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A multi-million dollar programme to bridge the environmental data gap between, and within, developed and developing countries was launched today at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

Conceived by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI) is a direct response to calls made a decade ago at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to generate high quality information about the Earth's ecosystem.

It is hoped that AGEDI will prove particularly useful for developing countries, which currently lack the capacity to produce comprehensive data on their natural resources.

"[No matter how] strongly we are committed to ensuring the sustainable use of our planet's resources, the lack of accurate environmental data from the developing world has always been an obstacle," said Ian Johnson, the World Bank's vice-president for environmentally and socially sustainable development.

AGEDI has received initial funding of US$5 million from the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency of Abu Dhabi, which hopes to mobilise a further US$25 million from other donors. The initiative already has the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and now intends to open a dialogue with the Global Environment Facility.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of UNEP, who will be signing an agreement with the UAE in Johannesburg tonight, said, "We see AGEDI as playing a crucial role in bridging [the environmental data] gap and helping to measure progress towards environmental and sustainable development goals."

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