

The draft Recommendations are being prepared through a truly participatory process. Following the first round of consultations, when interested Governments and stakeholders had the opportunity to submit case studies and drafting proposals, the current draft Recommendations has been prepared on the basis of the responses received and made available for further consultations

Draft Recommendations will be further updated, considering the comments received, for the discussion by the Convention’s Working Group of the Parties at its next meeting (Geneva, 1-3 July 2020). The document is expected to be considered by the Meeting of the Parties, the highest decision-making body under the Convention, in October 2021.

The Aarhus Convention requires authorities to provide public with effective access to environmental information, which covers the state of elements of the environment; factors, such as substances, energy, noise and radiation; biological diversity and its components; the state of human health and safety; conditions of human life; and cultural sites and built structures. The Convention’s Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) enhances public access to information through the establishment of coherent, nationwide PRTRs. Both treaties are open for accession by all UN Member States.  The Recommendations will also support efforts in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and targets, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and relevant pledges under the framework of the Word Meteorological Organization, World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Assembly, and GEO.

In total, 46 States and the European Union are Parties to the Convention and many of them are also members of GEO. This provides a great opportunity for promoting work on electronic information tools under the Convention and future synergies in the area of open and shared data.



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