The vision for SEIS

Speech Published 02 Apr 2009 Last modified 13 Apr 2011
Presentation by Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency, at the EU presidency Conference - towards eEnvironment in Prague, 25th March 2009

Slide 1 – Intro

Governments across the world have been striving to avoid a deepening global recession; involving stimulus packages and bank bail out’s with sums so vast that most of us are unable to comprehend the figures involved.

In parallel, our natural world; through the pressures from climate change and ecosystem loss, is on the verge of collapse. Here too, governments are working to develop high level targets and strategies to reign in the worst effects.

In both cases there is a common thread; the political, economic and administrative mechanisms have continually left citizens sidelined as silent observers.

Our environment is influenced by massive global and national factors; it is also affected by the daily actions, no matter how small, of each and every European citizen. In addition, in today's setting, where consumption and production patterns rely on exploiting ecosystems around the world, citizens, businesses and governments can exert a global reach.

Most of the current policies and responses we observe are driven by the needs of today’s economy rather than the environment. But we cannot forget that the natural resources provided by the planet underpin our economic activity and the very cohesion of our societies.

When we consider these strategic challenges - and not just the current financial crisis - it becomes clear that fundamental changes are needed to the way we all live.

In order to bring about these changes and ensure the right actions, citizens need to be properly informed and empowered to participate in political and environmental debates at all levels, as well being empowered to change their own way of living.

Empowering change

Slide 2 and 3 - Eurobarometer

When we consider a 2008 Eurobarometer survey which revealed that 42% of EU citizens feel poorly informed about environmental issues we all realise that we must do better.

Slide 4 – who do you trust

Possibly an even greater indictment, considering the vast amount of data and information published, is the low level of ‘trust’ citizens have towards their National governments and the European Union.

At the EEA we believe that if we are to tackle our environmental problems we need to move beyond conventional systems of data collection and management. If we want to stimulate a change to the way we all live it is no longer sufficient to develop passive lists or reports to ‘inform’ citizens.

Information is still too often made available as lists of figures or spreadsheets that only experts can interpret. Imagine if all the statistics that inform our evening weather forecasts were presented in this way, or all the data that drives popular software like Google or Facebook.

Do you think they would continue to be as popular – and be able to draw the benefits from participation?

To encourage participation we need to present our information in a way everyone can understand; and importantly we need to engage with the woman on the street, in the field, in the river or on the mountain and ask how they can ‘inform’ us.

The Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) is a fundamental element of this approach and is essential to improving the quality and access to environmental information.


The environmental monitoring and reporting systems designed in the 20th century will not be able to cope with this increasing demand for higher quality, faster access, cost efficient systems to respond to today’s emerging complex issues e.g. climate change.

Slide 5 - CC

Producers and providers of environmental data will have to move from centralised information management towards integration of data and information systems. Integration both at geographical scale, from local to global, as well as thematic integration.

SEIS is an initiative that can guide Europe's collection and dissemination of environmental information over the coming years.  And let me underline from the outset – SEIS must ensure two-way communication.

Slide 6 – reporting to online services

This new approach supports the shift from paper to web-based reporting, managing information as close as possible to its source and making it available to users openly and transparently.

This shared environmental information system needs to be built on existing and new planned infrastructure, both in space as on the ground. Here the Norwegian – ‘New Nervous system for the North’ – for integrated monitoring of ship traffic, fish stocks, oil spills, is an ideal example.

Slide 7 – Norwegian example

Interlinkages between SEIS/GMES/Inspire

The Norwegian model illustrates the need to synchronise data collected. Other measures currently under discussion at EU level, or already implemented - Inspire and GMES – can play a role in this synchronisation and can be mutually supportive with the SEIS approach.

  • SEIS will build on the work of Inspire through defining standards and interoperability.
  • GMES will contribute to improving the monitoring infrastructure as well as the data services.

An important task for the technicians remains to ensure consistency between observation timetables, especially when preparing the detailed implementation plans.

But we cannot forget those who are not directly involved in these processes. In addition to the data collected through regulatory obligations, information from citizens, professional and amateur groups should be integrated wherever possible to provide the best overall picture of the environment.

Citizens Observatory

Slide 8 – Citizens Observatory

In line with this vision the EEA recently launched an online portal, called the Global Citizen's Environmental Observatory, which will enable European environmental information to be gathered and presented in a single location.

The Observatory will give governments, policymakers and citizens easy access to clear, comprehensible data in near real time.

It will provide information on all environmental media - from the global perspective to the view from the street - at levels of detail previously unseen. Importantly we already have working examples which illustrate that this approach is effective.

Ozone web

Slide 9 and 10 – Air quality and Ozone

The near-real time Ozone monitoring website is providing an hourly update of ground level ozone concentrations across Europe, allowing the user to dig down into the information – even to the individual monitoring station and the local data providers.

In addition a pilot study to use the near real-time ozone data for summer reporting was also successfully demonstrated with DG Environment in 2008, and could potentially replace the current summer ozone reporting obligations.

Not only do we see an interest from citizens wanting to know more about their local air quality, but it will definitely contribute to improved information on large scale pollution events which can be useful to policy makers and governments.

But more can be achieved by making the information more relevant to the user. In this context and in addition to Ozone web the EEA has also been involved in developing Water watch.

Water Watch

Slide 11 – Bathing water

Water watch, which provides information on bathing water quality, represents an illustration of the services to come.

Launched by the EEA and Microsoft last summer, it was visited almost 265,000 times in the first three weeks of August; providing a simple and clear indication of public demand for user-friendly environmental information.

Crucially, the approach taken at the EEA will afford every one of us a role in the information process by prioritising two-way communication.

Slide 12 - Surfers

In the case of Water Watch, local citizens or tourists are encouraged to give their opinion on the quality of the beach and water, thereby supplementing and validating official information.

For Europe's citizens, this will mean both greater access to information and a bigger role in reporting. When EU bodies review members' compliance with environmental standards, they will increasingly refer to national websites where everyone can access the relevant data, rather than relying on confidential submissions.

Information technologies offer new ways to use all available data to the full and to present findings in ways that engage citizens and policymakers alike.

This will build a much more complete and nuanced picture of the state of Europe's environment and citizens have a key role to play in data gathering the world over.

Arctic Observers

Slide 13 - Lady

In the Arctic, for instance, indigenous people form part of the EEA's global observation network, providing evidence of the real change taking place to complement our observational data and models.

We already know that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the globe. Yet outside the territories, little is understood of the true cost to indigenous people of retreating ice or the impact of seasonal change on hunting.

We need to rectify this if we are to make the right decisions. Obtaining and using local knowledge will help us empower citizens, and will also give us a better indication of what we need to do to be truly sustainable and understand the role our actions can have in other parts of the world.

Closing remarks

The EEA, in close co-operation with the European Commission and EU member states, will continue to prepare a detailed implementation plan.

Slide 14 - SEIS

This year and as part of this stepwise implementation we will focus on the 3 main components of SEIS: content, infrastructure and networking.

  • Content -  we will continue to strive for improved quality of environmental information at European level, in this instance through the launch of the 5 data centres - climate change, air, biodiversity, water and land use - before the end of this year.
  • Infrastructure - operational web map services, used for many thematic information services from local to global level, will be put online – at no cost to the user.
  • Networking – the EEA will to strengthen its networking and coordination role for access and sharing of in-situ data for the implementation of GMES services. 

This approach will help in engaging the public through more co-ordinated and timely gathering of complex data, complemented by near "real time" delivery of the information, in language that is accessible to all.

At a global level we are now beginning to realise that our unsustainable path has led to our current economic, climate and ecosystem crises.

What we now need to recognise is that the key to protecting and enhancing our environment is understandable, timely data and participation. To adapt effectively to the challenges that will come with climate change, including biodiversity loss, water stress and forced migrations of species, we have to harness the information available and the will to act at the local level.

That means empowering citizens to engage actively in improving their own environment, by using new observation techniques and innovative ideas.

SEIS will bring the environment closer to the citizen and can be the catalyst to ensure that the future of our environment is in the hands of the many, not the few!


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