National and regional story (Croatia) - Croatian Environmental Information System
Information - the imperative of successful communication in the modern world
In many fields, success depends on getting the latest information, and at the same time, failure in policy-making is often the result of lack of relevant information.
The lack of wide-spread dissemination of environmental information may cause doubts that such practice contributes to non-compliance with existing environmental legislation or maybe avoidance of implementation of new ’cleaner technologies’. Integrated, timely, relevant, easily accessible information is essential for the public as well as for decision-makers in order to understand on-going processes in the environment, recognize environmental polluters and pollution in specific sectors, define measures necessary to protect and preserve the environment, control implementation of these measures, and validate efficiency of implemented measures.
Environmental information – what were the challenging problems
Many Croatian institutions responsible for environment related issues (such as Ministry of Environmental Protection, Physical Planning and Construction (MoEPPPC)  and other related ministries and public institutions have decades of experience in collecting and processing data on specific environmental issues such as river water quality, meteorological data and specific marine data. Data is managed by experienced staff and well-known scientists from different institutions. However, data have often been:
• measured by different methodologies,
• collected by different procedures,
• collected irregularly,
• in many cases, in paper form
• if in electronic form, then in different, non-compatible, systems,
• of unknown origin (coming from outsourced institutions),
• very difficult to access, especially for the public,
• not exchanged and/or comparable with data from other countries or regions.
In order to contribute to the solution of the above mentioned problems, the Croatian Environment Agency (CEA) was established at the end of 2002, with the overall goal to collect, integrate, process and maintain environmental data at the national level, and with specific objectives:
• to establish, manage and develop the Croatian Environmental Information System - CEIS  (i.e. assist in linking together all existing data/data systems),
• to follow and calculate trends in environmental sectors and pressures from specific sectors (industry, energy, tourism, transport, agriculture, etc.),
• to prepare sectoral and overall environmental status reports,
• to coordinate data exchange with EU Institutions: European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET) and Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS),
• to organise prompt and easy access to the environmental data for a wide range of stakeholders (general public, experts, and authorised institutions).
The Croatian Environmental Information System today
The Ordinance on the Environmental Information System (Official Gazette No. 68/08) set up the structure, content, format, operational and maintenance procedures of the Croatian Environmental Information System (CEIS), along with prescription of the environmental data flow i.e. delivery terms, means and obligations of all stakeholders.
Following the latest practice in the EU with an indicator approach and SEIS principles, CEIS is designed as a decentralised but integrated information system, with the following characteristics:
• modern IT system available via an Internet portal, connecting existing environmental information systems from different institutions in Croatia and environmental systems developed inside CEA;
• collection of environmental information and reporting/delivery to CEA is conducted by more than 100 institutions and 1000 legal and physical entities according to specified deadlines.
• CEA is responsible for establishment, development, operation and maintenance of CEIS;
Environmental data in CEIS is divided into four thematic groups:
• Environmental components
• Sectoral pressures
• Health impact
• Society responses
and 11 thematic areas with corresponding 42 sub-areas:
• Waste, Air and Climate, Inland Waters, Marine, Nature, Pedology and Lithosphere
• Agriculture and Forestry, Industry and Energy, Transport and Tourism
• Health and Environment
• General Environmental Issues and Environmental Protection Documents
and currently includes 40 datasets and databases.
The main strategic and programme document that guides CEIS development in the coming years is the ’CEIS Management Programme for the period 2009-2012‘ and contains:
• participating institutions and their roles/responsibilities,
• required sets of data,
• goals, measures and activities needed to reach the goals,
• required resources – staff, education, equipment, financing, etc.,
• detailed time table for implementation of specific goals.
Indicators based on real-time data in CEIS
Indicators, simply defined as the products of data processing, whereas data are measured, calculated or based on expert judgment, are well recognised as the efficient form for monitoring the state of the environment and achieving goals of sectoral policies and strategies. From its very beginning, CEA recognised the necessity of the indicator approach, taking into account the obligations for monitoring and reporting on the state of the environment according to the national, EU and international legislation, as well as the Core Set of Indicators (CSI) developed by EEA.
The first national indicator lists for individual thematic areas (freshwaters, sea, soil, agriculture, air, climate change) were developed in the period 2005-2007. According to the Project ’Expert assistance on building up of regular state of environment reporting according to the EEA Core Set of Indicators for West Balkan countries’, CEA together with the EEA and UNEP-GRID-Arendal developed 17 indicators from the Core Set of Indicators (CSI) at the national level.
In 2007, the Environmental Act (Official Gazette No. 110/07) also recognised the necessity to develop the National List of Indicators (NLI) and assigned the obligation of its development to CEA. It also established the development of the key environmental document for monitoring the state of the environment – the four-yearly State of the Environment Report based exactly on the NLI.
In 2009, CEA together with other relevant institutions finalised the comprehensive Draft National List of Indicators including the total of 266 indicators in 15 thematic areas. Indicators, together with associated ‘data sheets’ are developed based on EEA's Core Set of Indicators, but also respecting the specific national needs. The development of NLI does not imply that all indicators can be produced. Therefore, the next step is the establishment of data flows for the indicators which lack relevant data for their processing.
Draft NLI will be further revised in order to narrow the choice of indicators to those that are in line with recently changed legislation and with great prospects to become operational in the next few years.
Success story – Marine Database Portal
The foundations of the database on data and indicators of the state of the marine environment, fishery and mariculture (marine database portal) are established within the Adriatic Sea Environmental Master Plan, ASEMP project – Republic of Croatia/UNESCO (2004–2006). During the project, a marine database was proposed, hardware and software chosen, and the database was populated with particular sets of data through the pilot project. The connection and exchange of data in real time between CEA and the source of data was tested. It was proved that duplication of data can be avoided, i.e. data can be stored in the parent institution that collects and updates them, while at the same time CEA can review and extract necessary data for reports. This pilot testing developed the basis for the possible future linking of environmental institutions and for implementing CEIS. The first version of the database was developed in 2007 in cooperation with the Institute for Oceanography and Fishery in Split (IOF) and an upgraded version was launched in March 2009.
Why is the Marine Database Portal so important?
• It is the first live network in CEIS connecting different data sources
• It enables real-time networking
• It enables work on data collecting, processing, validation from different places/institutions and presentation to the public
• The main benefit: it enables easier, quicker and more reliable national and international reporting.
The database contains data recorded in the period 1998–2008 on a total of 48 marine stations monitoring nutrients, dangerous substances, 34 mariculture sites and 8 stations for riverine inputs data.
There are more than 100 000 records collected in the database, as single-measurements data and supporting parameters. Out of 47 marine, fishery and mariculture related indicators, 36 are produced for the period 1998–2007. Indicators are presented in the form of text, graphic, or visualised in GIS Google maps. They can be summarised for all stations in one year, or for a single station for more years, and after validation are accessible to public.
Data for the calculation of trends are retrieved from the database and graphs are automatically updated when new data is added to the database. The EIONET part of the database is harmonised with EEA methodology and enables EEA to search and retrieve particular data among more than 100 000 records. This feature forms the basis for the future link with the Water Information System for Europe (WISE).
Also, links to other marine-related databases are available, to Bathing sea water quality or GIS Viewer of marine data (ESRI – GIS software leader). Database management is enabled through non-public parts where authorised experts work on indicator data sheets. All changes are tracked and an e-mail alerting function is used in the process of data validation.
Challenges and the way forward
Within the Marine Database Portal, a large amount of data is collected and validated, and marine indicators are produced and presented to decision-makers and the public. Future work will aim to connect more data sources (such as maritime traffic pollution), to upgrade the database both with additional statistical functions and GIS visualisation by ESRI software-based solutions. The portal will become the central database enabling more reliable and efficient reporting, especially with a focus on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. As a marine country and growing tourist destination, Croatia has a certain interest in further improving and extending the Marine Database Portal.
There are ideas to use the structure of the Marine database portal in other thematic areas, such as climate change, biodiversity and desertification, and topics under the international conventions: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC, United Nations Convention on Biodiversity - UNCBD and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification – UNCCD. Such attempts will be made through the Project ’Data Flow System and Indicators to Enhance Integrated Management of Global Environmental Issues in Croatia’, co-financed by UNEP/GEF (2009-2011).
It is expected that this and similar future projects will result in a fully functional CEIS featuring
• More than 100 databases
• Different data sources in a joint network
• Possibility to access all data/environmental information
• Possibility to directly prepare needed reports in required forms
• Enabling on-line real-time networking from different institutions and parallel validation of data
However, a number of challenges will have to be overcome, some of which are related to the lack of a legal framework in some environmental areas (soil/land) and consequently, a lack of appropriate collection of data and monitoring. The next large obstacle is a lack of financial and human resources for collection and management of data for which the legislation already exists, and even for transforming existing paper-form data into electronic form. Furthermore, the competence and obligations for collection and analysis of data and calculation of indicators are vaguely defined and often overlapping among responsible institutions. Standard procedures are not prescribed for all data measurements in order to ensure their quality and relevance. There is a traditional reluctance in sharing information with other institutions and the public, and data are often exchanged only on a commercial basis. The integral solution for these issues requires significant financial resources, which have been considerably cut due to the economic crisis.
In the future, Croatia will focus on the national list of indicators (NLI). Through the NLI, the establishment of obligations and standardisation of measurements, as well as collection and delivery of data to CEIS for all important areas of the environment will be ensured. Evaluation and control of the data collection linked to those indicators will take place through CEIS. One of the CEIS strategic goals is to connect to SEIS in the next decade in order to fulfill envisaged objectives:
‘A key step in implementing the SEIS approach will be to modernise the legal provisions relating to the way in which information required in various pieces of environmental legislation is made available. By doing away with paper reporting, the processes for making information available will be made simpler, more flexible and more efficient. Provided that such a proposal is accompanied by political commitment around the SEIS principles it will also lead to further simplification benefits in relation to (i) the content of information requirements in thematic environmental legislation, (ii) the content and procedure for reporting at international level, and (iii) more efficient organisation of data-gathering activities within Member States’.
The report on the regional workshop on SEIS and the SoER 2010 process with the West Balkan countries which took place in Zagreb, Croatia in March 2009 clearly states:
‘Croatia has really made a huge progress in reporting, setting up indicator based information systems and developing web sites, a progress even more important taking into account the rather small resources that have been allotted to the environmental community.’
It is obvious that the approximation process of Croatia to EU, and the necessity to comply with EU environmental acquis, including numerous reporting requirements, already started to change the way of thinking and acting of various involved institutions.
Croatia further expects that the fully developed and implemented CEIS will:
• act as an integrated, stable system for environmental monitoring in the long term,
• be an efficient tool for control and validation of implemented environmental policy measures,
• create a foundation for relevant and efficient decision-making in environmental protection policy,
• create inputs for basic strategic documents in sectors which create major pressures on the environment (industry, energy, transport, agriculture, tourism),
• enable the experts to prepare reports on the specific environmental components as well as national State of the Environment Report,
• promote the use of environmental data in digital form at the national level – making it a common practice,
• improve accessibility of environmental data for the general public, resulting in better knowledge and understanding of environmental problems and solutions,
• enable exchange of environmental information at the European level with SEIS.
CEIS, as a tool, and its related databases are of course not intended solely for the needs of the environmental sector in Croatia, but represent the prototype that can be replicated also in other sectors or used as a good example for the countries that are at the beginning of EIS development.
 http://www.azo.hr/ISZO-Informacijski (in Croatian)
 http://www.azo.hr/ASEMP (in Croatian)
 Quote from COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS Towards a Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) COM (2008) 46 final.