Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Timely, relevant and reliable information on the environment is absolutely necessary for decision makers to respond to the environmental problems of our time.” Some 70 pieces of EU environmental legislation require member state public authorities to collect ecological data and report on specific aspects of the environment. This is an enormous amount of information, says the commission, that cannot currently be cross-referenced in one “system of systems”.
“At present,” said the commission in a statement, “this wealth of information is neither made available in a timely manner nor in a format that policy makers and the public can readily understand and use.” The system could be used to enable real-time data to be delivered to decision-makers in the event of emergencies such as forest fires, floods or droughts. Additionally, over the longer term, the cross-referencing of data streams would be used to help member states adapt to climate change, tackle water scarcity, and reverse diminishing biodiversity.
In the commission’s draft communication on the subject, the commission describes its hope that the SEIS would spur on similar developments in international conventions. When asked about the cost of the proposed system, commission spokesperson Barbara Helfferich said that bringing together all the various elements is “all a bit of an informatics nightmare, but it’s quite exciting.” “But this does mean that we’re just laying out our intentions at the moment, so it’s too early yet to attach detailed costs to the proposed system.” Nonetheless, funding will come from LIFE+ – the community’s financial instrument for the environment, the competitiveness and innovation framework programme and structural funds.
To develop a fully interoperable network, the commission is to investigate the currently existing reporting mechanisms. Furthermore, whatever system is ultimately developed, said Ms Helfferich, it has to remain ‘closest to the source’. That means the information should remain decentralised and as close to the original collector of the data yet connected both to public authorities and citizens across Europe. Environmentalists cautiously welcomed the move: “We agree with the premise of better reporting systems in Europe,” said Friends of the Earth Europe. “But we’ll have to wait and see what this means in practice.”