United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 1: The Global Environment Outlook Process

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The Global Environment Outlook Project

In 1995, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), at its eighteenth Session, called for the preparation of a new, comprehensive report on the state of the global environment now and in the year 2015 (UNEP, 1995). The document should be prepared, it suggested, in close co-operation with relevant international, regional, and national organizations and institutions. The Governing Council recommended that the report include essential problems of and threats to the environment, basic trends in environmental change, and the global effects of expected economic development, population increase, and consumption and production patterns. It further requested the inclusion of recommended action and measures, such as institutional and legal changes, that could effectively reverse unwelcome trends.

The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) Project is UNEP's response to the Governing Council's request. It addresses five questions:

  • What are the major regional and global environmental problems, both current and emerging?
  • What are the major demographic, social, and economic driving forces behind the observed problems and trends?
  • Where are we heading if we continue doing "business as usual"?
  • Where do we want to be heading?
  • What is being done to address environmental concerns and what can be done in the future to move forward on the path of sustainable development?
The GEO Project has two main tracks:

  • a global environmental assessment process that is cross-sectoral and participatory, incorporating regional views and perceptions and building consensus on priority issues and actions through dialogue among policy-makers and scientists at regional and global levels; and
  • a biennial environmental assessment report series that reviews the state of the world's environment through identifying major environmental concerns, trends, and emerging issues-together with their causes, impacts, and societal responses-to provide guidance for international environmental policy formulation, action planning, and resource allocation.

The GEO Assessment Process

To implement its goals, the GEO Project will rely increasingly on a global network of Collaborating Centres, a series of regional consultations, four scientific working groups, and United Nations agency participation through the System-wide Earthwatch co-ordination function of UNEP. (See Box 1.1.)

Box 1.1

The GEO Assessment Process

The process of assessing global environmental trends and policy options in the GEO Project has four major components.

Collaborating Centres

A global co-ordinated network of Collaborating Centres consists of regional multidisciplinary institutes that are at the interface between science and policy. These centres undertake studies with the dual aim of keeping the state of the regional and world environment under review and providing scientific guidance to regional and international policy setting and action planning for sustainable development. Around 20 centres contributed to the production of GEO-1. (See Appendix 2.) Ultimately, these centres of excellence are intended to become regional engines for policy-relevant assessments, providing the information and knowledge base for sustainable development planning and for analysing the long-term consequences of current policy decisions. The centres will communicate with other institutes in their region and bring together the required expertise to cover all environmental sectors pertaining to sustainable development. Through such networking, the best regional knowledge will be brought to bear on issues of regional or global importance.

Working Groups

The four GEO Working Groups are composed of top experts from around the world. Their major goal is to ensure that methodological developments in integrated assessments are globally co-ordinated and that the studies conducted by the individual Collaborating Centres can be compared and compiled. The Working Groups will develop new methodologies as required and provide technical advice and support to the Collaborating Centres. They are implemented jointly by a number of international and national organizations. The four Working Groups are:
  • the Modelling Working Group, developing new models, harmonizing existing modelling activities, and linking integrated assessment models;
  • the Scenario Working Group, articulating a range of possible futures and examining their plausibility, desirability, and sustainability;
  • the Policy Working Group, reviewing alternative policy and response options for consideration in GEO Project analyses; and
  • the Data Working Group, harmonizing and co-ordinating the data compilation, documentation, maintenance, and distribution activities
  • of the GEO Collaborating Centres and of relevant United Nations and international organizations.

Scientific and Policy Consultations

Assessments geared towards policy setting and action planning need to be based on a dialogue between scientists and policy-makers. Regional policy consultations and other consultative mechanisms will promote and contribute to a continuous dialogue between science and policy at the regional and global levels. For GEO-1, such consultations were held in the six different UNEP Regions. (See Appendix 3 and Figure 4.2.)

The World-Wide Web is an ideal platform for group review and global document distribution, both of which are important aspects of the GEO process. Therefore, as a complement to the printed versions, the GEO Report Series will be available on the Web at http://www.unep.org/unep/eia/geo1/.

United Nations Participation

Through the United Nations System-wide Earthwatch, co-operation is sought with major United Nations organizations and bodies. For this first GEO Report, close links were maintained in particular with the United Nations Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, concerning the production of its Trends Report. United Nations bodies will increasingly contribute to data, science, and policy issues relevant in the GEO process.

The process is designed to provide in the long run an effective mechanism for international environmental policy setting, engaging experts and decision-makers from industrial and developing worlds and from international agencies as equal partners. Its primary product will be the GEO Report Series. Each report in the series will build on previous ones, expanding on the issues and linkages identified as requiring closer political, public, and scientific scrutiny. The series will include a decadal State of the Environment Report-2002.

The process endeavours to gradually become an umbrella for global and regional environmental assessments, providing a framework and a mechanism for wide participation and co-operation that will also help build the capacity in developing countries for conducting integrated, policy-relevant assessments. As such, it should become a way to integrate and link sectoral and regional assessments, as well as a mechanism for aggregating and disseminating their results.


This volume-GEO-1-is the first product of the GEO Project. It provides a snapshot of a process in the making and aims to move the process along by documenting its progress. The principal focus of GEO-1 is a review of major environmental issues from regional perspectives, and an initial evaluation of some existing and a few promising policy responses that address regional priority concerns. It also takes a first glimpse at the future using quantitative analysis techniques.

As the logical follow-up to this volume, GEO-2 will further analyse the priority issues identified in GEO-1. This analysis will be done during 1997 and 1998 using, in particular, regionally available data, knowledge, and capacity.

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