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

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UNEP's Global Environment Outlook Project

The Global Environment Outlook Project addresses five questions:
  • What are the major regional and global environment 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 environment 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 environment 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 environment assessment report series that reviews the state of the world's environment through identifying major environment 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 increasingly rely on a global network of Collaborating Centres, regional consultations, four scientific working groups, and United Nations agency participation through the system-wide Earthwatch co-ordination function of UNEP (see box in Chapter 1).

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--2002.

The process endeavours to gradually become an umbrella for global and regional environment 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.

For more details about the GEO Project, please refer to the GEO Project web pages on UNEP web servers in Kenya and Norway.


GEO-1 is the first product of the GEO Project. It is a snap-shot of an ongoing worldwide environmental assessment process. It incorporates regional views and perceptions and aims at building consensus on priority issues and actions. Input was solicited from 20 collaborating centres, from United Nations organizations and through regional policy consultations.

GEO-1 describes the environmental status and trends in seven regions; it summarizes developments over time in regional policy responses; the report concludes with an exploration, based on model analysis, of what we might expect in the future for a selected number of environmental issues if no major policy reforms are initiated.

GEO-1 shows that significant progress has been made in the last decade in confronting environmental challenges both in developing and industrial regions, but that, nevertheless, the global environment has continued to degrade. Poverty, burgeoning population growth, the inefficient use of resources, high levels of consumption, waste generation, and industrial pollution are some of the key factors leading to this continuous degradation. Progress towards a sustainable future is simply too slow. The report argues that effective policy setting for sustainable development requires a blend of policy instruments that addresses the social fabric of life, ensures effective institutional arrangements, improves the economy and protects the environment.

What's new in the GEO-1 report ? It -

  • has set in motion a globally distributed process to continuously keep under review the state of the global environment.
  • is regionally differentiated.
  • presents for the first time, and from a regional perspective, environmental policy responses.
  • contains an initial analysis of possible future developments.
  • involved scientists AND policy makers in its production.

GEO-1 on Internet

The Internet version of GEO-1 is basically a digital 'copy' of the paper version. The major changes are that the limitations and possibilities of the medium have been taken into account, resulting in slightly different looking figures (to cope with the limited resolution) and tables. The text, however, should be similar. In a few cases, some minor typographical corrections have been made, and some created (due to the limited set of characters offered by HTML). Furthermore, a number of Web addresses, in particular in the references for North America in Chapter 2 have been corrected. Finally, some additional information has been given (such as this web page), to make the Internet version a 'complete' stand-alone Internet resource. The Internet launch of GEO-1 on six UNEP web servers world-wide, simultaneous with the paper publication, is a 'new' way of disseminating such reports. We therefore encourage feedback from users on the utility of Internet dissemination.

GEO-1 Related Technical Background Reports:

The GEO-1 report itself is accompanied by a series of technical background and meeting reports in which some aspects dealt with in GEO-1 are further detailed. The titles are:

  • RIVM/UNEP. 1997. The Future of the Global Environment: A Model-based Analysis Supporting UNEP's First Global Environment Outlook. UNEP/DEIA/TR.97-1. Also available on-line from RIVM.

  • SEI/UNEP. 1997. Global Scenario Group: First Meeting Report, and The Sustainability Transition: Beyond Conventional Development. UNEP/DEIA/TR.97-2

  • UNEP. 1997. Report of Regional Consultations held for UNEP's First Global Environment Outlook. UNEP/DEIA/TR.03

  • USGS/UNEP. 1997. Selected Examples of the Use of Remote Sensing Imagery for Environmental Assessment. UNEP/DEIA/TR.97-4

  • UN DPCSD/UNEP. 1997. Report of the Meeting on Integrated Environmental Assessment/Global Environment Outlook (IEA/GEO) Core Data Working Group, 22-23 January 1996. UNEP/DEIA/MR.97-1 (reprint of early 1996 report)

  • UNEP/RIVM/PE. 1997. Report of the UNEP/RIVM/PE Workshop on Global and Regional Food Production and Land Use and the Long-term Impact of Degradation of Land and Water Resources, Bilthoven, the Netherlands, 20-22 May 1996. UNEP/DEIA/MR.97-2

  • UNDPCSD/UNEP/UNU/RIVM. 1997. Report of the First Meeting of the Global Modelling Forum for Sustainable Development, organised and sponsored by UNDPCSD, UNEP, UNU and RIVM, Bilthoven, the Netherlands, 23-24 May 1996. UNEP/DEIA/MR.97-3

  • UNEP. 1997. GEO Overview (a 16 page summary brochure)
These reports can be obtained from:

Anthony Polak
SMI (Distribution Services) Ltd
PO Box 119, Stevenage
Hertfordshire SG1 4TP, United Kingdom
Email: Anthony@SMIBooks.com


Where do we go from here?

The GEO project provides a long term and continuous assessment process, with regional input from all over the world, with the goal to keep under review the global environment, identify emerging issues and guide international environmental policy setting.

To this end, a global network of 20 Collaborating Centres has been set up, mechanisms for regional policy consultations have been established, input from UN organisations are being solicited via the UN-System wide Earthwatch and 4 international working groups have been established.

The second GEO report will:

  • use a limited set of indicators to describe the current state of the environment in different regions;
  • provide a preliminary analysis of the environment impact in the regions of international agreements, treaties, conventions etc;
  • report on a scientific survey on emerging environmental issues;
  • systematically describe and analyse environmental policy responses in different regions, using response indicators to the extent possible;
  • provide a detailed analysis of alternative policy options, on a regional basis, for the four key areas for strengthened environmental action, identified in GEO-1: land, water, energy and technology.

The process for the preparation of the second GEO report has started already, with a first major meeting of all Collaborating Centres planning in Groningen, the Netherlands, for 3 to 5 March 1997 and a second meeting on the regional policy studies planned in China in May 1997.

The capacity building component of the GEO project, which will enable developing countries to fully participate in the production of GEO-2, is funded by the Dutch Directorate General for International Development Cooperation (DGIS). Discussions with other potential donors are underway.

The second GEO report will be the Millenium report, with as targeted publication date July 1999.

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