Conference resolves to push for data access at Rio+20

Working groups on blue carbon and water said they would continue their work in the run-up to Rio+20 Copyright: Flickr/ World Bank Photo Collection

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[ABU DHABI] A conference pushing for greater access to environmental and societal data ended today (15 December) with a Declaration recognising that every individual should have appropriate access to information on the environment held by public authorities. 

The declaration, drawn up by governments and civil society organisations from around the world at the four day Eye on Earth Summit, will form part of the input to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCED) to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012.

According to Peter Gilruth, director of the early warning and assessment division of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Kenya, which co-organised of this week’s conference together with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), the declaration adds political weight to concerns about access to data.

He said it expressed the political will of "a wide mix of people aiming for a common objective", which was that sustainable development could not occur without relevant information and public access to it.

"The Summit was very successful in defining the moment and did that by bringing together a wide variety of discussions, not just experts," said Gilruth.

But the bigger challenge, he added, was "converting that moment into a movement [towards better data access] and a common mission. People here at this summit want that, but that is going to be the true test of the conference."

UNEP and EAD were the first to sign the Eye on Earth Declaration which is now open for signature by governments, organisations and individuals.

The conference included luminaries of the global environmental community,  including Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director; Sha Zukang, UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs and secretary-general of UNCED; the heads of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Global Environment Facility, European Environment Agency and International Union for Conservation of Nature; and representatives of the World Bank, International Telecommunications Union and other UN organisations, who threw their weight behind the importance of sharing global environmental data.

Also present among the 1,000 participants at the conference – billed as a preparatory meeting for Rio+20 – were local government organisations, companies such as Microsoft and Google, and representatives of the geospatial industry.

Working groups on biodiversity, blue carbon, water, disaster management, and the urban environment said they would continue their work in the run-up to Rio+20.

These sectors received additional impetus by being designated ‘special initiatives’ by the conference and will be the focus of efforts to gain momentum on the way to Rio. Thematic areas such as environmental education, inter-regional data networks and universal data access were also named as special initiatives. 

Through the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), the Abu Dhabi government said it would provide support to help the groups develop global and regional information systems geared towards their particular needs.

Gilruth emphasised that Rio would be only one milestone: "The work that is going on here must go on whether or not Rio is there. Nonetheless, the value of Rio is its accelerator, turbo-charged effect.

"It is politically important to have the role of environmental and societal information cemented as part of the results of Rio, whether as part of governance or the green economy," two of the major Rio+20 themes.

Mohammed Al Madfaei, deputy manager of EAD and a member of the working group on water, described the declaration as “a good start” on the road to Rio.


"We will be working now to make sure it will be accepted at Rio," he added.

Daniel Schneider of the US State Department, who, like a number officials arrived at the meeting directly from the international climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, said the United States strongly supported the aims of the Eye on Earth Summit. US delegates "have been here in force".