Creating an environmental electronic data network
European legislation requires national authorities provide a vast amount of data to implement, monitor and report on the implementation of policies and changes in the environment. However, not all are comparable or easily accessible. INSPIRE – Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe – is overcoming some of these hurdles.
INSPIRE makes available electronic data held by public authorities for producing information on the environment. These data – covering inter alia, air and water quality, land use, waste, biodiversity, industrial facilities – are known as spatial data as they relate to an area or location. For example, the number of a species observed in a protected site or the emissions measured by an air quality monitoring station are all spatial data.
Adopted in 2007, INSPIRE embodies the principle that Member States must document and share this data and allow public bodies, and others, to access, view and retrieve it without obstacles.
Timetables are set for Member States to ensure the compatibility of the information describing spatial data and the way in which the data are structured. Member States must also implement electronic services to discover, view and retrieve the data. This involves agreeing standards for data and services across the European Union.
Initially, standards addressed areas such as transport networks, land registers and protected sites. By the end of the year, the standards will be almost complete, covering services and complex subjects ranging from sea regions to atmospheric conditions and species distribution. Member States then have two years to put newly collected data into the required form and until 2019 to transform existing data into the agreed format.
Finding and accessing the data can be done through the INSPIRE geoportal which began operating in mid-2011.
Offering new opportunities
INSPIRE improves the information used to create environmental policies by facilitating data sharing between public authorities, citizens, the private sector and the research community, even across borders. It also simplifies the administrative burden of national reporting to the EU.
A building block for many other policies, INSPIRE is a key component of e-Government, creating links between governments, businesses and the public, and allowing many synergies with the EU’s Digital Agenda.
INSPIRE makes it easier to chart environmental risks such as floods, the impact of air quality on human health and the effects of climate change. Other uses will emerge as the system becomes more widespread.