Initiatives: Academic

Ron Witt

Ron Witt

UNEP / DEWA / GRID-EUROPE / University of Geneva

The global also goes local

For 22 years, GRID - UNEP's Global Resource Information Database - has worked in partnership with Geneva authorities. Since 1998, GRID-Europe has been supported by a Partnership Agreement with the Swiss federal authorities and the University of Geneva. Its Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) serves the world community, but GRID-Europe has also worked to deliver popular services to Geneva, Switzerland's and international environmental authorities.

GRID-Europe carries out a wide range of projects in collaboration with UN agencies and local authorities.

Ron Witt, UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Europe

GRID, UNEP's Global Resource Information Database, is a global network of some 15 data and information centres whose purpose is to collect, analyse, add value to and disseminate relevant and timely environmental data and derived information, including that in UNEP's own assessment and early warning processes/products, leading to a better understanding of environmental change/impacts, emerging problems and the human dimension of these issues.

The mission of UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) is to provide the world community with improved access to meaningful environmental data and information, and to help increase the capacity of governments to use environmental information for decision-making and action planning for sustainable human development. Based in Geneva's International Environment House, GRID-Europe is one of UNEP's major centres for data and information management, with a unique, "value-adding" mandate in the handling of global and regional environmental data.

The confluence of UNEP interest to find greater local support for its various GRID centres at the time, and a Swiss desire to reinforce «International (and Green) Geneva» led to the drawing up of the first Partnership Agreement between the Swiss federal government (Federal Office for Environment, FOEN) and the University of Geneva. GRID-Europe, represents a unique combination of UN, Swiss federal and Canton/University of Geneva staffing and support. In fact, most of its staff is contracted through the University of Geneva, and the office manages several projects in cooperation with cantonal and federal authorities. The Partnership is an effective and smoothly functioning agreement that all three partners have applauded as a unique and flexible instrument for implementing a significant portion of UNEP's programme in the European region.

Activities with local authorities

In early 1999, the Department of Territory for Geneva Canton commissioned GRID-Europe to create a local meta-database (information that describes other databases), through the participation of the canton to the FOEN project CH-CDS (catalogue of data systems), to promote the exchange of environmental information by identifying «who has what environmental information in the Geneva region and how to access it».

Several presentations were organized for information suppliers grouped in the Technical Commission of the Environmental and Energy Information System for the Geneva Region The web portal «Geneva Environment Information System» (SIEnG), now integrated in the Information System of the Territory of Geneva (SITG) portal, has been hosted and supported by GRID-Europe between 2000 and 2006. It allows various environmental Geneva stakeholders (approximately 30 services of various cantonal Departments, the City of Geneva, the Industrial Services of Geneva and several international institutions such as UNEP, CERN and UNITAR - all interested in cantonal environmental projects, to have access to this exchange platform. It is planned to extend the service to the neighbouring French Departments of Ain and Haute-Savoie, thus providing an integrated online platform for accessing environmental and energy-related information in the Lake Geneva region.

Since the beginning of 2007, GRID-Europe has been working on behalf of the DCMO (Direction Cantonale de la Mensuration Officielle) in projects such as high resolution cartography of land cover and old aerial photograph mosaics.

UNEP-GRID has also been supporting the development and maintenance of SITL website ( and materially assisted in the organization of the enviroinfo2004 conference ( Carried out on behalf of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), ENVIROCAT is a major project of the partnership between FOEN and GRID-Europe in operation since 1998. All the meta-data of the State of Geneva are included in ENVIROCAT. Nearly 400 cantonal metadata sets from approximately 30 services, in addition to the 2000 published in ENVIROCAT, are now available online.

These services were all tailored to be compatible with the CDS developed by the European Environment Agency (EEA). In addition, the application's multi-lingual support system allows for information searches to be made simultaneously in 12 European languages. Apart from the Geneva and Swiss catalogue of metadata, the Partnership produced an Alpine-CDS with the System for the Observation of and Information on the Alps (SOIA) between 1999 and 2003. GRID-Europe also hosts for FOEN the Swiss centre for information-sharing on biodiversity, an international clearing-house mechanism for application of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity.

UN and global activities

How is the GRID-Europe information used in practice? DEWA/GRID-Europe is involved in the preparation of Europe's inputs to major environmental assessments such as the GEO Yearbook, the Carpathians Environment Outlook (KEO) and the preparation of the Belgrade Report for the next pan-European Ministerial Conference on Environment. An example of a project carried out with and on behalf of FOEN and the State of Geneva is the Caucasus Environment Outlook (CEO) report (complementing the global GEO process and products). The office supports other major initiatives such as Environment and Security (ENVSEC).

To address early warning issues, DEWA/GRID-Europe and its partners undertake a wide variety of activities and related outputs. The Environment Alert Bulletins published by GRID-Europe provide a review of scientific information on environmental impacts from human activities. The UNEP Atlas One Planet Many People on our changing environment, led by our sister centre GRID-North America, displays global changes as seen from space and rapidly became UNEP's best-selling publication of all time. The Project for Risk Evaluation, Vulnerability, Information and Early Warning (PREVIEW) provides a unique collection of data sets on seven major types of natural and technological hazards, and human exposure to these.
Information System on Geneva's Environment (SIEnG)
Swiss catalogue for environmental data
Swiss Clearing-House Mechanism
Swiss Biosafety Clearing-House