Over the past 10 years the European Environment Agency (EEA) has published assessments and indicators on most European environmental issues. These assessments and indicators are changing to reflect the increasingly cross-cutting nature of new environmental issues such as water management, biodiversity and ecosystem services, climate change and biofuels, health, and chemicals. Assessments are also needed to capture changes across the enlarged European Union (EU)—which covers more socially, economically, and biogeographically diverse countries—to cover longer time spans, and to include more scenario analyses and models. These new and increasingly demanding challenges put a spotlight on the manner and underlying assumptions of knowledge creation.
In this context, this chapter presents some key EEA frameworks that underpin the approaches taken to build environmental data, information, and indicators. These frameworks have already proved useful to the EEA and others and appear to be robust. However, to help improve and extend their application to complex and persistent environmental problems, we welcome extended peer review as a step toward their improvement.
Why do we need frameworks? Applying frameworks to analyze and structure information helps us move from data to information and on to the structured knowledge needed to elucidate environmental and sustainability issues and to design effective responses. However, experience shows that available knowledge is not systematically put to use in policy: "Policy-makers only take that knowledge in consideration that does not cause too great tension with their values. . . . These values are embedded in 'policy frames' or 'policy theories.' Knowledge that does not fit into these policy theories is not agreeable and will be discarded" (Veld 't 2004:83).
Therefore, the purpose of these frameworks is to help improve the organization, structuring, and analysis of environmental information, to increase the use of information and the consistency of its handling, to minimize mishandling, and to help avoid gaps in analysis and assessments. "If the principal actors do not agree about the problem definition, the values that are at stake and the knowledge that is thought to be relevant, we consider the problem unstructured" (Veld't 2004:83). Thus, if we gain agreement on frameworks, information generated based on them has a greater chance of acceptance, improving the effectiveness of associated indicators and assessments. Work in this area contributes to the framing of complex environmental problems and helps policymakers frame sound and effective policy measures.
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