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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 17:25 GMT
UN launches one-stop green website
Unep website
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby in Nairobi

In a move it claims is "democratising and revolutionary", the UN Environment Programme (Unep) has launched a network portal intended to transform access to information about green issues.

The site uses capabilities Unep says were "previously limited to military intelligence agencies". It allows users to create their own maps, and to add facts and figures to amplify the information on display.

And soon it will allow users anywhere in the world to see what is happening in their own immediate neighbourhood.

Unep.net has been developed with industry, academic institutions, governments and non-governmental organisations.

Green screens

Unep.net was created by Dr Tim Foresman, director of Unep's division of early warning and assessment. "By making scientific facts and data about the Earth's environment easily accessible and reported, we hope to enhance the ability of decision makers to use accurate and up-to-date information," he said. "Better information should lead to better management of the planet's resources."


Instead of drowning in data, I'm sailing through information

Dr Tim Foresman, Unep.net creator
Introducing the site, the executive director of Unep, Dr Klaus Toepfer, said: "Please don't ask me for technical details. I have absolutely no idea how this works. When it comes to technology of this sort, I am completely blind. But what Unep.net is doing is very high on our agenda."

The new site is in effect a one-stop shop, bringing together a wealth of environmental information from a range of different sites and sources.

    Unep.net hosts:
  • national and regional environmental profiles
  • an atlas of protected areas, allowing them to construct their own maps
  • a list of information clearing houses
  • early warning of natural disaters like floods
  • demonstrations of changes over time, for instance in land use
Dr Foresman said: "This is real cutting-edge stuff. You can ask it any question - about chemicals, say, or biodiversity, or countries, or regions - and you can't do that with any other system apart from military ones."

Information is power

He demonstrated its reach by showing on-screen the change in the ecology of the Tigris-Euphrates basin in southern Iraq, as recorded by satellite photographs, from 1973 to 2000.

"The fertile crescent of the early 1970s had by the turn of the century become the infertile crescent. It's an international travesty. And Unep.net shows that," he said.

"I know this is going to democratise the world," Dr Foresman told BBC News Online, "I've seen it working in the US, where people used Unep.net to appreciate the extent of urban growth in the Baltimore-Washington area between 1792 and 1992."

Already Unep.net lets people see images of their own neighbourhood at various resolutions, depending on where you live. By the time of the Johannesburg conference in 2002, marking the ten year anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit the UNEP hopes to have available images of almost everywhere in the world lettign people peer into their own backyard.

"What we do, and no-one else apart from the military, is to take information from servers around the planet," said Dr Foresman, "So instead of drowning in data, I'm sailing through information."

The site was launched during this week's meeting of Unep's governing council in Nairobi.

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See also:

05 Feb 01 | Americas
UN environment meeting in Nairobi
26 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Dismay at climate summit failure
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