http://www.igc.org/habitat/docs/ied.htm



Information, Environment and Development
November 1990



Executive Summary

Overview: Effective global access to environment and development information is crucial to:

  • Meet ongoing needs for environmentally sound decision-making;
  • Enable effective public participation in the decision-making processes; and
  • Prepare for the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

Through this project the U.S. can play a key leadership role at UNCED in the effective use of information and communication technology to enable environmentally sound development.

The Problem: The problem is two-fold:

  • Massive amounts of information pertaining to environment and development issues and to the UNCED agenda exist and will be generated;
  • No comprehensive and coherent structure is available to organize that information and to make it readily accessible. The result is that decision makers are simultaneously faced with information overload and with failure to access essential information.

Project Accomplishments: By focussing attention and resources on the uses of information technology to support environmentally sound development, the project will:

  • Assemble an active forum of environment and development information experts as a catalyst for mobilizing information resources and expertise;
  • Facilitate common access to, and connectivity in, the global information infrastructure
  • Support effective organization of, and access to, information for the UNCED agenda.

The project will support the development of a public/private U.S. initiative that can be a centerpiece of the U.S contribution to UNCED.

Funds Requested: The first year budget is being requested to support an office with two full time staff and provision for consulting support, office resources, communication, travel and conferences. Half of the funds will be raised from industry, and half from charitable foundations.

Proposal

Introduction: The challenges of environment and development that constitute the basis for the UNCED agenda are taking place during a time that marks the emergence of an information revolution. One key component of the environment and development challenge is that of absorbing, digesting, and understanding a massive body of information on the impact of human behavior -- including agriculture, industry, technology and consumption -- on local, regional and global ecosystems. A second component is that of enabling access to that information in a way that on how to alter human behavior so that it can regain a balance with the natural world.

The intelligent application of information technology and the art and science of organizing effective access to information can support a major breakthrough in our ability to come to terms with the challenge of environment and development.

Why this project is needed: The UNCED agenda presents a complex array of environmental problems and cross-sectoral development issues in an institutional, legal and financial context for developing and implementing policy. A large and growing body of data on environmental and economic conditions and on environmentally sound processes exists. Access to the data is essential to facilitate environmentally sound development. However, there is no comprehensive framework to enable ready access to a coherent body of these data. Likewise, there is a substantial body of people and organizations with pertinent knowledge and expertise, but no comprehensive cross-referenced directory to facilitate access to these sources. Computer-based electronic access to the data is a key to resolution of the information issues, but the present electronic information infrastructure is increasingly composed of separate electronic networks without adequate provision for effective information interchange between the networks.

Information technology radically transforms human ability to compile, organize, synthesize and gain access to massive amounts of data in a manner that allows an understanding of the interrelatedness of environmental, economic and human systems and processes, and that can creates a basis for environmentally sound decisions. Information technology also creates powerful new opportunities for public participation in, and access to, decision making processes.

In addition to its role in developing an effective information strategy for the UNCED agenda and issues of environment and development, this project also addresses the need for the U.S. to play a leadership role in UNCED, building on the existing commitment of the U.S. delegation to UNCED to technology transfer and public participation.

Goal: To mobilize the power of information technology and the creative energy and vision of people and organizations in the information business to develop and implement an information-based framework for environmentally sound development and for UNCED.

Objectives:

  • Develop an active forum to address the role of information technology in supporting environmentally sound development, and to mobilize resources and expertise;
  • Facilitate enhancement to the global information infrastructure to overcome barriers to common access to environment and development information, and to support public participation in environmentally sound development decisions;
  • Development and implementation of a framework for organizing UNCED-related information within the matrix of the environmental, cross-sectoral and institutional framework of the UNCED agenda.

Activities:

  • Develop an active environment and development information forum:
    • Assemble an Advisory Committee composed of information and communication experts from non-government organizations, the information and communication industry, and government;
    • Compile a directory/database of key individuals, organizations and businesses who are engaged in environment and development information activities;
    • Compile pertinent environment and development data sources, and facilitate coordination among these sources and of access to the data contained within them;
    • Mobilize additional resources and expertise, primarily from sources within the information and communications business.
  • Facilitate enhancements to the global information infrastructure to support access to environment and development information and decisions:
    • Develop systematic mapping and analysis of existing global information infrastructure, and identify barriers to effective access to information;
    • Coordinate with sustainable development networks advocated by UNCED Secretariat;
    • Assess institutional, legal and financial implications of an effective, cooperative global information infrastructure.
  • Develop and implement strategies for organizing UNCED-related information:
    • Develop and facilitate an effective electronic conferencing framework for UNCED, and facilitate active involvement of people and organizations in the electronic conferences;
    • Facilitate a process for on-line input and access to the preparation of the US National Report for UNCED;
    • Broaden access to receiving and communicating information; integrate electronic information dissemination with print and voice distribution;
    • Identify ways of utilizing information technology and methodology to support sustainable development and natural resource management and protection.

Evaluation: The [to be] attached chart [will] show the proposed schedule for implementation of the project activities. Measurement of project accomplishments against the schedule will be the primary basis for evaluation.

Conclusion: The challenge of environment and development is an immense one; a key to its resolution lies in an effective strategy for the creative, intelligent application of available systems of knowledge. This project will engage the emerging power of information technology and the creative energy of its proponents to develop and implement such a strategy.

This proposal was prepared for the Information Committee of the U.S. Citizens' Network on UNCED in November 1990 by Robert Pollard. For additional information, contact infohabitat@igc.apc.org.

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