GEMS Water: Global water quality data to inform SDGs

Jay Owen Trendspotting, Earth Systems Science


ENB on the Side

Coverage of Selected Side Events at the First UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
Issue No. 2 – Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Events convened on Tuesday, 24 June 2014

GEMS Water: Global water quality data to inform SDGs

Presented by UNEP/DEWA and UNEP/DEPI

Hartwig Kremer, UNEP Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) moderated the Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) Water Programme session, which introduced UNEP’s water quality monitoring programme and its role in supporting international commitments.

Mette Wilkie, UNEP Division for Environmental Policy Implementation (DEPI) stressed that deteriorating water quality threatens water ecology, human health, livelihoods and development. She said interagency collaboration within the UN system can address this, including measures such as global monitoring and reporting on the water system, and establishing international water quality guidelines. 

Monika MacDevette, UNEP/DEWA, highlighted the need for sound and reliable data gathering and sharing on water quality, standardization of water quality data, water quality modeling and the use of assessment tools.  She emphasized the role of communication and data sharing, referring to UNEP Live as an important platform for information access and reporting on the state of the global environment, including water quality. 

Referring to a previous absence of systematic data collection and the need for a global water policy framework, Karsten Sach, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Germany, underscored Germany’s support for GEMS Water.

Indicating that water quality is an important component of the UN Water Framework, Kremer also highlighted the work of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), noting a proposed water goal that includes water security and sanitation for all for a sustainable world.  He emphasized that GEMS Water should provide the right tools and data to support this. 

Kremer then presented the new GEMStat system which aims to enhance data accessibility, through: data management; product development and dissemination; assessment and reporting; network building and coordination; capacity building; and fundraising. He emphasized supporting a global water information system, open data access and working with partners.

Debbie Chapman, University College Cork, Ireland, expressed Ireland’s support for GEMS Water. She introduced a Capacity Development Centre at University College Cork that will: support country-specific data gathering, with a focus on Africa; work with UNEP, including regional offices and GEMS Water national focal points; offer training courses, capacity building and research exchanges; and emphasize collaboration on monitoring, management and research.

Kremer introduced the launch of GEMS Water Regional Hubs. He noted a Brazilian expression of interest to host the regional hub for Latin America and the Caribbean, and invited other regions to undertake similar initiatives. MacDevette underscored the role of regional hubs to facilitate robust data gathering at the national and regional levels, which can support global water quality data.

During discussion, participants addressed: monitoring of ambient water quality; water conflict; and the need for interregional hubs, in addition to regional hubs. They noted that the transboundary nature of water makes it a politically complex topic.

Wilkie and MacDevette offered closing remarks. Wilkie highlighted water as being important for the environment, livelihoods and peacekeeping. MacDevette emphasized the importance not only of data generation, but also the ability to use data with confidence, noting its importance for sound policymaking.


More information: 

Hartwig Kremer
[email protected]


Illegal Trade in Wildlife

Presented by the Government of Kenya and the Population Media Center

Ambassador Martin Kimani moderated the session, which addressed wildlife crime and illegal trade in wildlife products. 

Gideon Gathara, Kenya, on behalf of Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Kenya, identified illegal wildlife trade as a complex issue that needs to be dealt with on many levels including enforcement, legislation, demand reduction and promotion of alternative livelihoods. He detailed the Government of Kenya’s work, which spans capacity building in the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and setting up an interagency task force to combat the crime chain. He appealed to delegates to take a position on the “grey area” of destruction of ivory stocks.

On protection of wildlife on the ground, Ian Saunders, Tsavo Trust, asserted that a best-practice framework is needed for “conservation counter-insurgency,” including: scientific data to bolster efforts; dedicated security for wildlife; and operational requirements, cautioning against the temptation to seek a “silver bullet” technological solution.

Tom Kazungu, Population Media Centre, described the methodology of using local multimedia approaches, termed “entertainment with proven social benefits.” He proposed airing a long-running television series to catalyze transitional behavior change, as a potential solution to combat illegal wildlife trade. 

Ben Janse van Rensburg, Chief of Enforcement Support, CITES Secretariat, emphasized the need to deploy the same tools in combatting wildlife crime that are being used for other organized crime. He introduced focal areas that the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime is assisting governments with, including: strengthening cooperation; analyzing national response in terms of legislation, enforcement and judicial response; building national capacity; spreading awareness and garnering political support; and the innovative use of forensic tools.

While praising Kenya’s new wildlife law, which includes penalties of life imprisonment, Robert Muasya, KWS, also advocated the use of other methods for the protection for wildlife, such as micro-chipping of rhinos, translocation of animals to safer areas and use of collars on cat species.

Participants discussed demand reduction strategies; drivers of illegal wildlife trade, the role of trans-frontier conservation; and traceability of trafficked items from point of origin. Many participants agreed that efforts must be made to address demand. On the role of CITES, Rensburg indicated that any trade should be legal, traceable and sustainable, with individual countries taking responsibility.

More information:


Anne Dillon, Population Media Center
[email protected]
Solomon Kyalo, KWS Corporate Communications Manager
[email protected]


Detoxifying Development: how strengthened sound management of chemicals and waste contributes to sustainable development

Presented by the Government of Uruguay, UNEP Chemicals Branch, SAICM Secretariat, FAO and the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

Fatoumata Keita-Ouane, Head, UNEP Chemicals Branch, co-moderated the session. She called for a proactive approach to chemicals management, stating that while chemicals have many development benefits, they also have negative impacts.  Co-moderator Kerstin Stendahl, Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, stressed political commitment at national levels, with facilitation and implementation also at regional and international levels. 

Francisco Beltrame, Minister of the Environment, Uruguay, said that sound chemicals management is not just about protecting the environment, but also supports economic growth and protects people’s health. He offered examples from Uruguay on chemicals management, including: a mercury waste management project; a new recycling and sorting plant run by the private sector; and a shift towards cleaner technologies. 

Laurentia Laraba Mallam, Minister of the Environment, Nigeria, emphasized national commitment in Nigeria on chemicals management, including: trainings on importing electronic waste; inspection of container ships to reduce illegal electronic waste transfer; information for farmers about pesticide use; and compliance with international chemicals conventions.

Tatsushi Terada, Ambassador of Japan to Kenya, described Japan’s mercury pollution measures, including policies on mercury reduction, cleaner technologies and a focus on health impacts. He referred to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, while emphasizing cooperation with other chemicals conventions.

Franz Perrez, Ambassador, Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland, stated that specific targets on chemicals could link to several SDGs, such as those on poverty alleviation, health and welfare, energy, food production, cities and sustainable economic growth.

Walker Smith, Director, Office of Global Affairs and Policy, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), proposed voluntary agreements on chemical management,referring to the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead in Paints. Calling lead a powerful neurotoxin which leads to irreversible health effects including the loss of IQ points, she said that if lead paint is not addressed we are “ruining children’s potential.”

Herve Guilcher, Director, Social and Environmental Responsibility, Hewlett-Packard (HP), described the E-Waste Africa Alliance between HP, Philips, Nokia and Dell. He stated that while electronic equipment contains many chemicals, if handled appropriately e-waste offers resource potential. He called on companies to work with the international chemicals conventions, noting that the Basel Convention provides useful tools, and referring to electronic recycling projects in Kenya and Nigeria.

During discussion, participants addressed issues including: the use of chemicals in the production of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies; the impact of chemicals on children’s development; working across ministries and agencies; and the added value of having chemicals-focused targets embedded in the SDGs.

Daniel Gustafson, Deputy Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) closed the session in a video message, referring to the value of agrochemicals in alleviating hunger, while acknowledging the associated risks. He called for education of farmers on the safe use of agrochemicals, and for interagency cooperation on chemicals management.

More information:

Tatiana Terekhova, UNEP
[email protected] 


UNEP Live: How will UNEP Live facilitate your work?

Presented by UNEP

Jacqueline McGlade, UNEP Chief Scientist, introduced the UNEP Live system and displayed its features.

She welcomed the work of countries that have set up their own open data portals, noting that the UNEP Live platform can also work with those who do not have such a facility. She said that countries’ open data policies enable citizens to find data, and also improve governance by making information available across departments and sectors. 

McGlade highlighted that countries have discretion over what data they will provide and how the information will be displayed, giving examples from Kenya, Republic of Korea, Romania, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Thailand, Morocco and the US. She showed how the UNEP Live platform can accommodate different types of information, giving an example from the Arctic region, where indigenous peoples have formal status, and their traditional knowledge has been captured on film. In another example, she displayed real-time data showing the extent of the summer sea ice in the Arctic.

McGlade expressed hope that the platform will make it possible for people doing rapid assessments to go to the original data source. She envisaged the production of dynamic reports in which maps and other information will be continually updated. 

She noted a feeling among countries that it is too early to harmonize data, and assured participants that “as long as the science is good,” data can be displayed in different ways. She described how countries have chosen different color ranges to display comparative air quality in their online maps, for example, going from green to black in China, and from blue to brown in Thailand.

Participants expressed enthusiasm for the UNEP Live platform. They raised questions about the UN’s policy on open data, and whether harmonization can occur at an earlier stage. A delegate from Iran suggested that UNEP could provide more guidance on what kind of knowledge is considered fit for use in assessments. 

McGlade noted that the availability of smartphone technology has reduced the costs of monitoring. She highlighted opportunities to collect indicators and data to support monitoring of the forthcoming SDGs. 

She explained to participants that the UN has targeted open data as a means of bringing together the whole of the UN, and that everyone will need more skills to deal with the torrent of big data currently being generated, for example, from remote sensing. She highlighted that 56 countries today have open data, and that UNEP is encouraging this trend, which the Aarhus Convention supports.

A delegate from the European Environmental Agency (EEA) asked how UNEP will deal with the tension between officially recognized data, and data from unofficial sources. McGlade responded that UNEP will discuss a standards process and produce a manual to help countries, noting an opportunity for the secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements to undertake their own quality assurance process by comparing country data, which may vary, across the different conventions. 

Summing up the discussion, McGlade emphasized that UNEP encourages open access in scientific publishing, and that the ability to make knowledge available in a transparent way will enable progress on many environmental issues.

More information:

Neeyati Patel, UNEP
[email protected] 


The Earth Negotiations Bulletin on the side (ENBOTS) © <[email protected]> is a special publication of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). This issue has been written by Resson Kantai, Jennifer Lenhart, and Delia Paul. The Digital Editor is Francis Dejon. The Editor is Liz Willetts <[email protected]>. The Director of IISD Reporting Services is Langston James “Kimo” Goree VI <[email protected]>. Funding for coverage of selected side events at UNEA-1 has been provided by UNEP. The opinions expressed in ENBOTS are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IISD and funders. Excerpts from ENBOTS may be used in non-commercial publications only with appropriate academic citation. For permission to use this material in commercial publications, contact the Director of IISD Reporting Services at <[email protected]>. Electronic versions of issues of ENBOTS from UNEA-1 can be found on the Linkages website at <>. The ENBOTS team at UNEA-1 can be contacted by e-mail at <[email protected]>.

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