Creating a Global Vocabulary of the Environment

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 31, 2000 - In English, people say "environment." En Franšais, they say, "environnement." Italian, Spanish and Portuguese speakers say, "ambiente," while in Germany they say, "Umwelt."

In Russia, China, Greece, Saudi Arabia and many other nations, the word environment is expressed in characters that look entirely different from the characters you are reading now.

In an effort to break down the linguistic barriers to environmental information exchange among nations, a major new international initiative has been launched.

Meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico last week, European, American and intergovernmental agencies agreed to collaborate on the development of a global multilingual environmental thesaurus.

The first partners in the thesaurus effort are the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) of Italy, the European Environment Agency (EEA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is headquartered in Nairobi.

Representatives of these four cooperating agencies expect other partners to join the consortium and contribute to this collaboration.

Welcoming the agreement, UNEP executive director, Klaus Toepfer said, "In the current age of globalization, a standard multilingual environmental vocabulary will facilitate and promote information exchange among countries on key environmental issues."

A common vocabulary on the environment will assist in the development of environmental information systems and the retrieval of environmental information from the Internet and other electronic resources.

The use of a controlled vocabulary for keyword indexing is a fundamental pre-requisite not only for the library community but also for our ever-expanding partnership of specialists working with environmental data and information. In the absence of a standard environmental vocabulary it would be impossible to compile meaningful datasets and information products let alone exchange them in an efficient and harmonised manner.

Database developers, librarians, and translators will find this tool to be an invaluable asset in their work.

Environmental decision makers and the general public will profit from greater access to global information systems.

The new thesaurus will bring together the EnVoc thesauri, created in 1997 by EEA and UNEP. It will be supplemented by the EPA's international activities in environmental terminology with both these organizations. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group will also be involved.

UNEP first launched its EnVoc Multilingual Thesaurus of Environmental Terms to coincide with the 1997 World Environment Day celebrations.

EnVoc is published in all six official United Nations languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

A number of other governments have undertaken the translation into their national languages. The initiative taken by these governments in translating the thesaurus into their national languages is testimony to the importance they attach to environmental terminology and the value of the thesaurus as a reference tool, UNEP's Beth Ingram said.

In this new venture, the CNR will continue its leading international role as a multilingual thesaurus developer.

As a result, other language groups will benefit from having access to a standard environmental vocabulary in multiple languages. The global thesaurus can be customized by partners to meet national or sub-regional needs.