The global GEO process is described on the website (www.unep.org/geo). Module 2 shows how this process can be modified for the purpose of national IEAs.
GEO is first and foremost a participatory process for environmental assessment; it aims to facilitate the interaction between science on the one hand and policy and decision making on the other. Participation by a broad range of stakeholders has been increasingly recognized as an essential element of assessment processes dealing with complex issues, where there is a lot of uncertainty and where societal awareness is necessary to ensure effective implementation of response options. An example is the worldwide network of GEO Collaborating Centres with regional mandates or thematic expertise, that forms a strong assessment partnership at the core of the process, and helps in building capacity at various levels. Comprehensive peer review and consultative mechanisms with governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and scientific institutions are other integral components. Advisory groups provide guidance on conceptual approaches and methodology development. For GEO-4, there are advisory groups on capacity building, data and outreach, as well as expert groups writing individual chapters. The process is underpinned by a dedicated, interactive, online data portal (http://www.geodata.grid.unep.ch). This participatory and consultative process gives GEO assessments scientific credibility, accuracy and authority. The process targets a wide audience by providing information to support environmental management, decision making and policy development. In addition to the stakeholders being active participants, they are also a major target audience and potential GEO spokespeople. Through their own organizations and networks at global and regional levels, these GEO stakeholders help to spread the word on GEO’s key findings and policy messages.
Following the establishment of the GEO process and production of the first GEO report, UNEP’s Governing Council renewed the mandate for GEO in 1997, 1999 and 20025. The latest of these Governing Council decisions extended the interval between the GEO reports to five years, and added an “annual GEO statement.”
In addition to producing a five-year GEO report, UNEP also has a mandate for capacity building, which is an integral part of the GEO process and works at different levels, using a range of mechanisms. At the level of global GEO reports, Collaborating Centres and other contributors advance their IEA skills through a learning-by-doing approach, working with leading international experts and producing assessment content for the main report. At the regional, national and sub-national level the target group includes practitioners and managers in charge of relevant assessment and reporting processes. These sub-global IEAs, often mandated and led by governments adopt elements of the GEO approach, building consistency and strengthening the global process.
Each GEO assessment is multi-dimensional in scope, incorporating environmental, policy, geographic and temporal perspectives. Environmental dimensions include:
- thematic (related to the state and trends of land, atmosphere, water and biodiversity);
- functional (related to the provision of environmental goods and services);
- sectoral (the relationships between the environment and activity areas such as energy use, industry, tourism, agriculture and trade);
- cross-cutting (relating to issues such as production, consumption, gender, poverty, human security and vulnerability); and
- interlinkages within and among all of the above.
Geographically, we can distinguish between the global GEO assessment and sub-global (regional, national and sub-national) assessments. While GEO-1, GEO-2, GEO-3 and GEO-4 are global in scope, they are differentiated at regional and sub-regional levels to highlight important spatial variations and the environmental priorities warranting policy attention in different parts of the world.
Each GEO assessment covers a specific time period decided by, or relevant to, the policy makers to whom it is targeted. GEO-3, for example, was requested by the UNEP Governing Council to be a “30-year after Stockholm” (1972–2002) report. The outlook is an important part of the time scale. As well as covering the period since 1972, GEO-3 looked forward to the next 30 years. GEO-4 is looking in particular at the 20-year period since the Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” (1987) and forward to the year 2050.
- What benefits does a strong mandate bring to an assessment process? Think for example, about needs for financial support, policy relevance and the potential for getting recommendations implemented.
- What do you think are the most urgent capacity needs for carrying out an integrated environmental assessment in your country? Are there enough trained scientists, policy makers, managers and analysts? Do potential users have enough understanding of causes and consequences of and responses to environmental change?
5 . GC19/3; GC20/1; GC22/1/IB