The industrialized countries in particular will have to address the issue to which degree they have come closer to an ecologically sustainable development and which areas need further action in the future. Clarifications in this respect require a system of control and measures that allows for documentation and evaluate trends over an extended period of time. While international discussions about environmental goals are intensifying – Kyoto Protocol, compilation of environmental plans in most OECD states – the development of more comprehensive monitoring and evaluation systems appears to be not yet satisfactory: For example, there is a lack in describing the quality of ecosystems or developments in biodiversity. But only by relying on empirical data and the actual state of the environment we can determine whether the ecological functions of nature and landscapes have been damaged.
The development of appropriate indicators is therefore being driven forward by several international institutions. For instance, the United Nations, the European Union and the OECD are striving to formulate concepts for environmental and sustainability indicators. In addition, there are a number of technological developments, i.e. highly differentiated and wide-reaching monitoring systems. Yet, the political strategies behind these attempts are very different. For example, the EU assumes that environmental pollution can be better dealt with by bringing about changes in the economic sector and not so much in the more traditional field of environmental policy. This in turn changes the role of environmental information: Environmental issues, goals and indicators must be established in sectoral policies (which is also intended by the "Cardiff-Process" of the European Strategy for Sustainable Development) and, furthermore, the causers of environmental pressure or damages must be confronted with their own part in contributing to environmental problems.
The 2004 symposium was intended to foster the mutual exchange of information on European and Japanese efforts in recording significant environmental pollution sectors as well as the state of the environment. This included a discussion of possible solutions for related problems. The German-Japanese environmental agreement signed in 1997 also called for an early exchange on (global) issues of environmental protection.
On the whole, the symposium seeked to discuss the best approaches and concepts (best practices), to promote the transfer of information and to work out recommendations for future systems of indicators as well as for agreements and cooperation.
The target groups of the symposium included representatives from politics and government administrations, academic and scientific institutions (indicator development, policy advisors) the economy and the general public (journalists as representatives of public opinion).