ISEPEI Brings Eye on Earth Summit to CEU

In October, environmental thought and action leaders worldwide will convene in Abu Dhabi for the Eye on Earth Summit 2015 to collectively address the global challenge of increasing access to information to support sustainable development and to tackle some of the world's most pressing environmental issues. As a lead up to this, CEU's Viktor Lagutov, assistant professor and head of the Environmental Systems Laboratory, has held executive education courses for the past two years on the theme "Bridging ICTs and Environment." This summer, participants took part in the courses "Making Information Talk and Technologies Work for Water Security" and "Innovations in Disaster Risk Management." at CEU's Summer University.

Decision-makers and environmental experts are faced with the constant challenge of maintaining access to and understanding new technologies and data, as information and communication technologies (ICTs) are constantly evolving and as more and more data are becoming available. Despite continually improving technologies, informed decision-making is being hindered by inadequate attention to enabling conditions, e.g. a lack of in-service education and professional training. Decision-makers are in a position to greatly benefit from this data revolution and to better shape management strategies and make more informed, data-driven decisions if they have a periodic overview of emerging technologies and their potential applications.

Participants in the Disaster Risk Management ISEPEI course discuss environmental issues. Image credit: CEU

To fill this gap, the ISEPEI Project was launched, the joint endeavor of CEU and UNEP's Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES). ISEPEI, In-Service ICT Training for Environmental Professionals, is a seed-funded Eye on Earth project, aiming to bridge the gap between ICTs and the environment. The executive education courses offered at CEU are a crucial part of the ISEPEI Project.

"CEU is unique institution that can play a key role in the global process of in-service education and professional training," said Lagutov, director of the ISEPEI Project. "Focusing on environmental management, public policy and other decision- and policy-making disciplines, CEU, with its deeply international community and focus, can be a perfect test ground for global programs on ICT application in a range of areas: water security, disaster management, community resilience, etc. According to the ISEPEI concept, CEU is a 'hub' between decision-makers and ICT developers, who often cannot find common language between them."

In one of two ISEPEI activities this year, thirty-three water practitioners, academics and decision-makers from twenty countries including Iran, Jamaica, Nigeria, Egypt, Uzbekistan, and beyond participated in the "Making Information Talk and Technologies Work for Water Security" workshop held at CEU this July. This workshop was run in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and with additional support from the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

UNEP has been, over the past forty years, looking at building capacity throughout the world and this most recent activity with CEU looks specifically at ICTs and their power in building capacity of environmental professionals," said Mahesh Pradhan, course co-director and chief of UNEP's Environmental Education and Training Unit (EETU). "Later this year in October [at the Eye on Earth Summit], we will be very happy to showcase some of the outcomes of these training programs."

A participant works on a hands-on remote sensing tutorial led by UNOOSA. Image credit: CEU

Both participants and faculty shared their knowledge and experience in lectures, workshops, and discussions. "It's great to see everyone engaging in discussions, sharing their experiences from around the world, and learning from one another," said ISEPEI Project Manager Emily Nilson. "It's amazing to know that what was learned here during the course – how to use and apply various ICTs, outcomes of specific case studies – will be taken back and applied in the participants' home countries."

"I find it very useful being here," said participant Shaneica Lester from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, "The information about decision-making, support systems, the information about how ICTs can be used to better manage the decisions we make and to make us more proactive rather than responsive to the different impacts of climate change."

Since 2014, ISEPEI's workshops have focused on the potential use and application of ICTs (e.g. remote sensing, geospatial technologies, crowdsourcing, distance learning, etc.) in various environmental and public policy themes, showing these technologies are relevant, accessible, and easy to use for decision-making purposes despite traditional fears among practitioners. Faculty typically represent UN agencies, environmental organizations, and geospatial experts from around the world, including UNEP, UNOOSA, Esri, and Google, among others.

"We of course tried to reach out to as many as possible countries and decision-makers in raising their awareness of these technologies, but universities are very important in helping us do that because they have the research facilities, they have the infrastructure, they have the teaching capacity, and they have the network to bring together experts, students, practitioners, and promote these technologies to a wider audience," said Lorant Czaran of UNOOSA. "This is where we would like to work closer together with CEU and also partner in the future in such summer universities and as many other events as possible."

ISEPEI Project Manager Emily Nilson teaches a GIS session on ArcGIS Online Image credit: CEU

ISEPEI's second course this year, "Innovations in Disaster Risk Management" was run as a joint activity with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Rastislav Vrbensky, the director of UNDP's Istanbul Regional Hub, opened the course, which offered a variety of sessions including sharing of global experience on the use of ICTs for disaster risk reduction (DRR), as well as hands-on geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing tutorials. Participants and faculty came from all over the world to attend the course, representing DRR professionals, UNDP country offices, governmental institutions, academia and civil society.

"I think this is a fantastic opportunity for both partners [CEU & UNEP],", said Milica Begovic, an innovation specialist at UNDP Regional Centre for Europe and the CIS. "It gives us a view into the research and academic side of the issue which we don't necessarily have all the time to get into during our day-to-day work because we are very much operational on the field. But if we apply the field and practical side of work and the policy advice to the governments that we work with without the academic underpinning, we are shortchanging our clients."

As a result of these activities, a number of partnerships have been developed to continue further training and research work – for example, regular workshops and summer schools or practical projects for regional environmental organizations. Qualified CEU MSc and PhD students will participate in the planned activities and arrange internships with relevant institutions.

In addition to the workshops, ISEPEI is also developing a dedicated training manual based on the use of ICTs in water security, with the purpose of showing water and environmental decision-makers the potential use and application of ICTs in various aspects of water management with case studies from around the world. The training manual can be found here. For more information on ISEPEI's activities, click here