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Mark Jones jones118 at
Tue Jun 5 09:03:40 MDT 2001

UN launches one-stop green 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. has been developed with industry, academic institutions,
governments and non-governmental organisations.

Green screens 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

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

Dr Tim Foresman, 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 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. 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
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 to
appreciate the extent of urban growth in the Baltimore-Washington area
between 1792 and 1992."

Already 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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