Supporting Environmental Regulation with Information and Communications Technology

Jun 10 2013 Posted: 12:15 IST

Information and communications technology can be used to support environmental regulation in many ways, and, will be the subject of an international exploratory workshop on 20-21 June.

The workshop, ‘Information and Communications Technology for Environmental Regulation: Developing a Research Agenda’, will address areas such as: real-time monitoring of air pollution through sensors; large-scale databases of geographical information on the health of rivers, lakes and beaches; satellite-based monitoring of farming patterns; and the provision of information on industrial pollution to the public through government websites.

Environmental regulators are increasingly making use of this information and communications technology (ICT) for environmental regulation. In the US, the Obama administration has been particularly proactive in encouraging their Environmental Protection Agency to open its electronic systems to the public.

“The Irish EPA is a leader in this field,” explains Rónán Kennedy, a lecturer at NUI Galway’s School of Law, who is the driving force behind the event. “The online resource, GeoPortal, makes data available to the ordinary citizen. The EPA also uses specialised systems for environmental data exchange with local authorities, licensing applications and a register of pollutant releases and transfers. Another striking Irish example is Friends of the Irish Environment using aerial photography of peat bogs in order to highlight the large-scale cutting of turf.”

The event will bring international experts from three continents together, and, delegates will be experts in law, the physical and social sciences, information systems and web science. Speakers include academics, staff from non-governmental agencies and personnel from regulatory agencies.

According to Dr Martina Prendergast, Strategic Development Manager of the Ryan Institute who is co-hosting the event, “Irish researchers have been very successful to date in winning competitive funding from the EU 7th Framework Programme in the area of ICT. In fact, this area has secured more funding than other areas such as Environment, Energy, Transport, Health, and Nanosciences. I’m confident that with the calibre of researchers here at NUI Galway, we can build on the European successes to date and link up ICT expertise with that of the world-class environmental research that is happening right here in Ireland. If we get our act together and plan events like this, then we can and will be even more competitive in the Horizon 2020 programme. We must remember that there will be a budget of close to €70 billion for research, innovation and science.”    

Rónán Kennedy explains the key role that information plays in the regulatory process: “Environmental monitoring on a global and up-to-the-minute scale is rapidly becoming possible, and this can be combined with geographical information and opened to the public. Nonetheless, the use of ICT for environmental regulation is not simply a matter of the increased use of computer technology or putting pollution data on the web.”

The existing arrangements between government agencies, business and other stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations may hinder efforts to incorporate new information into the regulatory process. Firms will often have essential information but be unwilling to share it, They may claim intellectual property rights as a barrier to public access to information on the environment. Modelling, particularly of large, complex and dynamic systems such as global climate, does not always lead to accurate predictions.

“We need a better understanding of the regulatory process, environmental problems and the social and economic consequences of making information available and processes more interactive. While optimistic claims are made for the potential of ICT, the reality is somewhat more complex. It can play a significant role in improving the application, efficiency and effectiveness of government regulation. Our experience with the Internet shows the deployment of information technology often has unintended effects”, continued Rónán Kennedy.

This workshop is funded by NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute for Environmental, Marine and Energy Research, the Whitaker Institute for Innovation and Societal Change, and the Irish Research Council.

More information is available at


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