Towards a Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS)
The Commission defines the necessary principles to introduce a Community Shared Environmental Information System. It undertakes a cost-benefit analysis of its introduction and takes stock of the measures already implemented and those still to be taken.
Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 23 January 2008 entitled "Towards a Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS)" [COM(2008) 46 final – Official Journal C 118 of 15.5.2008]
The environmental challenges of today – most notably climate change, biodiversity loss and managing natural resources – mean that environmental information must be quickly and easily available. Furthermore, thanks to the new technologies, it is possible to receive near real-time information, which enables decisions to be taken more rapidly and even lives to be saved.
In this Communication, the Commission lays the foundations for a European Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) to respond to the above-mentioned requirements and challenges. Such a system would gradually replace the current systems for reporting by systems based on access, sharing and interoperability. This would allow improvement and simplification of the collection, exchange and use of the data and information necessary for the preparation and implementation of environmental policy and actions.
The principle of SEIS
According to the Commission, under SEIS, the information should be managed on a decentralised basis, collected once then shared with all interested parties and be readily accessible to end-users, at whatever level (public authorities and citizens). The system should also take account of any confidentiality constraints regarding certain data, and sharing and processing should be supported through common, free/open-source software tools.
Ozone Web, a site launched in 2006, is a concrete example of the services which an open shared environmental information system can provide. This site involved the Member States providing the European Environment Agency (EEA) with near real-time ozone values in Europe. In particular, it provided experts and citizens with information on air quality as regards this pollutant and with access to information which is local or specific to certain regions.
Benefits and costs
The benefits of SEIS include:
- simplification, efficiency and flexibility of the procedures (data and information flows) to ensure the availability of the information to fulfil the Member States’ reporting and monitoring obligations, efficiency of the use of the data and information (rapid availability and once-only collection for multiple purposes) and reduction in the workload of the authorities responsible for data collection;
- reduction in costs for users and greater use of these data to draw up public policy and to improve its effectiveness, especially where it is a matter of reacting to environmental problems, such as adaptation to climate change, protection of biodiversity, management of water resources, and management of environmental crises;
- empowering citizens and encouraging rapid reaction, especially in cases of emergency.
When assessing the costs of implementing the SEIS principles, it is important to recognise that many relevant activities are already ongoing, and the main challenge – and the reason why a more formal political commitment around SEIS principles is required – is to align these activities more effectively. Some further investment will certainly be necessary in order to achieve full implementation of the SEIS principles. These costs will relate in particular to the implementation of the INSPIRE Directive, making the national or Community data collection and processing systems interoperable and integrating these national systems in a "system of systems", collecting new data that are not currently collected but are found to be essential to support policy, and harmonisation of the monitoring and data management systems. Such investments will be offset by better prioritisation of data requirements and use of data and information, administrative effectiveness, simplification and repeal of obsolete obligations.
Initiatives and measures in progress
At present, efforts have already been made for the implementation of SEIS, including, for instance, several measures to streamline the reporting requirements concerning air quality under the thematic strategy on air pollution, the review of the IPPC Directive and relations between air pollution and climate change. Other initiatives adopt a modern approach to the production, exchange and use of data and information, for example the Water Information System for Europe (WISE).
Various tools may also be mutually supporting, including the INSPIRE infrastructure concerning accessibility and interoperability of spatial data, the Aarhus agreement on public access to environmental information, the GMES initiative on global monitoring for the environment, the activities of the GEO group in respect of a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, the Marine Observation and Data Network, research activities (especially eTEN, eContent and CIP), the European framework for interoperable online public services (IDABC) and the EIONET network of the European Environment Agency.
In addition, various initiatives at national, regional and local level are also helping to make SEIS a reality in specific fields.
Action to be taken
The introduction of SEIS firstly requires political commitment on the part of the Member States, with a view to mobilising efforts in a coordinated fashion towards the same integrated project. This would take the concrete form of strengthening and coordination of the activities under way at European, national and regional levels. The Commission, for its part, would give priority to the INSPIRE Directive and the GMES initiative, so that these activities become mutually supporting.
The legal provisions relating to the collection of environmental information and the way it is made available will have to modernised, in particular by revising Directive 91/692/EEC on standardising reports relating to the environment, in order to repeal outdated provisions and cover all the current environmental reporting obligations. Along the same lines, there is a need to streamline the information requirements for specific fields.
SEIS would have to be at the centre of the EEA activities concerning the provision of environmental information, including the adoption in full of the Reportnet tool and its adaptation to SEIS.
The introduction of SEIS would have to benefit from Community financial support, in particular through the Research Framework Programmes, the LIFE+ programme, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and the Structural Funds.
The existing national monitoring systems will have to be harmonised and their planning and implementation coordinated.
In addition, the SEIS approach would then have to be extended to third countries and especially the applicant countries and the neighbouring countries.