A special Task Force, set up to deliver "timely, relevant and reliable" environmental information, has drawn up its plans for turning this dream into a reality using the latest information technology.
Governments which have signed the Aarhus Convention, named after the Danish town where the agreement was agreed in June 1998, have pledged to give their citizens straight- forward and understandable information on everything from recycling rates and river pollution to the emissions from industry.
Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which has been partly responsible for creating the special high tech Task Force, said:"Meeting the environmental challenges of the new millennium requires the full participation of all sectors of society. But individuals cannot play their part unless they have relevant environmental information that they can easily access and trust".
"I welcome the Task Force's blueprint for how this will be achieved. The Internet, satellite television and the other wonders of the modern telecommunications age now offer us the chance to deliver access to environmental information across the globe and to remote, rural, areas," he said.
The Task Force's strategy has been agreed at its first meeting, held in Arendal, Norway, and based on an initiative led by Austria with support from the Norwegian government.
It is planned to develop national computer "portals or gateways" from where the public can get information on a range of relevant and pressing environmental concerns.
Other plans include giving people and organizations the opportunity to comment on the environmental impact of national, regional and local development plans such as those covering port, housing, mining and factory developments to ones on forestry, agriculture and water.
The Task Force, which is made up of government officials and non-governmental groups, will alsostudy how they can deliver access to environmental justice.
This is another key part of the Aarhus or United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.
The meeting, which was attended by more than sixty environmental information professionals, policy makers, and Information Technology experts from more than 30 governments within the pan-European region, also involved Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from USA, UK and Israel.
It was concluded that efforts should focus on helping public authorities to develop the necessary, Information Technology, expertise to deliver sound and timely environmental information and electronic methods for public participation in environmental decisions.
Efforts should also focus on developing common approaches, standards and technologies for disseminating such information through the Internet.
It was agreed that for the Convention to operate effectively, public awareness of the Convention itself needed to be raised. The electronic media, such as television and radio, are to be enlisted to achieve this goal.
The Task Force is to work with NGOs, the mass media and other relevant users to ensure the quality of the environmental information delivered.
A crucial part of the strategy is to promote public access centres in countries where telecommunications are still in their infancy. Such centres may include local government buildings, ministries, post offices and libraries.
For more information please contact: Nick Nuttall, Media Officer, UNEP, P.O.Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: 254 2 623381, mobile, 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail: email@example.com or Tore Brevik, UNEP Spokesman/Director, Communications and Public Information, in Nairobi on Tel: 254 2 623292, fax: 254 2 623927, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Contacts: Gerard Cunningham, UNEP-Infoterra network, Division of Early Warning and Assessment, on Tel: 254 2 623275, fax: 254 2 624269, e-mail: email@example.com
Sofie Flensborg, Aarhus Convention Secretariat, UNECE. Tel: 41 22 917 2650, fax: 41 22 917 0107, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jerome Simpson, Head of Information Programme, Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe on Tel: 36 26 504 039, fax: 3626 311 294, e-mail: email@example.com
Notes to editors: The first meeting of the Task Force was held in Arendal, Norway on March 8- 9,
The event was hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Environment and streamed via the Internet by the organizers, GRID-Arendal www.grida.no
The Task Force agreed to continue its work in a "virtual" environment via an electronic discussion forum hosted by the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) at www.rec.org/e-aarhus.
The Task Force was established in July 2000 based on a proposal by the REC, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the ECO Forum. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe hosts the secretariat for the Convention and the Task Force.
The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was signed by 39 countries and the European Community in June 1998 in Aarhus, Denmark. Ten countries are Parties to the Convention as of today. Accession to the Convention is not confined to European countries but it open to any nation on Earth.
More information about the Convention is available at: www.unece.org/env/pp/
UNEP News Release 01/37