Environmental Information Systems

Cross-sectoral enabler

An Environmental Information System (EIS) aims to respond to decision-makers’ needs for information on the evolution of the environment, and its impact on people’s lives and the natural resources on which they depend. An EIS can enable the use and dissemination of environmental data in support of assessing climate and environmental impacts, monitoring emissions of greenhouse gases and other environmental pollutants, measuring economic effects of changing environmental conditions and developing policies and measures to regulate and improve the environmental performance of businesses, sectors and administrative units. As the negative impact of climate change intensifies and as investment in climate change increase, it is crucial that rigorous systems are in place for monitoring the impacts of climate change. It is equally crucial that systems are also in place for monitoring the effectiveness of investment made to address these impacts. The extent and effectiveness of investments made for monitoring changing climate will have a defining influence on how well countries are able achieve their development objectives in the near and long term. 

Responds to the following needs

  • Access to environmental data
  • Support for decision-making 

Suitable for

  • Environmental practitioners
  • Planners and decision-makers

Relevant CTCN Technical Assistance


Examples of technologies:

  • Hydrometric, water quality and climate data integration systems
  • Community based monitoring platforms
  • Environmental data interoperability and exchange systems
  • Stakeholder engagement platforms
  • Web-GIS mapping and analysis systems
  • Satellite data integration and analysis platforms
  • Cultural resource management systems

Recommendations for designing and implementing a national EIS:

National Stakeholders: It is crucial for the coordination team of the EIS to collaborate deeply with national stakeholders who hold the data to come up with a harmonized system - National stakeholders from various ministries and public administrations are the basis of the EIS project. It is crucial they are to involved in the initiative of an EIS development from the early stages and ensure they understand and buy into the objectives so they can contribute pertinently to the elaboration of the project at all stages and see the benefits of investing time and other resources. - As many of the national stakeholders as possible invited to participate in the elaboration of the EIS should have an good knowledge on the indicators already used in their respective organizations so that they are able to share examples during workshops and there are no challenges related to understanding of different terms due to professional differences

Participary Process: The leadership, management and proactivity of the coordination team of the EIS project regarding the interactions with the national partners is key to the success of the implementation of an EIS system. Gaining the national stakeholders buy-in through the process is crucial. A participatory process influences positively the overall revision of the existing logical framework sections, indicators and data collection strategy. It enables the inclusion,at all levels, of the aspects of vulnerability, adaptation of and mitigation to climate change in the EIS. Sufficient time needs to be allocated to the participatory process to allow all environmental sectors to be included in the EIS in a successful manner. Carefully selected key stakeholder need to participate to the workshops

The Logical Framework of an EIS: Detail the framework of the EIS using vertical axis (global objective, specific objectives, their expected outcomes and activities) and horizontal axis (SMART indicator). Ensure that vertical and horizontal sections of the logical framework are understood by the national stakeholders

Climate Change Indicators of an EIS: The indicators need to be organized by categories (elements of the environment). The indicators have to be extensively detailed: description, unit, calculation formula, collection of the data, data collection strategy, verification means, level of desegregation, and periodicity of the collect. Every indicator needs to have information about the associated source of uncertainties and quality. At design level, it is good to involve the national stakeholders regarding the difficulties in collecting those indicators and discuss on ways to mitigate those challenges

Data Collection Strategy of an EIS: Quality data collection is key for the implementation of a reliable EIS, and this requires good technical expertise and financial capacity. We therefore recommend entrusting data collection for a given indicator to the institution that has the best capacity. Each selected institution should collect, analyze the data and report them in-a-ready-to-use format before channeling it to end-users. An overall quality control mechanism should be put in place to ensure the reliability of the information delivered. Archiving raw data and data analysis methodologies could for example be considered as part of such a quality control procedure. It is important to make good use of the risks identified by the national stakeholders to ensure most of the organizational, political or technical challenges are dealt with rior to the launch of the EIS

Hosting Platform of an EIS: A variety of applications can be used: GeoNetwork, GeoNode, OpenGeo Suite, ArcGIS Suite or custom SDI applications. Based on the user requirements, the platform developer can decide to either go for a combined approach or a build from scratch approach. Some EIS can require more customizations and new developments, thus the cost to develop/maintain of such platform should be considered. The features to analyze in order to make an informed decision about which application to use for the platform, are the following: Features (User management, Data management, Search), Support/ help (Documentation, Paid technical support), Pros and Cons, Price/ License, Implementation gallery

Case studies

The architecture, as well as the expected products, of the EIS depend on the types of information needed to address specific problems within the geographical, environmental, economic and political context. To provide ideas on how EIS can be realized in various contexts, a few examples are presented below. This is intended to provide a broader view of how contextual differences have been resolved in their design. 

  • REP-SAHEL project (Sahara and Sahel Observatory): In response to the challenges of loss of biodiversity, the land degradation and the adverse effect of climate change, the Sahara and Sahel Observatory has initiated and implemented the REP-Sahel project to better monitor and assess the vulnerability dynamics and adaptation strategies of affected communities and natural resources. Implemented in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Chad, the environmental monitoring system has been set up throughout a step-by-step approach using the Drivers-Pressure-State-Impact-Response framework (DPSIR)
  • Environmental Protection Agencies’ Climate Change Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X): The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States of America is taking a number of common-sense steps to address the challenge of climate change. Among its various missions, EPA provides information for a broad audience about climate change, its effects, impacts and ways to adapt to it. EPA partners with more than 40 data contributors from various government agencies, academic institutions, and other organizations to compile a key set of indicators related to the causes and effects of climate change. The indicators are published in EPA’s report, Climate Change Indicators in the United States, available on the website and in print. A lot of details on the indicators and the way they are collected are available for the public.
  • European Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS): This example presents the case of the European Shared Environmental Information System launched in January 2013 to improve the collection, exchange and the use of environmental data and information. The goals are to “create an improved environmental information system for Europe based on a network of public information providers that share their environmental data and information. Their existing systems and processes would be simplified, streamlined and modernized, including being web-enabled. The overall system would be decentralized but integrated. Quality, availability, accessibility and understanding will be improved as a result”. Decentralized but integrated system means that data is collected in individual countries or regions and then incorporated into the integrated online systems to make the information available to different users. To achieve its goals, the European Shared Environmental Information System has defined seven principles guiding data collection and management strategies
  • Food and Agriculture Organisation GeoNetwork Delta Alliance: Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) GeoNetwork provides access to readily available interactive maps, satellite imagery and related spatial databases maintained by FAO and its partners. Many organization, countries and regions have successfully implemented SDI platforms for data hosting and sharing, for example Dutch National Georegistry, Swiss geodata, Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, IDE-SP (SDI of Sao Paulo state), FAO, INSPIRE, and others. At present, the project is widely used as the basis of Spatial Data Infrastructures around the world. FAO GeoNetwork allows to easily share spatial data, including those derived from satellite imagery, among different organizations and users. By combining various layers of information decision makers and planners are able to make better informed decisions for sustainable development of land and water systems. Some of FAO’s core datasets are Agriculture and Livestock, Climate and Agroclimatology, Fisheries, Forestry, Hydrology and water resources, land-use and land-cover, Population and socio-economic indicators, soil and soil resources etc. By sharing FAO’s (and partners) data, the portal helps in decision-making in the field of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and food security. FAO funded the initial development for GeoNetwork.

Co-benefits of this technology

  • Cost-effectiveness and productivity: access to environmental information improves likelihood of making decisions and drafting policies with cost-efficient outcomes. 
  • Communication: data and environmental information are important tools for communicating environment and climate risks
  • Empowerment of local communities: access to environmental information provides support for local communities when faced with negative impacts on their surroundings from external actors and helps during communication with stakeholders.  
  • Disaster risk reduction: Experiences of forest fires, floods and droughts show how much timely environmental information can make a difference during an emergency. Tackling today's environmental challenges such as adapting to climate change, managing ecosystems and natural resources in a sustainable manner, protecting biodiversity, preventing and managing environmental crises such as floods, forest fires, and water scarcity depend on the assessment of data from a variety of sectors and sources.