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Today the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Microsoft Corp signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on leveraging information and communication technology (ICT) solutions to help address today's complex environmental challenges. The signing took place during UNEP's 25th session of the Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum on the theme "Globalization and the Environment", held at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, and attended by more than 100 environment ministers.
The partnership focuses on helping environmental stakeholders -- including UNEP and other international organisations, governments, nongovernmental organisations and researchers -- work more effectively by making use of new technologies. UNEP and Microsoft are cooperating to support UNEP's mandate of promoting environmental understanding and increasing public knowledge about environmental factors and the problems facing future generations. Areas of cooperation include the following:
"We view our partnership with Microsoft as key to delivering solutions on a scalable level to a community of more than 190 nations and the UN system as a whole," said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director. "UNEP's ability to mobilise information technology and the platforms for sharing environmental information is a precondition for working together as an international community to tackle environmental issues."
"Without equitable access to information and the capacity for developing countries to engage on an equal level in negotiating key agreements like the climate change treaty or the biodiversity convention, we will not make much progress," he said.
Access to Research and Scientific Information
UNEP and Microsoft have been collaborating since 2006 on Research4Life, a public-private partnership that includes the Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE) consortium. Research4Life provides access to the latest scientific research through an online library of more than 7,500 peer-reviewed scientific journals, books and databases, made available by 130 publishers at low or no cost to developing countries. OARE focuses on environmental information, providing scientists, practitioners and policy-makers in participating countries with the information they need to implement targeted programmes and make environmentally sound decisions.
The platform is already having an important impact on communities, such as in Kenya's Rift Valley, where researchers used OARE resources to address pollution of the Njoro River watershed through a series of programmes, resulting in a reduction of waterborne diseases among the local population and cleaner use of the river.
Also, Microsoft Research's Computational Science Lab in Cambridge, UK, is partnering with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) to advance environmental and ecosystem science, prioritising areas of urgent concern in environmental policy, at the intersection of climate change, biodiversity, human activity and sustainability.
WCMC is the world's authoritative institution for monitoring biodiversity and ecosystems for conservation purposes and collecting data globally on important biodiversity indicators. Microsoft Research's Computational Science Lab is one of the world's leading research laboratories pioneering new computational approaches to tackle fundamental challenges in the science of complex natural systems.
Integrated Knowledge Platforms for Information Sharing and Collaboration
The public-private partnership is underscored by UNEP and Microsoft's shared recognition that addressing the impact of climate change is a serious challenge that requires a comprehensive and global response from all sectors of society.
"If the world is to address the challenges of climate and environmental sustainability at scale, there will need to be many more partnerships between companies, governments and nongovernmental organisations," said Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist at Microsoft. "We are honoured to work with UNEP to help accelerate leveraging science and ICT to enable people around the globe to both manage and reduce their impact on the environment. By collaborating with UNEP, we will use technology to work more effectively towards meaningful environmental change."
UNEP and Microsoft are developing knowledge platforms for enhanced information sharing and collaboration between environmental groups and governments. For example, the UNEP Global View for the Environment platform will use the Microsoft Single View Platform and Microsoft Virtual Earth to visually represent key environment projects, statistics and polices and to track progress towards reaching the environmental objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This online mapping service relies mainly on inputs from UNEP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other environment data sources, creating the leading One UN portal for access to international environment information.
Another project is the update of the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), an online platform maintained by UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre. WDPA allows the world's major oil and mining companies to access the information they need to avoid infringing on protected areas.
Microsoft is also participating in UNEP's Climate Neutral Network (CN Net) initiative to promote global "buy-in" to climate neutrality. CN Net provides a platform for countries, cities, major international corporations, UN agencies and nongovernmental organisations that have set the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets in the world to present their strategies in climate neutrality, providing visibility and inspiration to others. The programme serves as a network for sharing information and experiences, making the best available knowledge on climate neutrality widely available to all.
Applications That Help Measure and Monitor Environmental Sustainability
A current challenge in measuring, monitoring and managing environmental sustainability is the lack of standardised methodologies and supporting systems within organisations to gather the data. Microsoft is addressing this through the development of specialised software.
In collaboration with the William J Clinton Foundation, Microsoft is delivering a free tool called Project 2 Degrees, an emissions tracker for cities to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The application enables city officials to calculate the carbon footprint of both municipal operations and their communities uniformly, and use this information to enhance planning and decision-making for meaningful climate action and savings. It also helps users reduce and manage their energy consumption.
The Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics AX helps businesses deal with one of their biggest challenges: reducing their impact on the environment. The application streamlines the collection of data on four of the Global Reporting Initiative G3 Environmental Performance Indicators related to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, thus helping businesses measure consumption, monitor the impact of changes and ultimately reduce their carbon footprint.
UNEP's mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP is an advocate, educator, catalyst and facilitator, promoting the wise use of the planet's natural assets for sustainable development. With its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, UNEP has a first-hand understanding of the environmental issues facing developing countries. (http://www.unep.org)