Press releases

Monday 23 Aug 1999

Statement by the Managing Director Svein Tveitdal at the GRID-Arendal 10th anniversary

23 Aug 1999 - On behalf of the staff and myself, we are honoured that all of you were able to come to Arendal today and participate in our 10th anniversary celebrations.

We are also very proud that the two UN leaders, Dr. Brundtland and Dr. Töpfer have chosen Arendal as the venue for signing the new co-operative agreement between UNEP and WHO.

To quote the historic video on GRID-Arendal you just watched: Where on earth is Arendal, and why on earth was GRID located here?

As part of a developing GIS and remote sensing group in Arendal, dealing with environmental and natural resource issues, we read with great interest the report from the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987.

This report recommended to strengthen UNEP and GRID. We found the GRID mission very meaningful and relevant, and we immediately started work to become members of the GRID family. At that time other centres were already established in Nairobi, Geneva, Bangkok and Sioux Falls.

To day I would like to express my sincere appreciation to those who shared our vision at that time:

Particular thanks are due to our Prime Minister at that time, Gro Harlem Brundtland. I remember being worried that the necessary formal agreements would not be ready in time for the opening. However, as soon as you agreed to officially open the Centre our worries were over! Everybody worked day and night to make things ready.

There are two individuals I would particularly like to honour today, two people that are sadly no longer with us. The first, Asbjørn Andersen, was MP for this region at the time, and chair of the parliamentarian group preparing the Paper on the Norwegian follow-up to the World Commission. He ensured that the establishment of GRID-Arendal was included as part of Norway's official follow-up to the report.

The second, also MP from this region and Mayor of Moland, Thor Lund, who believed in us, provided local funding, helped us open doors in Oslo, and travelled with us to achieve support whenever necessary.

Ten years later - what have we achieved? Where have we made a difference?

Before joining UNEP/GRID, I worked in the private sector where the key and simple indicator of success was the financial result. Measuring performance in a non- profit institution is much more complex. How successfully do we implement our mission? And what is the impact of what we do?

Our core mission is to support UNEP in providing decision-makers and the public with improved access to high quality environmental information.

The first step we took to implement this mission was to pioneer the use of information technology. Back in 1990, as you saw on the video, we had the vision that users in the future could receive environmental information over the telephone line. And we proposed to the Norwegian authorities, to prepare an electronic Norwegian State of the Environment report for the Rio Summit.

This worked. Norway came to Rio as the only country with an electronic State of the Environment report - on 4 diskettes - solid based on indicators recommended by UNEP and the OECD. Three years later, an update of this report was launched by Norway's Minister of Environment, Thorbjørn Berntsen, as the first comprehensive national State of the Environment report available on the Internet.

This Norwegian Internet report became a model that over 30 countries, participating in UNEP's ENRIN program, have followed - most of them in Central and Eastern Europe.

We have recently started a program to provide tools also for cities that want to prepare their own environmental reports on the Internet. WHO, and their healthy cities program, is one of the co-operative partners. So is Habitat, EEA, ICLEI and the UGLAND group. As a first output from this program the Mayors of Arendal and Turku, are here today with Dr. Brundtland and Dr. Töpfer to officially launch the reports from their cities on the Internet.

By the year 2002 we hope that more than 1000 cities will use this tool to provide their citizens with updated and comparable information on their city's environment.

In the reports from the Arctic Council's working groups you will find maps and graphics produced at GRID-Arendal covering many Arctic environmental issues. The corridors here today are filled with examples from work of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP).

GRID-Arendal's web site is one of the most popular environmental web sites in Europe, with close to 100 000 hits per week. As a result of our capacity building and training programs, many of our government and city partners are establishing their own web-sites and are seeing an increasing number of users.

UNEP has chosen to outsource the operation of its global communication network to GRID-Arendal. This network has for the last two years carried the majority of e-mail and environmental Internet traffic from Nairobi to the rest of the world. Through this unique green communication network, UNEP is helping governments, with previously poor connection opportunities, gain access to Internet. An example is China's National Environment Protection Agency, which is using UNEPnet to disseminate environmental information, including their new electronic State of Environment report, to users world-wide. This Chinese activity has been supported by NORAD.

In one hour's time the State Secretary will buy the first UNEP publication sold online. From that point on, all of UNEP's books and reports will be available to purchase directly on the Internet through a new on-line book-shop established at GRID-Arendal

As a result of all these activities, we are confident that we contribute to the widespread distribution of environmental information to both policy makers and public in both the developed and the developing world.

But, have people been made more aware of environmental issues? Have policy-makers made better environmental decisions? Can we see more environmental action taken as a result of our effort to disseminate information?

On behalf of GRID-Arendal alone I have to be modest and say no. But as part of a larger UNEP team I dare to say yes.

Good examples of UNEP's success in bridging the gap between scientists and decision-makers can be seen in the Climate Convention and the Montreal Protocol. Humans cannot sense the impact from global warming or reduction of the ozone layer. Communication between scientists and policy makers is the only way to catalyse action to protect the atmosphere. Scientifically reliable and easy understandable information is vital in this process. We are working with UNEP's climate group and the Climate secretariat to prepare such information, some of which you can see at our exhibition today.

By participating in many of UNEP's programs, where tangible results can be seen, we know that we also have an impact on policy-making and action.

10 years ago GRID-Arendal was established, as an independent, non-governmental foundation under national legislation dedicated to support a UN agency. This represented a new model within UNEP and probably also within the UN as a whole.

This unique structure was initially accepted with some trepidation and uncertainty. The initial challenges that faced us were to find out whether we could operate effectively within the administrative requirements of the UN system, and, whether such a new institutional model could work effectively within UNEP's global programme of work.

After 10 years of experience, I am fully convinced of the potential of this model in a UN framework. Our co-operation with UNEP's HQ and Regional Offices, in particular the Regional Office of Europe, is excellent and expanding. Our mission and affiliation with UNEP is attractive, and we are able to recruit international staff with excellent skills, experience and motivation. And we manage to raise the major part of our budget from external resources, thus expanding UNEP's scope for fund raising and operational capacity.

So where do we go from here?

Later today, UNEP and the Norwegian Ministry of Environment will renew the agreement that will secure GRID-Arendal's core activities for another 5 years.

We will continue our support to State of the Environment reporting on a global basis, and contribute to more countries and cities having environmental information more readily available for policy makers and citizens.

We intend to keep our position as one of Europe's most popular environmental web sites.

Discussions have been initiated concerning co-operation between GRID-Arendal and the newly established UNEP-led Global International Waters Assessments, GIWA, with its secretariat located in Arendal's friendship city Kalmar, in Sweden. GIWA will address the environment in 66 regional seas in all parts of the world, and GRID-Arendal might be able to support this important initiative with their information management needs.

A main geographic focus for GRID-Arendal has been the Arctic, and we will today formally be appointed as UNEP's key polar centre. This is the formalisation of a long and effective programme of activity on behalf of UNEP in the Arctic community. We are proud to commence this new responsibility by hosting this afternoon's seminar on contaminants and human health in the Arctic.

With assistance from the UNEP headquarters, we are currently working together with the Arctic Council working group on Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), and the Russian Federation State committee on Environmental Protection, in preparing a proposal for a major GEF project on protecting the Arctic Biodiversity.

We have developed an excellent working collaboration with the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON).

So we hope to be able to play an increasingly positive role in the future on the protection of the Arctic environment.

We have a model that has proved to work, and the capability to mobilise the necessary resources to operate. It is my strong belief that GRID-Arendal will continue to increase its capacity in serving UNEP and UNEP's users with the best possible environmental information for better policy-making and action.

My years with GRID-Arendal so far, have been extremely interesting and inspiring. And I look forward to continue. Starting with the rest of this for me and my staff great day together with you, our main stakeholders, users and supporters.

Monday 23 Aug 1999
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