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Highlights and images for 3 March 2022

UN Environment Assembly – UNEA

World Environment Situation Room

Photo by NASA

Photo by NASA

What is the World Environment Situation Room (WESR) and how can it support policy development, decision making, and action on the environment? The WESR was officially launched at a Flagship Event at the  fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) on Thursday, 3 March. Participants were introduced to this new system offering open-access data, information, and knowledge on the environment. The event was held both in-person in Nairobi and online.

The event was moderated by Shereen Zorba, Head of the Secretariat of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment (UN-SPBF). She emphasized that big data is critical because “we can’t manage what we can’t measure.” Noting that 68% of the Sustainable Development Goals have inadequate data, she highlighted the need to address these type of gaps.

Shereen Zorba, Head, Secretariat of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment

Shereen Zorba, Head, Secretariat of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen called for data to be accessible not just to experts but to the wider public. Remarking that “we have oceans of data but drops of information,” she said WESR’s goal is to offer a user-centric, user-friendly, demand-driven platform that leverages data into government offices, classrooms, mayors’ offices, and even dining table conversations. Noting the challenge of a lack of confidence in data available on the internet, she said the WESR can use the trusted UN “blue flag” to build confidence. She pronounced WESR a turning point to make trusted data available to policymakers and decision makers.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme

Leila Benali, UNEA-6 President and Morocco’s Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, hoped WESR would deliver credible, independent and trustworthy information, help bridge the digital divide, and support multilateralism.

Leila Benali, incoming UNEA-6 President and Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, Morocco

Alexandre Caldas, UNEP’s Chief of Country Outreach, Technology, Innovation and Big Data, said WESR was about providing quality, validated, near real-time data. He demonstrated how WESR could show live or near live data globally, regionally, nationally, and locally on a wide range of metrics, from forest fires to carbon dioxide emissions, the ozone layer, sea ice cover, water, and many others. Stressing that WESR provides “data for action,” he said it had been piloted in 60 countries so far.

Alexandre Caldas, UN Environment Programme

Jian Liu, Director of UNEP’s Science Division, highlighted the importance of data for monitoring SDG goals, adding that he hoped countries would take strong ownership of WESR.

Estonia’s Deputy Secretary General at the Ministry of Environment, Kaupo Heinma, stressed the importance of big data, citing the example of the UNEA-5 agreement to develop an international treaty on plastics, which he said would require effective data. He drew attention to the Data for the Environment Alliance (DEAL) and an event on this scheduled for 4 March at UNEA-5.

Kaupo Heinma, Deputy Secretary General at the Ministry of Environment, Estonia

Joshua Wycliffe, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Waterways and Environment, Fiji, said in a time of great uncertainty, from biodiversity loss to the climate emergency, better big data can be invaluable. He imagined its value in providing trustworthy data for judicial processes and supporting government innovation, and congratulated the WESR team on its successful pilot phase.    

Mariano Castro Sánchez-Moreno, Vice Minister of Environmental Management of Peru, said science-based information is a permanent requirement for sustainable development, and is even more essential in times of crisis or emergencies. He stressed the importance of capacity building for developing countries, especially with the growth in international obligations.  

Jerome Ochieng, Principal Secretary for ICT and Innovation, Kenya, said “data is the new gold mine, the new oil.” He highlighted Kenya’s creation of a national data center and urged more discussion on private sector involvement and data privacy.

Jerome Ochieng, Principal Secretary for ICT and Innovation, Kenya

Ermira Fida, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Secretariat, outlined the complexities of preparing IPCC reports involving hundreds of scientists, tens of thousands of reports, and large amounts of data supported by the IPCC data distribution center.

Miguel Belló Mora, CEO, Atlantic International Research Center, highlighted the importance of high-resolution and satellite data, and noted his organization’s work to strengthen such data.

Sonja Leighton-Kone, Acting Deputy Director, UNEP, said “we know that what we don’t measure doesn’t get valued.” She invited all countries to participate in the WESR and join this growing and important partnership. She said we should “remove the blindfold” on decision making by supporting big data.

Sonja Leighton-Kone, Acting Deputy Executive Director, UN Environment Programme

In the subsequent question-and-answer session, Alexandre Caldas responded to a question on citizen science by saying he could see some applications, although it would be required to meet the needed standards. Other participants also highlighted the value of citizen science, while several comments embraced the importance of access to information and environmental justice.

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