Since 2010, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has been engaging countries of the Eastern European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP-East) (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) in a partnership: the aim to improve national capacities for managing and sharing environmental data and information. This cooperation was implemented under the framework of the European Union (EU)- funded project ‘Towards a Shared Environmental Information System in the European Neighbourhood’ (ENPI-SEIS).
The SEIS (1) is an EU initiative to modernise and simplify the collection, exchange and use of data and information required for designing and implementing environmental policy. The implementation of the project, and carried activities were underpinned by the three main SEIS pillars:
1) cooperation: building networks of providers and users of data and information;
2) content: generating policy-relevant and comparable information;
3) infrastructure: using shared and modern web-based information and communication technologies.
Identifying and generating environmental indicators and data flows suitable for the design and review of environmental policies has been a point of departure and priority area of the ENPI-SEIS project. The focus was developing and agreeing on common methodologies, in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Joint Task Force on Environmental Indicators (JTFEI). Related activities aimed to support national authorities in establishing partnerships key to regular information exchange. They also aimed to improve technical capacities in environmental data collection, management and sharing (both internally and for public use), so as to put in place national environmental information systems embodying SEIS principles. As part of consolidating the national State of the Environment (SoE) reporting base, the ENPI-SEIS project acted as a catalyst for promoting the adoption and use of environmental indicators. In a more general sense, the project also aimed at establishing stable governance structures to track and assess progress of regional environmental initiatives, with a view to future pan-European reporting.
The demonstrated willingness by national administrations to gradually build a SEIS should be considered across the different developmental stages of the existing environmental information systems: these affected countries’ readiness to respond to, and meet, project objectives. Environmental and political governance in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood has changed since the project was initially designed. Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine formalised their relationship with the EU by signing the Association Agreement (AA) (2) in June 2014. Gradually, these countries will work towards aligning their legal and institutional structures with those of the EU. Azerbaijan, Belarus and Armenia have expressed a clear interest in exploring the possibility of introducing EU best practices in environmental governance at technical level.
The analysis presented in this synthesis report has streamlined the information requirements of the six countries and their capacities to put solutions in place to meet these requirements. The report provides the state of play: it highlights achievements and offers recommendations on the way forward to cover some existing shortcomings. These recommendations summarise findings related to the region as a whole. They also form the basis for shaping further cooperation activities and providing support to the partner countries. In the part 2.1 describing country perspectives, the recommendations target countries’ specificities and are presented from a forward-looking perspective.
The institutional basis for cooperation in the field of environmental information has generally gained strength across the region. The complex and multidisciplinary nature of the SEIS concept call for mobilisation of a wide network of national experts across a number of environmental thematic areas. The focus on SEIS as an overarching objective has enabled continued dialogue at national level, focused on the efficient management and handling of existing environmental data and information. This has, in turn, helped spotlight the unique character of the work of national SEIS coordinators (the ENPISEIS National Focal Points (NFPs)) and the wide range of interconnected steps needed to implement SEIS. Examples are addressing data availability, access and quality, developing clear national strategies and mandates for national authorities and coordination entities, and allocating financial and human resources to the process.
Cooperation with and regular dialogue among networks was established or reinforced. Such networks are those of experts in various thematic areas, the ENPI-SEIS working group on Information Technology and members of the different UNECE groups on environmental indicators and assessments. Several countries also opted to formalise cooperation by signing inter-institutional agreements (in particular between ministries and agencies for environmental protection and the national statistical offices) on data and information exchange.
Cooperation between partner countries and the EEA was also further formalised through the signing of letters of intent (i.e. joint statements) reaffirming commitments to share environmental information and build on expertise from the European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet). National delegations have visited the EEA to better understand the data-reporting mechanisms and tools applied within Eionet, in order to inspire and guide national progress. Furthermore, Moldova has opted to increase collaboration with the EEA, and to further implement SEIS through a parallel EU-funded project ‘Increased collaboration with EEA and further implementation of SEIS in interested countries’ (InSEIS(3)), running from 1 June 2014 to 31 July 2015.
Strategies for achieving SEIS objectives at national level are being embedded in, or linked to, existing frameworks such as the implementation plans for the Aarhus Convention(4) to which all countries are a party, and the ongoing developments in e-governance. The existing Aarhus Centres have been instrumental in bringing together relevant stakeholders and coordinating activities in support of SEIS. The mandate of previously established Aarhus Centres is also commonly redefined to include and more accurately reflect SEIS objectives.
The UNECE JTFEI has been an important counterpart in developing a common approach for the use and production of indicators. The selection of the core set of eight environmental indicators at regional level for the priority areas within the ENPI-SEIS project (i.e. air, water and waste) has led to the gradual production and sharing (online) of these eight environmental indicators in all countries. The ENPI-SEIS project was instrumental in conducting a feasibility study to help develop regular data flows for the selected core set of indicators, and in organising several thematic workshops to advance this process. Online availability of the selected core set of indicators has increased significantly through the project. All countries have further improved their websites and online access to their indicators. Regional developments such as those agreed through the UNECE JTFEI help guide and prioritise national actions.
The inclusion of water indicators in the selected core set offered the opportunity to demonstrate in practice the concepts and mechanism applied within Eionet for the sharing of river and lake water-quality data (i.e. the Water Information System for Europe (WISE) SoE data flows). Four countries (Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova) took part in a pilot exercise and worked jointly with the European Topic Centre on Inland, Coastal and Marine waters (ETC/ ICM) to evaluate, prepare and provide data as per the WISE SoE methodology.
The experiences gained from advancing SEIS at national and regional levels is also being applied and endorsed at more local scales. One such example is the Armenian development of SEIS for Lake Sevan. The overall aim of this ENPI-SEIS pilot project is to enhance decision-making capabilities for the management of Lake Sevan and its resources, by developing a sustainable and regular data-sharing mechanism among the main data producers and data holders. This activity supports the implementation of a related governmental resolution adopted in 2014.
The analysis resulted in the following key messages, presented below as forward-looking recommendations.
While the institutional basis for cooperation in the field of environmental information has generally strengthened across the region, additional support is crucial for establishing inter-institutional entities with clear mandates and responsibilities to oversee and coordinate national SEIS development. This will ensure better planning around environmental issues, coordination between different actors and stronger synergies with other similar processes at all levels.
To ensure long-term engagement, the work carried out by nominated NFPs must be recognised, and further investment must be made in human capacities to sustain the national network. Sudden and frequent changes in national administrations have had an impact on the continuity of the established dialogue and on cooperation overall.
The ongoing development of e-governance at national level also constitutes a step towards enhancing coordination and reporting responsibilities among different data collectors and data holders. It would be beneficial to embed the design and implementation of national SEIS roadmaps in longterm strategies on e-governance.
Building up a wider set of environmental indicators, and ensuring the sustainability of data flows in support of regular international and national reporting are considered crucial for the preparation of environmental assessments at different geographical scales; these shall be regarded as continuous activities and be embedded in National Action Plans (NAPs).
The use of indicators in environmental reports remains limited, and the produced state of the environment reports (SoERs) often follow a ‘classical’ narrative/descriptive style, rather than an analytical one. The capacity of national administrations to produce regular, policy-relevant and indicatorbased SoERs, in line with internationally agreed guidelines, should be strengthened.
Additional efforts are required for the harmonisation of data formats and interoperability of methodologies — these are prerequisites for better comparison and sharing. A mix of post-Soviet methodologies and EU practices is rather commonly applied in the region, rendering data comparison between countries difficult.
There is a need to develop, adopt and implement a legislative and regulatory framework for the establishment of data-sharing and informationexchange mechanisms, both with international organisations and partners, and between different stakeholders at national level.
The implementation of the Aarhus Convention, to which all ENP-East countries are a party, shall be better monitored; public authorities shall enforce compliance with obligations in access to information, justice in environmental matters and public participation in decision-making.
The development and provision of technical specifications/guidance documents for establishing national integrated environmental information systems in line with SEIS principles is to be prioritised. The Internet is used as the principle tool for the exchange of data, both nationally and internationally, yet inter-agency intranet solutions and access to data derived from monitoring networks remains limited, inadequately regulated and technologically outdated.
The reporting of data is not systematic across all identified thematic areas. Waste and biodiversity are the areas most in need of attention due to the lack of a legal framework, regulated monitoring and carried measurements. To improve the situation, solutions enabling the enhancement of the existing legal basis and sustaining monitoring infrastructure shall be adopted and endorsed by national authorities.
National monitoring infrastructure needs technical improvements and more substantial financial allocations. The increase of automated observation stations, the expansion of existing monitoring networks, and the building of technical capacity to ensure efficient operation and maintenance of such infrastructure should be further addressed.
The existing Reportnet infrastructure (a suite of EEA-supported web-based tools that helps countries report environmental data and information using a formal reporting process) was not widely exploited by the ENP-East partner countries. It is recommended that the advantages of using a unified and widely shared environmental information structure be further promoted.