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Experts Debate at the OAS on Environmental Statistics and Challenges for the Productive Sector in the Americas

  March 4, 2014

A panel of environmental experts discussed today at the Organization of American States (OAS) on " Environmental Statistics: Challenges for the Productive Sector in Latin America and the Caribbean" as part of the 56th Policy Roundtable, in which they discussed the progress and current status of the regional efforts to have statistics in this subject area.

The event, held at the headquarters of the regional organization in Washington, DC, was opened by the OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, who emphasized the global consensus about the importance of statistics in decision making at the government level, and commented on the need for citizens of the Americas to understand the interaction between productive activities and its environment, and to have "reliable and timely information on the state of the environment." In this regard, he recalled that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has indicated that access to environmental information is a matter of public interest.

"The generation, systematization, reliability and accessibility to information present challenges for governments and for the private sector," said Secretary General Insulza, who highlighted how in the last decade "we have witnessed efforts to reduce environmental footprint and to contribute to the creation and dissemination of records of release and transfer of pollutants." In this regard, he said that progress would be higher with an active participation of the private sector in the dialogue on environmental issues.

The head of the OAS concluded his welcoming remarks to the panelists stressing that the statistics on the state of the environment are part of the information that citizens should receive from their governments. "Considering the information and communication needs of our citizens contributes to more democratic societies and ensures that everyone in the Americas can enjoy a healthy environment," he said.

Alfonso Mercado, Professor-Researcher at the Center for Economic Studies and Coordinator of the Science, Technology and Development Program at the Colegio de Mexico, presented the research prepared by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) of the United Nations, the Colegio de Mexico, and the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), which analyzes the existing progress and deficiencies in building databases for decision making on issues of environment and sustainability .

Mercado explained that the multi institutional study focused on the case of Mexico, was based on four themes: the maturation of environmental statistics and organizing frameworks, measurement methodologies and records, environmental data and its use, and the situation of environmental statistical system and existing strategies for its development. He also presented the complementary perspectives included in the study: measuring the environmental impact from the economic unit of production, the analysis of the impact on households and consumers, and the environmental measurement on various fundamental areas for setting public policies. Referring to the specific case of Mexico, Mercado said that "in general we note that there are great progresses in environmental statistics with challenges of coverage, frequency, time and quality, and that there is a general dynamic of pressure-response activity."

Georgina Núñez, Economic Affairs Officer of ECLAC presented the regional approach of environmental statistics with emphasis on sustainability, an aspect in which agreements such as the Millennium Development Goals have contributed to the implementation of public policies aimed at achieving economic and social development with environmental sustainability. She also referred to the greater challenges that Latin America and the Caribbean face in terms of measuring expenditure on environmental protection issues "that are related to the absence of aggregated time series and the lack of continuity and comparability across countries, as these have different methodologies, agents and environmental domains," she said.

Referring to the challenges, the ECLAC official said that it is necessary for the countries to "assume environmental responsibilities involving productive activities that contribute to transparent and reciprocal interactions between the economy and the environment." "This requires a global partnership that meets the information needs and develops processes and methodologies able to systematize, interrelate and provide consistency to a wide range of existing information or to be generated in terms of expenditures and research in environmental protection," she concluded.

The presentations were followed by a dialogue with experts on the field of statistics and the environment. In this dialogue, the OAS Chief of the Integrated Water Resources Management Division, Maximiliano Campos, alluded to the value of environmental statistics as a tool in decision- making at the local, governmental and private sector level, and in the formulation of policy for productivity. Campos said that the OAS makes contributions in this field by providing mechanisms for exchange of experience between Member States. "We have become a major source of environmental statistics with a comprehensive vision of development," he said. "Environmental statistics have great value in our Organization, as they help to establish tolerable limits for the use of natural resources that help us in conflict prevention," he added.

Duncan Wood, Director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, spoke of the specific case of Mexico with special emphasis on the accountability of governments and the private sector, and the effectiveness of data collected. He stressed that one of the positive experiences of Mexico is the existence "of an environmental awareness as a crosscutting issue, which has been recognized as such by both the public and private sectors as well as by civil society in general." "This recognition, combined with clear statistics, opens horizons and many opportunities for work and progress," he said.

The Director of Environmental Statistics of the Department of Statistics and Environmental Information, SEMARNAT, Georgina Alcantara, spoke of progress achieved in her country in the compilation of environmental data and statistics, as well as the efforts in the area of "green economy,“ with emphasis on the work of the private sector and their responsibility in the mitigation of climate change. She highlighted the "considerable" development of environmental statistics worldwide "in the past 10 years, in which the reporting, registration, consultation, dissemination and presentation of them have been consolidated." She added that the main challenges that Mexico and other countries in the region are facing are related to the coordination and standardization of methodologies to improve data communication on a subject of transboundary nature.

Finally, the Principal Economist and Special Assistant to the Chief Economist at the Center for Economic Studies of the U.S. Census Bureau, Randy Becker, spoke about the experience of his country and the shared difficulties with other countries in the region. He coincided with other presenters on the need to integrate and standardize data collected from different sources and drew attention to the need of generating incentives for researchers and academics to work in an integrated manner, providing the means and encouraging them to make paradigm shift so that access and information gathering are seen as an opportunity to promote productivity.

In closing the Roundtable the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the OAS, Ambassador Emilio Rabasa, said that "statistics are a key factor for the identification and determination of priorities and for the design, implementation and evaluation of public policies and programs for sustainable economic development." He also added that "considering that what is measured can be improved, it is essential to have reliable, broad and timely information to understand where we are and define the direction where we want to go." In this sense, the Mexican diplomat considered important to further the progress, in particular, in the availability of indicators and statistics that allow the measurement of public and private investment in the environmental area.

"We believe that the OAS, in coordination with other agencies of the inter- American system, plays a key role in capacity building through the exchange of information and best practices that allows for the convergence of public and private efforts to generate indicators of environmental performance that are comparable and reliable for the entire region," he concluded.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The B-Roll of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-074/14