Closing the Data Gap: Securing the Future
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The best decisions are made when we're equipped with quality information, and the bigger the decisions, the better the information needs to be.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer has altered the course of our future. Born from an academic study, the roots of which begin in 1973, scientists were able to show the link between chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions and the degradation of the ozone layer. The result of these findings was a commitment by 197 countries to a treaty that calls for the phasing out of substances that are responsible for ozone depletion. It was the world’s first truly global environmental treaty.

The best decisions are made when we’re equipped with quality information, and the bigger the decisions, the better the information needs to be. But when it comes to sustainable development – a topic where the stakes could hardly be higher – policy makers often lack access to the social, economic and environmental data they need to make decisions that will affect every citizen on Earth. This lack of integrated information is known as the “data gap,” and filling it is critical to the post-2015 development agenda.

The future of human life – in fact life of every kind – depends on us crafting a way through vast social, environmental and economic differences and across national and political boundaries to shape a future in which the world’s resources and ecosystems are conserved and the wellbeing of its citizens ensured.

The complexities and challenges of sustainable development are daunting. The climate is changing, water is increasingly scarce, and economic inequality shadows a rising human population that is consuming the planet’s resources at an unsustainable rate. All this threatens devastating consequences for the environment and all who depend on it.

And, directly or indirectly, that’s all of us.

Generating, maintaining, sharing and applying environmental, social and economic information to support informed decision-making is critical. It is also the mission of Eye on Earth, a growing global movement that includes governments, UN bodies, NGOs, the private sector, academia and civil society from all parts of the world. Eye on Earth is the first movement to focus solely on closing the data gap to ensure decision makers everywhere are equipped with the right data and information to allow them to make sustainably sound choices.

The Eye on Earth Summit, which will take place for the second time in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, from 6-8 October, takes as its theme ‘Informed Decision-making for Sustainable Development.’ It will come hard on the heels of the adoption by UN Member States of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): the guiding principles for the post-2015 development agenda and a global framework for sustainable development. Achieving them will demand collaboration on a global scale and will depend heavily on quality information, data and tools. In this, the work of Eye on Earth will play a vital role.

The driving force behind the movement is the Eye on Earth Alliance, which includes the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Resources Institute (WRI). The movement’s mission and vision are implemented through eight Special Initiatives that cover equal access, environmental education, linking knowledge networks, biodiversity, community sustainability and resilience, disaster management, oceans and blue carbon, and water security.

International collaboration across all levels and sectors of society is imperative and the cost of inaction is high. Unless we collectively plan for a future in which greater equity in human and economic development is mirrored by greater respect for the environment and for the planet’s limited resources, the survival of millions of people and of countless animal and plant species is under threat. Only with access to information that is timely, accurate, comprehensive and integrated can we hope to make the right decisions.

Ironically much of the information needed already exists, but is inaccessible. For instance, when a government or private company commissions an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a project, it is often filed away once decisions are made. The value of this data and knowledge for historical baselines or future projects is lost, and too often time, effort and substantial expense is incurred in needlessly duplicating similar research for different purposes. This inefficiency slows down, complicates and adds to the cost of vital decisions.

Anyone can join the Eye on Earth Community and gain access to a forum that facilitates interaction and collaboration across the full range of environmental, social and economic interests across the world. Innovative tools and technology have put the ability to collate and share much of the data decision makers need into the hands of citizens around the world. This decentralization and the growth of citizen science is a powerful tool that can and must play a central role in this work, maximizing the influence of the unrivalled knowledge possessed by individuals and communities of their own environment, societies and needs.

The decisions that are made to achieve sustainable development will affect each and every one of us, and on to future generations too. By joining the debate and sharing insights and knowledge we can play our part in ensuring the decisions that will shape our future are made with the best and most complete information possible.

The right information, in the right hands and backed by political will, can change the course of our future.

Membership of the Eye on Earth Community is free and open to all. Visit www.eoesummit.org or email eoecommunity@ead.ae for more information.

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