Environment policy needs to be backed by solid science. This builds political legitimacy and it ensures public credibility.
So policy makers need reliable, comparable and up-to-date information about the state of our environment and about persisting or emerging trends.
When drawing up environment policy, the Commission uses various sources of information, including environmental monitoring, data, indicators and assessments linked to the implementation of EU legislation, formal scientific research and ‘citizen science’ initiatives.
Recent decades have seen considerable improvements in the way this information is collected and used, but data collection remains variable, its quality is uneven, and too many sources can make access difficult.
A number of initiatives are now underway at EU level to address these problems.
INSPIRE is an effort to harmonise and integrate data from public bodies to form an environmental map of Europe. This will make it easier for policy makers and the public to get an overview of the state of the environment, and to understand environmental impacts as they happen.
SEIS, the Shared Environmental Information System, is a Europe-wide initiative to improve the sharing and re-use of environmental information. SEIS builds on INSPIRE, and focuses on the whole chain of environmental information, from data collection by monitoring networks to processing and analysis of data. It also covers dissemination and communication of that data, including to the general public.
SEIS has a number of key principles. Environmental information should be managed close to its source, it should be collected once, and shared for many purposes, it should be readily available and easily accessible, and it should be easily comparable. It should be available to the public in their own language, and supported through free and open software standards.
A third initiative, COPERNICUS (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is an initiative to combine data from land, sea and air monitoring stations with data from Earth observation satellites. The aim is to produce environmental datasets relevant for environment policy-making and to support policy implementation.
These approaches will help avoid duplication of effort and eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens on public authorities.