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Eye on Earth Summit
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Eye on Earth Summit

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A crucial tool to “green” the world’s economy, the World Bank said, is to move to a new way of accounting for national wealth that takes the value of ecosystem services into account.

For the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), better control of legal trade and a more effective fight against illegal trade in species is key to protect biodiversity. What links these objectives is the need for accessible, open and rich data – a point repeatedly made by the representatives of the five specialist working groups that are developing the Eye on Earth Special Initiatives.

And Rob Swann, the only man to have walked to both the South and North Poles, reminded delegates of the leadership role they must play as individuals to succeed in changing the world.

These were some of the highlights of Monday afternoon’s session of the Eye on Earth Abu Dhabi 2011 Summit and Exhibition, a joint initiative of the Government of Abu Dhabi and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Summit has convened leaders from the worldwide geospatial data movement to sketch a roadmap for the better integration of the world’s flood of environmental and societal data for the benefit of all, and especially of emerging economies.

Following the initial opening of the Summit yesterday morning by H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the Secretary-General of Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi , delegates got down to business in the afternoon by focussing on three of key issues that must be tackled to move the world’s economy to a more sustainable point: how to financially account for the services that ecosystems provide, how to protect the world’s dwindling stock of threatened species from overexploitation, and how to bring users and citizens to the centre of the ongoing geospatial data revolution.

World Bank on Environmental Data Access
Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s Vice President of Sustainable Development, was a young activist at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Back then, it was mostly attended by environment ministers. But today we know that sustainable development involves many other branches of government, from finance to education. At the Earth Summit in 1992the debate was about North-South (developed-developing world) financial and technology transfers. Twenty years ago, the aim was development. Now, it is about green, sustainable, inclusive growth.

“But each of these issues is being redefined by climate change, especially for the vulnerable and poor in developing countries,” said Kyte. The World Bank calculates that climate change is already costing Africa 5% of GDP growth every year. This suggests that financing priorities should change. “Sixty per cent of Africa’s farmers are women, but they only get 5 per cent of the financial credits. Yet they invest these credits far more productively – in seeds, inputs, and their children’s education.”
All of this needs better data. “After 20 years, we in the World Bank have put a value on open, accessible data. We believe in it. We have seen that it is possible to reduce poverty, restore ecosystems and generate extraordinary growth,” Kyte said.

CITES on Data Collection and Access
Hundreds of millions of people around the world harvest wildlife. They depend on the biodiversity for their livelihoods and survival, most particularly in local and indigenous communities. But how do we know that we are harvesting wildlife in a sustainable manner? Who is keeping the data, analysing it, sharing it, and how?

We need indicators to measure the impact of taking species from the wild, to regulate their sustainable use, and to understand how species keep ecosystems healthy. And measuring against these indicators is dependent on up-to-date data, the availability of analytical tools, and providing open and transparent access to data and information.

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, does this by regulating international trade in close to 35,000 species of plants and animals. Trade is only prohibited for 3% of these species.For the other 97%, trade is regulated in an attempt to be sure it is sustainable.

But the illegal trade in wildlife is attracting transnational, organised crime because it is so profitable, and so large: up to US$10 billion per year. The value of rhino horn on the black market now exceeds the price of gold. And it is driving some species to extinction. The consortium which is fighting this scourge, which also includes INTERPOL and the World Bank, is taking the fight against wildlife crime to another level through sharing data, analysis, intelligence, enforcement techniques and resources.

CITES, under whose auspices over 850,000 trade documents a year are drawn up for legal trade, is developing an electronic trade documentation system. This creates an up-to-the minute indicator of biodiversity use. And it helps tackle illegal trade. But capacity is required to use data and information in decision making. Yet, more remains to be done. “Overexploitation through illegal and unsustainable international trade is happening right now at a scale that poses an immediate risk to biodiversity. Responding to this risk has clear agreed global biodiversity benefits, as well as local benefits,” said CITES Secretary-General, John Scanlon.

The chairs of the five working groups that are preparing the Eye on Earth Special Initiatives agreed that technology is progressing so rapidly that soon, for example, there will be sensors almost everywhere where there are people, and beyond. Everyone will soon be able to become an actor in a global environmental data system. But for this to become a reality, a number of hurdles must still be overcome. The biggest, for several panellists, was the lack of access to information laws, especially in Africa. The tools used to share and analyse data are still far from user friendly. And better metadata for crowdsourced information is essential to make it valuable.

Brazillian Vice-Minister of the Environment

The Brazilian Vice-Minister of the Environment, Dr Aspasia Camargo, agreed. "Data is not information and information is not data. We all know that. Information requires hypothesis, analysis, diagnosis, interpretation and conclusions. Information, is also and above all, an important tool of planning, especially [for] our chaotic unsustainable cities. President Bill Clinton reminded us last June in Sao Paolo that what cannot be measured cannot be managed.

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