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Norway and UNEP Announce New Environmental Initiative for Africa

Oslo/Arendal/Nairobi, 20 December 2001- A new and strengthened relationship between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Government of Norway was announced today with the internationally-renowned GRID-Arendal facility, specialists in mapping, telecommunications and environmental early warning, elevated to the status of a full UNEP centre.

Meanwhile, Norway today also pledged additional, multi-million dollar, funding for a string of UNEP initiatives focused on Africa and in the run up to the crucial World Summit on Sustainable Development taking place later in 2002.

The announcements were made at a ceremony held at the Ministry of Environment in Oslo where Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, and Hilde Frafjord Johnson, Norway's Minister of Foreign Affairs, signed a Framework Agreement cementing closer ties.

Mr Toepfer said: " I am delighted that GRID-Arendal and its skilled and highly professional staff have become a full UNEP centre. It has been a model of how a non-profit body, with strong Government support, can make an important and effective contribution to the work of the United Nations. I am confident that the new status can only enhance our relationship for the good of all involved. Indeed I believe we have reached a new milestone in the development of UNEP's capacity and reputation for providing timely, high quality environmental information, for use by the UN, governments and other key decision-makers".

Tim Foresman, Director of UNEP's Division for Early Warning and Assessment said: "GRID-Arendal is UNEP's key centre with regards to building not only premier environmental information networks, but also in assisting developing nations reach their potential for using this network to build their capacity for assessing the environment and improving their options for sustainable development".

Svein Tveitdal, Managing Director of GRID-Arendal, said: "Our dedicated staff is inspired and strongly motivated with GRID-Arendal being an official UNEP centre. It is my strong belief that GRID-Arendal in its new capacity will continue to increase its capacity in mobilizing resources and increase its capacity in serving UNEP and UNEP's users with the best possible environmental information for better policy-making and action".

Today the Government of Norway also gave details of its new initiative with UNEP in Africa. It will strengthen capacity in African countries in environmental information management in support of national, regional and global environmental assessment

This new program, which will be presented at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg next year, will connect all countries to an African Environmental Information Network. This will be designed to provide a seamless environmental information structure for the continent, and significantly reduce the digital divide with respect to access to environmental information in Africa. The program will be implemented by GRID-Arendal in close co-operation with UNEP's Division for Early Warning and Assessment and UNEP's Regional office for Africa.

Notes to Editors: GRID-Arendal was officially launched in 1989 by Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian Prime Minister, who is now Director General of the World Health Organization. It was created in the wake of the World Commission on Environment and Development.

At the time Dr Brundtland said: "Knowledge of the state of the environment is a key element in the formation of sound environmental policies. Reliable information about changes in the global environment becomes increasingly important as a basis for action, both nationally and internationally".

From the start the centre has pioneered the use of information technology in bridging the gap between science and policy making.

At the World Summit in Rio in 1992 the centre launched Norway as the first national electronic indicator based State of the Environment report. Three years later, Norway's Minister of the Environment Thorbjørn Berntsen launched the first, national state of the environment report, on the Internet, produced by GRID-Arendal.

The same year the centre was given the responsibility for UNEP's environmental networking programme in Central and Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States (NIS). To date, 28 countries in this region have developed State of the Environment Reports on the Internet under the support of this programme.

The centre has also been responsible for the implementation of UNEP's satellite based telecommunication system, UNEPnet/Mercure, which in addition to providing telecommunications capacity to the UNEP headquarter in Nairobi and its regional offices, has helped Ministries of Environment in 15 developing countries with early access to the Internet and UNEP's electronic information system.

In 1999 GRID-Arendal, which currently has 50 professional staff working in Arendal in southern Norway as well as in branches that are co-located in UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya and in Geneva, was appointed as UNEP's key Polar centre with particular responsibility for Assessment and Early Warning of the polar environment.

One of the new responsibilities for the centre is technical coordination and overall management of UNEP's new global environmental information system UNEP.Net. GRID-Arendal also holds one of the worlds most popular web sites on environmental information. The total number of 'hits' in 2001 is expected to be around 50 million. This will now be linked in with

The upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development will also be one of the key discussions at UNEP's Global Ministerial Environment Forum scheduled to take place in Cartagena, Columbia, in mid-February 2002.

For More Information Please Contact: Tore J Brevik, UNEP Spokesman/Director of the Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, e-mail: Tore J or Nick Nuttall, Head of Media UNEP, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail: or Svein Tveitdal, Managing Director of GRID-Arendal, on Tel: 47 905 89032, e-mail:

UNEP News Release 01/124

Saturday 20 Jan 2001
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