10 May 2023
Venue: CICG | Room 11-12 & Online | Webex
Organization: Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, Minamata Convention on Mercury, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, United Nations Information Portal on Multilateral Environmental Agreements, Geneva Environment Network
This side event to the 2023 Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention Conference of the Parties brought together various knowledge management initiatives from Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) that contribute to facilitating the parties' work in the implementation and compliance of the respective conventions in order to accelerate environmental progress.
About this Event
This event brought together various knowledge management initiatives from Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) that contribute to facilitating the parties’ work in the implementation and compliance of the respective conventions in order to accelerate environmental progress.
The programme included a presentation of the InforMEA Portal and its newly developed negotiator’s section, which is a part of the InforMEA Initiative. The initiative is one of the largest communities of practice among MEAs, dedicated to developing harmonized and interoperable information systems for the benefit of the parties involved.
The side event featured the Minamata Convention Online Reporting Tool (ORT). The ORT has been successfully used to conduct a national reporting exercise, and the event will showcase how it can facilitate the work of focal points.
Additionally, the event covered CITES’s country profiles and compliance databases, the BRS clearing-house mechanism, and conclude with a Q&A session.
The aim of the event was to enrich the perspectives of various stakeholders regarding the applicability of these experiences in national and global contexts and hopefully, to contribute to reducing the triple planetary crises of pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss.
This side event to the 2023 Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention Conference, taking place from 1 to 12 May 2023 in Geneva, is organized by the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretariat, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the United Nations Information Portal on Multilateral Environmental Agreements (InforMEA) within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network.
By order of intervention.
Deputy Executive Secretary, BRS Secretariat
Director, Law Division, UNEP
Executive Secretary, Minamata Convention Secretariat
Chief, Information and Conference Services Branch, BRS Secretariat
Chief, Outreach and Projects Unit, CITES Secretariat
Shashika SEDARA HETTIGE
Associate Information Systems Officer, CITES Secretariat
Anna GARCÍA SANS
Communications and Knowledge Management Officer, Minamata Convention Secretariat
Physical Science Specialist, Environment and Climate Change Canada
Associate Legal Officer, Law Division, UNEP
Coordinator, Geneva Environment Network | Moderator
Live from the room
Carlos MARTIN-NOVELLA | Deputy Executive Secretary, BRS Secretariat
It’s a pleasure to be here discussing how we can support parties’ environmental action through data and knowledge management. With the rapid development of the internet and other technologies, the world is becoming ever more interconnected. In just a few decades ago, we managed to make scientific publications accessible to scientists and decision-makers around the world with just a few clicks on our internet-connected computers and to reach thousands of people across diverse audiences, even in different languages.
In recent years, our capacity for online collaboration has accelerated, particularly during and after the pandemic. We now have very powerful tools that allow us to stay connected and meet peers virtually from anywhere around the world. Yet, while technology is progressing quickly, further reforms are still needed in the generation, collection, management, and distribution of scientific data and information that can be trusted and used for environmental action and decision-making.
The Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions have established processes and initiatives to move in this direction, such as the science-policy interface, various national reporting processes, and collection of data to evaluate the effectiveness of our conventions. This allows progress on implementation. More can be done in this area, and new tools and technologies can increase the relevance of data and information to measure and implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The aim of our data-driven transformation is to achieve a UN ecosystem that fully unlocks the potential of data for better decisions and stronger support to people and the planet. This strategy is currently being implemented and has triggered numerous initiatives, including the UNEP Digital Transformation subprogramme. It focuses on accelerating environmental sustainability by applying data, digital technologies, and solutions to UNEP’s key activities, products, and services, and addresses its own key action areas: climate, nature, and pollution.
Panelists to this meeting will present several of these projects and tools. These have been developed in the context of the InforMEA Initiative, which has been in operation for the last 14 years, thanks to the financial contribution from the European Union. Twenty-two MEAs, UNEP, and other organizations are cooperating to share data, information, and best practices, aiming to support parties and stakeholders in taking informed actions in the implementation of the conventions.
Monika STANKIEWICZ | Executive Secretary, Minamata Convention Secretariat
The partnership within InforMEA is a cornerstone of environmental governance. Although sometimes intimidating, with its technical terms, InforMEA offers great learning and working opportunities. Through participation in InforMEA, the Minamata Convention gained sufficient confidence to take the necessary steps and invite its parties to join the journey of digitalization and contribute to the InforMEA community of practice, where the best solutions are provided, benchmarking is done, and resources and ideas are pooled. All of this helps us implement our respective mandates in an effective way and serve parties to the respective MEAs in the best possible manner. One way the Minamata Convention has tried to be part of this journey is by including a special component of digital strategy in the program of work, approved at the Minamata Convention COP4 in 2021-2022. Building on this and the meeting of the InforMEA committee last year, we are adding a specific item on knowledge management and digitalization to the agenda of COP5 to take place in October 2023 in Geneva. We will also propose a digital strategy rooted in the UN Secretary General’s data strategy and roadmap.
As we learn to understand all the opportunities that come with digital technologies, we also bear the responsibility to consider the necessary components going into it, such as ethical aspects and the need to put in place various standards and principles for how these emerging technologies should be operated and used. There is a responsibility to ensure that the different solutions we create are equally accessible to all parties and stakeholders. The need for inclusiveness and gender mainstreaming are also important components.
We have learned from other MEAs and built some good examples from the Minamata Convention Secretariat. We have developed an online reporting tool and recently piloted the creation of a dashboard that provides data on Minamata Convention-related GEF projects. This involves creating a connection between our website database and the GEF database, which has generated interest from other MEAs to possibly follow suit.
Patricia KAMERI-MBOTE | Director, Law Division, UNEP
UNEP is proud to facilitate the InforMEA initiative alongside this impressive group of MEAs who collaborate on knowledge management to enhance MEA implementation and jointly address our three planetary crises, with the unwavering and most gracious support by the European Union.
The Joint Secretariat of BRS Conventions has played a key role over various years in through its long and visionary hands-on support to the initiative, shaping knowledge management approaches within the group over the years. The Minamata Convention has also been highly inspirational, sharing great examples of the recent work on reporting systems, dashboards, and collecting project information. The CITES Secretariat and the Secretary-General have also demonstrated long-lasting support, not only as the co-chair of the InforMEA initiative but also as a visionary in the field of e-learning on MEAs.
The InforMEA portal is a valuable tool to gain a bird’s eye view of the legal framework around environmental issues that cut across the mandates of different MEAs. But even beyond this, InforMEA is among the largest communities of practice among MEAs. It has been working for over a decade to harmonize information systems across MEAs, share experiences between secretariats, and develop better and more tailored tools to navigate all the normative data. As InforMEA enters its fourth phase, we are refocusing on how to make this tool and community of practice as useful as possible to its original target audience – national focal points and MEA negotiators. Among the useful tools that will be presented today, the brand-new negotiator section of the InforMEA platform will be presented for the first time. We hope this will help negotiations at COPs as well as other intergovernmental processes in support of environmental issues.
In terms of long-standing resources that continue to develop, InforMEA’s e-learning platform provides short and concise introductory courses on the Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm, and Minamata Conventions, developed in close cooperation with their Secretariats. In the last year, these have been supplemented with courses for more specific user groups on sharing meetings on the plastic waste amendments, or on gender and chemicals and wastes. In an accessible way, these explain and bring into focus key provisions and procedures of each of the three conventions.
We all are champions in the context of UNEP’s digital transformation effort, therefore we must spread the news about the tools to improve our efforts in protecting our environment and human health from damage by chemicals and wastes
Osmany PEREIRA | Chief, Information and Conference Services Branch, BRS Secretariat
The Power of Data and Information
The age of information technology offers many opportunities. Data and information have become critical assets for the modern way of doing business. Many organizations have created value by empowering their clients with data. Big data sets are everywhere, and companies doing business on the Internet are using this information to assist their clients, facilitate faster turnover, and increase productivity. The importance of data and information for decision-making has been recognized by the Secretary-General with the launch of the Data Strategy for Action a few years ago. This has triggered other initiatives worldwide, including within UNEP and in the MEAs.
In terms of knowledge management, the BRS Secretariat conducts two main activities: official records that the Secretariat must maintain to run meetings and programs; and capacity assistance and support to parties, including training activities and the production of recommendations based on science. The latter are more complex to produce, given the high level of scientific rigor required. When we started working on InforMEA, we concentrated on quick wins, which represent the clearinghouse functions, or the basic functions of our MEA Secretariats’ processes. Early in the implementation stages of the conventions, it was clear there were many similarities in the data we had to manage, making it logical to group together a number of MEA Knowledge Management Specialists and discuss these issues. The UNEP Law Division helped us achieve this goal by establishing a framework that allowed us to meet, discuss, and exchange experiences, that it’s how the InforMEA initiative was born.
The first meeting took place in September 2009, where we focused on quick wins and tasks we were already familiar with. The objective was to develop mechanisms to share the data we were processing in the MEA Secretariats, including meeting information, event calendars, COP decisions, national contact information, and official documents. At that time, a governance body was also created for the initiative, comprising a steering committee and a working group. The steering committee meets annually to discuss the initiative’s strategy and priorities, while the working group was functioning intersessionally and implementing the activities. The first meeting of InforMEA was in June 2010, and since then, we have held 13 steering committee meetings and numerous working group meetings. During these meetings, we discussed standards for data schemas, which involves agreeing on what data elements to include in each data type. For example, for decisions, we wanted to know at which meeting the decision was made and under which agenda item. Application program interfaces (APIs) were also discussed, which are mechanisms for computers to exchange data automatically without the intervention of humans. The work generally progressed in workstreams, which included technical workstreams, semantic indexing, web archiving, e-learning, national reporting, and others.
How does InforMEA work?
The principles we have used is that data and information remain with their original owners and custodians. The Secretariat members, who are the owners of the information, maintain it and then make it accessible via an API. This allows other MEAs to harvest data, meaning the action of collecting and aggregating similar information from different MEAs.
We have developed standards for automated data exchange, utilizing Internet technologies. Taxonomies have already been mentioned as an essential part of our data-handling strategy. We recognize that different MEAs have varying levels of expertise and resources to handle data, so we have mechanisms in place to support those MEAs with less capacity. This has been made possible through resource mobilization efforts, notably from the EU, that have been supporting us for several years.
InforMEA different phases
Initially, we focused on managing existing data. Over time, it became clear that we needed to create new content, and this led to the development of an e-learning platform. Currently, this platform, hosted on the BRS Secretariat servers, houses over 50 training courses in multiple languages. Other examples of our work include a judicial portal and a negotiator’s toolkit.
For instance, one of the latest training courses developed by the BRS Secretariat and available on the InforMEA and UN CC e-learning platforms is on strategies, tools, and guidance to tackle plastic waste.
Haruko OKUSU | Chief, Outreach and Projects Unit, CITES Secretariat
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has been one of the founding members of the InforMEA initiative. Despite being part of this initiative, it has faced many challenges from the start, one of which has been the financial aspect.
What is CITES?
CITES is one of the few conventions that are part of the biodiversity cluster, signed in 1973. There currently are 183 countries and the European Union as parties to the Convention. We cover specimens of around 40,000 plants and animals, dealing with international trade in living, dead parts, and derivatives of these species. Our goal is to ensure that international trade in species protected by CITES does not lead to their extinction or threaten their survival in the wild. This trade includes imports, exports, re-exports, and taking in from the high seas, which is known as “introduction from the sea” in CITES lingo. We have a dynamic and adaptive instrument that is legally binding. We classify species into three different categories to accord them varying levels of protection and trade regulation, ensuring that the trade remains legal, sustainable, and traceable throughout its lifetime.
One of the challenges CITES faces is strengthening support for parties to be more compliant with the conventions’ requirements. We have many compliance measures, and if the parties fail to meet them, they risk being subjected to trade measures, including partial or total trade suspension. However, we’ve found that parties often struggle to understand their status in terms of compliance. Our compliance processes can be complex and lengthy, making it hard for countries or others to understand their position in the compliance process. For example, with national legislation, there are certain requirements that, if not met, could result in trade suspension. We also require the submission of annual reports on both legal and illegal trade. Reviews of significant trade are measures that countries have to make to make sure that trade is conducted sustainably and that proper management plans, such as export quotas, are in place. We also have the Article 13 process, where we have various species and countries subject to different requirements. Our policy-related advisory body, the Standing Committee, requests that these countries provide evidence of protection measures, management measures, and enforcement-related activities to show that their trade in certain species remains legal, sustainable, and traceable. Lastly, we have National Ivory Action Plans and other measures where compliance is featured very strongly for some countries.
Countries need to understand their compliance status has brought the opportunity to provide funding so we would actually increase our ability to provide compliance-related assistance to parties. While delving into this, we also discovered that part of the challenge lies with the Secretariat. We request a significant amount of information from parties and collect a wealth of data. However, these data are stored by different units of the Secretariat, by different individuals, in many different formats that are not compatible with each other, presenting an interoperability issue. We have national reports, annual export quotas submitted by parties, trade exemptions, domestic measures that differ from the provisions of the conventions, permit details, and even information about who the focal points are, such as the Management Authority, Scientific Authority, and enforcement focal points. Some of these items are basic convention information common to all MEAs. We found that because this information is stored by different individuals within the Secretariat, in different formats such as Excel, PDF, or flat webpage formats, parties are not fully benefiting from the information they were asked to submit. We are responsible for making this information available, especially for newcomers to the convention. They need to know immediately what they need to do, where they stand, and who to contact.
Where did we start? We started by benefiting from the Committee of Practice that we have with the InforMEA initiative to talk to other MEAs to understand how they organize their information related to compliance and other national authority-related information. We compared the information we collect with what they collect and evaluated how we make this information available on our website, how often we update the information, how often we upload it to our computers, how we use it to determine priorities or gaps to help with compliance and capacity needs of developing countries, and how we ensure that when we organize and clean up these data, they can link to other databases for automatic updates. For instance, we have a database that tracks species name information. We need to ensure that when the species nomenclature changes, the information we have doesn’t break any linkages but continues to update using the revised nomenclature. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance method of data collection and representation has been a source of inspiration. They have countries overview pages where you can see the focal points, the Ramsar sites in that country, the species present there, and the official documents related to their governing body meetings.
As a result of lengthy strategic and technical discussions, we have been able to create a country profile page where all information, from national focal points to compliance measures, status of national reporting, etc., is displayed in one place. Using this, we now have a new way to search for compliance-related information, such as which of the 184 parties are under certain compliance measures. We were able to gather all this information thanks to the sharing, tips, and technical advice received through the InforMEA initiative.
CITES would like the parties to self-update their information, improve cross-searching capabilities, possibly create a more visually engaging interface, perhaps with maps and infographics, and link other official documents from the convention to be made available through this portal. We aim to keep all this data available so that we can share this information across different MEAs in the future. This would allow us to examine different compliance needs across many types of MEAs and identify ways to support parties.
Shashika SEDARA HETTIGE | Associate Information Systems Officer, CITES Secretariats
The live demonstration discussed in this presentation is accessible on the event’s recording from 49:06 to 56:50.
Due to the advancements in application programming interfaces (APIs), we have been able to aggregate various pieces of information that were scattered across the website and create one specific landing page. This page acts as a one-stop reference where parties could find different information. The landing page is accessible from the Societies’ website under the “About” menu, where it’s housed under “Country Profiles”.
Taking Sri Lanka as a country example, the profile page presents an overview at the beginning, including the national legislation status. Further down, the status of annual reports, the details on what the parties are doing to implement the convention nationally, a summary of submitted annual reports, and country-specific measures can be browsed. In the overview page, basic information about the country such as the region, the ISO code, the national flag, party status, date of joining, and links to other databases with information related to CITES and the party itself can be accessed. On the CITES checklist, we have a pre-filtered list of species for which Sri Lanka is mentioned as the population. Further on, we have national contact information for management authorities and scientific authorities. The page also houses country-specific measures, information regarding control mechanisms, links to InforMEA for national legislation, a repository of sample permits, export quotas, and links to different scientific projects for reference.
Thanks to the use of APIs and information-sharing mechanisms, most of this information that was scattered across the website is not displayed in one place.
The compliance database, which houses information such as the national laws, all this information can be found under a particular filter, allowing interested parties or stakeholders to look up different countries or parties subject to various control mechanisms.
Anna GARCÍA SANS | Communications and Knowledge Management Officer, Minamata Convention Secretariat
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a young convention, but has already engaged in innovating and highlighting new tools and solutions to support our parties. We’ve also gained significant insights from other MEAs experiences, especially from the InforMEA community. Our main goal remains to support our parties in implementing the various conventions.
An example of an online reporting tool the Minamata Convention uses to support its parties is the National Reporting obligation. According to our Convention text, there’s an obligation for parties to report through the Secretariat on the measures taken to implement the Convention’s provisions. Parties should also provide information on the effectiveness of these measures and any challenges in achieving the convention’s objectives. In 2017, the Conference of Parties agreed on the format and timing of the reports, requesting the Secretariat to prepare an electronic version. This allowed us to innovate and devise a long-term solution. We’ve split our format into two separate sections: the full format, which contains 43 questions to be answered by every party every four years, and every two years the parties need to submit the responses of four of the questions from the full format. Both formats are divided into five parts: general party information, the questions, and potential challenges in meeting the convention’s objectives. Parties also have an opportunity to comment on the reporting format and to add comments on each of the articles in free text. Since its inception, the convention has seen two reporting cycles, with the first round of short reports due in December 2019 and the first full reports submitted in December 2021. We use this received information from the first shorts reports to prepare reports for the ICC and the COP. Currently, we’re preparing a report for the ICC based on the first full report, which will later be submitted to the COP.
The Minamata Convention has an exceptional parties’ reporting rate, with a 91% submission rate in 2019, and a 93% in 2021.
The Demonstration of the Online Reporting Tool is available on the event’s recording from 01:02:16 to p1:08:00
This tool, which we developed over a period of approximately five and a half months, is a fully-fledged solution available in the six UN languages, and it provides a wealth of information and guidance for National Focal Points, including a draft reporting guidance and an offline reporting tool user guide to help parties collect and prepare the required information.
As an example, I will open the 2021 National Report. The report can be consulted in any of the six UN languages. Part A of the report includes information about the party. The right sidebar presents a completion status indicator. Given the complexity of the report, which encompasses most of the Articles of the Minamata Convention plus a comment section, we’ve designed the tool to allow users to start working on any of the articles. Information is automatically saved, enabling the National Focal Point to navigate forwards and backward freely. The tool also provides conditional information based on the user’s responses. For instance, a ‘No’ response to a question in Article 7 will prompt the tool to direct the user immediately to Article 8.
Another feature of our tool is the report preview option. After National Focal Points complete all parts, they can review all the responses before submitting them to the Secretariat. Once satisfied, they can print a copy for their records (although the Secretariat will also provide one) and click submit. The Secretariat will then receive a notification that the national report has been submitted by a party.
What happens after submission? Following submission, the Secretariat collects the reports, checking them for completeness and clarity of responses. We also verify the data and information provided. The information is subsequently used in preparing various documents for the Conference of Parties and made available on the Convention’s website along with the report.
In terms of data management, the reports are accessible from the same Group or Website Backend. We’ve prioritized interoperability in our systems. One of our primary objectives was to create a long-term solution that would integrate seamlessly with the convention website, streamline submission efforts from parties, and allow for interoperability with other tools and platforms.
To achieve this, we developed our tool using Drupal, a UN standard, it’s the same platform where the convention website is also developed. This enables easy interconnection through APIs and other standards across different platforms. The tool, as seen here, allows us to download reports in various formats, such as text, HTML, mail table, JSON, and others. It also allows customization to extract raw data, or entire reports. A recent functionality we added enables the tracking of revisions. When we first launched the tool, we found that reports occasionally required amendments post-submission, either due to requests from the secretariat for clarification or from the party asking to amend a question. As this reporting is obligatory, we created a log frame to track when a report was submitted by a party, and this log frame cannot be modified. We’ve added this functionality to record any updates, maintaining traceability and allowing us to keep track of changes.
The Demonstration of the Online Reporting Tool is available on the event’s recording from 01:11:10 to 01:12:34.
As an extension to our reporting tool, we’ve developed, for the 2021 full report, a dashboard containing 135 data visualizations, presenting both quantitative responses from parties and the performance. These visualizations show the reporting rate, the total parties that needed to report, the number of full reports submitted on time, reports by division, languages, gender… This dashboard is in its first iteration and uses the Google API to communicate with our database. We aim to improve it further as resources become available, with a goal to conduct deeper analysis, cross-referencing, and even analyzing qualitative data.
There are several challenges we must address. Parties are now required to submit a second short report by December, and we are always working on benchmark analysis to improve the reporting tool, making it easier for parties to meet their obligations. We plan to continuously upscale and improve the dashboard, both in terms of technology and user experience, and aim to connect it to our effectiveness evaluation indicators.
Finally, I’d like to reiterate our satisfaction with the excellent reporting rates from our parties. With their strong commitment and our comprehensive national reporting process and online system, we aim to support our parties and contribute towards boosting the implementation of the Minamata convention.
Jamie KNILL | Physical Science Specialist, Environment and Climate Change Canada
National reporting is an obligation, a key source of data and essential for identifying where we’ve done well, where we need to improve, and how we might overcome some challenges.
Benefits Beyond Obligations: While reporting is an obligation under the conventions, there are several other reasons why parties might strive to do an excellent job on their national reports.
- It is an opportunity to take a broad look at the party’s accomplishments. By examining whether the convention’s implementation has been successful and identifying weaknesses or data gaps, parties can prioritize their work and allocate resources more effectively. This reporting process can also drive regulatory development and continuous improvement. Furthermore, these reports present an opportunity to share the story of mercury management. It allows us to illustrate our progress over time, the data sources we utilize, and their limitations. Recognizing these limitations is critical for understanding how the data can be used and the challenges we face during report preparation.
- By not only sharing our own achievements but also learning from others, we can innovate and create solutions that suit our specific needs. The dashboards should be immensely beneficial for parties, allowing us to collaborate on a broader scale and potentially form regional or bilateral agreements. Lastly, these reports are a great opportunity for raising awareness both within the government and publicly. Given the wide range of competing priorities such as plastics, waste, climate change, and other chemicals, the use of these easy-to-understand dashboards helps keep the importance of mercury management on the radar of senior officials.
Canadian Process: The Canadian approach comprises three stages, starting with comprehensive work planning approximately eight months to a year in advance due to the vast range of information we need to collect. This involves reviewing all guidance documents and reporting formats, identifying what information is required, assessing what information we already have, and determining where we need to collect more. The second phase involves outreach and communication. We notify our data providers, conduct kickoff meetings, and provide as much notice as possible before submitting formal requests. We’ve found it highly beneficial to simplify the questions in the national reporting format. The convention language can often be confusing if you’re not an expert in the convention, so breaking down the questions into simpler terms helps. In order to provide comprehensive information, we follow up on all requests, clarifying as needed. This second step typically takes around six months. The data is also compiled in the offline version of the reporting format. A crucial part of the process is planning and tracking progress. We continuously monitor our actions, timelines, contacts, and what tasks remain outstanding. We have developed an internal guidance process to capture this knowledge and streamline it for future reports.
Data Sources And Challenges: With respect to our data sources and the challenges faced, we rely on a variety of information. This includes release inventories, domestic customs and trade data, as well as data from the United Nations. We have developed surveys to reach out to other governments like provinces and territories. Data from regulatory reporting and government experts also feed into this process. In total, over 25 different records contribute to the National report, highlighting the diverse range of information. However, we do encounter difficulties. Data requests can take months, and collection from various government levels can be challenging due to different priorities, processes, and timelines. Furthermore, the level of data detail available isn’t always ideal; it can be too detailed, requiring aggregation, or not detailed enough, forcing us to work with what we have.
On a closing note, it’s encouraging to see a high reporting rate for the convention. Openness and transparency in national reporting are key. The better we understand ourselves and each other, the better we can collectively work to improve the implementation of the convention.
Peter SPEELMAN | Associate Legal Officer, Law Division, UNEP
What is InforMEA?
InforMEA is the UN information portal on MEAs. It has grown to encompass 26 MEA secretariats along with a variety of regional conventions and observers. This platform covers the entire range of environmental issues.
InforMEA is both the collaboration of MEAs, the network of practice and shared experiences, and the agreement on the schemas and standards. It is also the result of that, which is the public-facing portal where you can search and retrieve information.
Interoperability is a core principle behind InforMEA. The primary aim of interoperability is to harvest everything automatically, without recreating data sets but rather sharing them. This ensures everything is up to date and that there are no conflicts between records. Thus, MEAs remain the custodians of the data, but the data is shared and interoperable within Premiere where it’s needed.
The result of these efforts is the public-facing InforMEA portal. The core content is centered around the MEAs themselves, including treaty texts, ratification status, and COPs’ decisions. Beyond this, different content types interplay, including national plans and reports, news and events, national laws — much of which comes from a collaboration with Ecolex and IUCN — court cases, a large database of documents and literature, goals and declarations like the SDGs, and MEA contacts. When pulled together, the result is 305,000 documents, all filterable against topics, MEAs, and countries, adjustable by timeframe, and indexed by a core glossary of 500 terms and concepts and also searchable.
Why InforMEA, what is the utility of pooling all this information?
Environmental law is fragmented, often organized around MEAs, MEA mandates and specific environmental issues that arise at a particular time. BRS is familiar with synergies and shared experiences within the chemical cluster, but any of these issues extend beyond chemicals and waste.
To illustrate the utility of InforMEA, consider marine plastic pollution as an example. This issue originates from diverse land and sea-based sources. BRS plays a critical role, especially with the plastics amendments. So do many other MEAs and treaties outside of the chemicals and waste cluster. For example, UNCLOS and the UN Waters Convention deal with how plastics enter the marine environment. Regional Seas often have specific protocols related to plastics and marine plastics. Even the climate cluster and UNFCCC have a role in terms of the carbon impact of plastic pollution. This example illustrates the utility of being able to search for a specific environmental issue across all the MEAs, and even beyond MEAs to content types like legislation, international goals, and jurisprudence.
InforMEA offers a way to search the whole spectrum of normative environmental data, and legal documents, across specific environmental issues and concepts.
The Demonstration is available on the event’s recording from 01:28:54.
Over the past 14 years, InforMEA has been developed in collaboration with MEAs and provides data arranged and filterable by various filters. It’s searchable by terms and organized around a glossary – the Law and Environment Ontology Portal or LEO.
LEO consists of approximately 500 terms organized into six clusters. This is a key way to find all this information by concept. For example, if we consider “hazardous waste,” the definition is provided in multiple languages, as well as its connections to related concepts and terms, and the content itself. The main content is the MEAs, such as the Basel Convention, Stockholm Convention, and some Regional Seas Conventions. Additionally, you’ll find regional waste conventions and categories of articles and paragraphs tagged to the term “hazardous waste,” as well as decisions and documents related to these MEAs. There is also additional content can include related documents and legislation. The”goals” option links the topic to the SDG targets specifically related to it, while the indicators allow us to approach this information from the perspective of goals, broadening the concept to other instruments or conventions.
If a specific term is not present in the LEO, free-text search can be used. Results can be filtered by region, MEA, party, time period, and more. In addition to this, you can access the information organized by a specific country. This section provides the same information including country contacts, National Focal Points, legislation, and all other content available under other filters.
InforMEA E-Learning Platform
Another component of InforMEA, which has been available for six or seven years, is its e-learning platform. Beginning with developing an introductory level course for every MEA, produced with the Secretariat, offering a quick overview of the MEA’s purpose, objectives, and functioning, we are now moving towards second-tier, in-depth courses that cater to a specific subject or user group. An example is the course on plastic waste and the Basel Convention, as well as a course on the basic principles of chairing meetings of the BRS conventions.
The Negotiator’s Toolkit
The Negotiator’s Toolkit represents the current phase of InforMEA. There are associated platforms for the judiciary and Country Focal Points that delve deeper into specific aspects of legislation or jurisprudence. This refocus allows InforMEA to cater to its original audience – National Focal Points and MEA negotiators. Our flagship initiative is the Negotiator’s Toolkit. It’s intended to be a comprehensive online knowledge base encompassing all aspects of MEA negotiations and related processes. The objective is to assist negotiators in preparing for and participating in international environmental negotiations and meetings more efficiently and effectively. Essentially, it’s a repackaging of existing material tailored for a specific user group, the negotiators. The portal has five main sections, one of which is the Negotiator’s Handbook. This is an updated version of a handbook produced by UNEP and the University of Eastern Finland, with the latest edition published in 2007. Although it’s currently in draft form, the intention is to develop an interactive version of this handbook where various provisions are linked to different resources within the portal.
The first section of the portal leads to four others: Training Materials, Case Studies, Rules and Procedures, and Glossary.
- The Rules and Procedure section is valuable as these rules can often evolve over time and might be hard to find. This section connects to the relevant pages on the MEA site, aggregating all the different rules in one place for comparison.
- Training Materials section collects existing materials from within UNEP and the MEAs, including e-learning resources and manuals.
- Case Studies relate to specific aspects of the negotiating process like voting, credentials, and bureau matters. They’re derived from the handbook and other training materials.
- Glossary, similar to InforMEA, everything is organized around a Glossary, which builds on the previous handbook’s glossary and incorporates other references. As the library grows, everything will be tied to these specific terms, making it easier to comprehend their meaning and search by these terms.
InforMEA: What’s Next?
Potential next steps might include:
- potential compliance sections;
- project documents and schemas;
- and financial rules and procedures.