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Chapter Three: Policy Responses - Asia and the Pacific

Environmental information and education

With a few notable exceptions, such as Japan and the Republic of Korea, the information base in most countries is relatively weak. The shortage of reliable data and data analysis capabilities undoubtedly hinders policy development, planning and programme implementation. There is a need not just for more data on environmental issues but for standardizing data collection and storage, and making it accessible to technical and management levels. Data of poor quality are often recycled for studies and plans, which are later accepted without proper scrutiny. For example, the most recent (1987) estimate of forest cover in Vietnam (9.3 million ha or 28 per cent of the land area) has been repeatedly quoted and used unchanged since then, during which time the forests have been seriously exploited. Thus a serious environmental issue was not prioritized for action (MRC/UNEP 1997). The lack of baseline socio-economic data has also been identified as a serious constraint, and even where sufficient data exist there is no established mechanism for access or interchange.

Some attempts are being made to redress this situation. At national level, for example, the Indian Government Environmental Information System Network has been set up to deal with the collection, collation, storage, analysis, exchange and dissemination of environmental data and information (Government of India 1995). There have been some impressive achievements in ecosystem monitoring by satellite imaging. Remotely sensed data are increasingly being used by Commonwealth, State and Territory environmental departments and agencies in Australia (Commonwealth of Australia 1999f). Australia is also applying modelling techniques using environmental data to indicate areas of high environmental value as part of resource planning exercises, for example Comprehensive Regional Assessments for native forests (Commonwealth of Australia 1999f). Environmental indicators are being developed by several countries to assist with national state of the environment reporting.

Several sub-regional programmes have data and monitoring components and are addressing the standardization of databases and data sources to support environmental assessment, reporting, research and decision making. The ADB and UNEP, in collaboration with the Mekong River Commission, are running a Sub-regional Environmental Information and Monitoring System project to make environmental and natural resources data more easily available to national government agencies and regional organizations, and to allow such data to be quickly shared (ADB, UNEP and MRC 1996). In addition, a number of international agencies, including the ADB, UNDP, UNESCAP, the UN Statistical Institute for Asia-Pacific and UNEP are involved in strengthening institutional capacities to manage environmental information and helping some countries prepare national and regional state of environment reports. SPREP and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), with assistance from members of the Interagency Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, prepare regional state of the environment reports every five years.

The intergovernmental Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research supports a range of regional cooperative activities relevant to the region. These include standardizing, collecting, analysing and exchanging scientific data; improving national scientific and technical capabilities and research infrastructure; cooperating with research networks in other regions; providing scientific knowledge to the public and input to decision makers; and developing appropriate mechanisms for technology transfer (APN 1997).

The Environment Agency of Japan initiated Eco Asia (Environment Congress for Asia and the Pacific) in 1991 as a forum for informal dialogue among environment ministers in Asia and the Pacific. Discussion topics have included the Long-Term Perspective Project on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific to identify policy options for sustainable development, the Asia Pacific Environmental Information Network Project utilizing the Internet, and Junior Eco-Club Activities to enhance environmental awareness among children, and to promote environmental conservation activities (Environment Agency of Japan 1997c).

Nearly all countries have public education and awareness programmes which seek to sensitize people to environmental issues and problems. China has set up an environmental information system in each of its 27 provinces and autonomous regions with a technical assistance loan from the World Bank (SEPA 1996). China has been publishing its annual report on the state of the environment for 10 years, and 46 Chinese cities issue a weekly report on urban air quality. Australia has adopted state of the environment reporting as a mechanism for public education on environmental matters and is increasingly using the Internet to promote information exchange among the scientific community, the Government and the public (Commonwealth of Australia 1996). Similarly, Pacific Island members of SPREP have participated in drawing up plans for individual and joint action to strengthen environmental education, training and information systems, the fifth main objective in the Action Plan for 1997-2000 (SPREP 1997). In Myanmar, the National Commission for Environmental Affairs has, since it was established in 1990, been instrumental in promoting public environmental education and awareness in the country.

The Republic of Korea is the first country in the region to have a Law for Public Information (1996) and the government regularly publishes several environmental indicators on water and air quality. The government also distributes a White Paper on the Environment to some 160 private organizations and issues a monthly Environmental Information Bulletin (OECD 1997). The Japanese Environmental Agency also publishes an annual White Paper on the Environment and many other books and pamphlets for wide dissemination. The Environment Agency and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the UNEP International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC) in Osaka and Shiga, promote popular environmental education by producing television programmes and films, holding seminars on environmental education, and distributing teaching material (Environment Agency of Japan 1997d).

The Asia-Pacific Network for Tertiary Level Environmental Training of UNEP focuses on enhancing the environmental expertise of decision makers, policy formulators and tertiary level trainers by establishing a self-sustaining network of trained individuals. It prepares and disseminates curriculum guidelines, resource materials, teaching aids and packages for environmental training. The network has grown rapidly over the past two years, and now covers 35 countries, with more than 200 tertiary institutional members and 2 000 individual members (UNEP/ PROAP 1998). However, in general, relatively little effort has been directed specifically towards policy and decision makers in the region, particularly those concerned with resource use and resource allocation at senior government level.

In the formal educational system, the development of environmental education has concentrated on the primary and secondary levels, with pre-school and tertiary levels receiving less attention. Except in Nepal, environmental education became fully integrated into the school curricula of South Asian countries in the 1970s (UNESCO/ROAP 1992). Environmental protection has found its way into primary and secondary education and institutions of higher learning in China. The situation in Japanese schools is somewhat different as environmental education is voluntary and so differs from school to school.

There has also been considerable interest in integrating environmental concepts into adult education and literacy programmes. For example, the Asian-South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education established a network of environmental educators in 1992 (ASPBAE 1992). Many countries use informal education centres as sources of environmental education - Indonesia, for example, has promoted environmental consciousness through its 54 Environmental Study Centres (UNESCO/PROAP 1988).

NGOs have played a key role in producing print and audio-visual materials for non-formal environmental education in schools and other institutions of learning. For instance, in India, the Centre for Environmental Education has produced a wide range of books and audio-visual packages for the benefit of teachers and students (CEE 1995), while some television programmes have been successful in raising environmental awareness at all levels and drawing attention to the illegal poaching of tigers, rhinoceros and other endangered species.

Newspapers are increasingly addressing environmental issues. Until a few years ago, reporting on the environment was limited to reports of speeches on Environment Day or the coverage of tree-planting campaigns. Today journalists, working closely with environment activists, are much more pro-active and are focusing on larger issues on a much wider scale. China's national level environment newspaper, China Environmental News, played a major role in improving public awareness of the environment. Broadcasting companies also play a major role. Chinese radio stations, for example, regularly broadcast programmes and conduct competitions on environment themes, one local radio station in Beijing in 1988 attracting more than 60 000 responses from more than one million listeners to a knowledge competition on environmental protection, a success that has since been repeated by other radio stations (Chaoran and Changhua 1993).

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