IEA Training Manual - Module 5

3. Analytical framework for integrated environmental assessment

Presentation and Discussion

Given that integrated environmental assessment deals with a system as complex as the environment and its interactions with society, a framework for analysis is essential for a successful IEA. A framework guides the analysis from general concepts towards details, and ensures that all participants involved explore different aspects of the environment from a common starting point, proceeding collectively and in an informed manner.

Agreeing on an analytical framework:

  • helps position the environment in relation to issues of sustainable development;
  • helps establish cause-effect relationships qualitatively, and quantitatively supported by data and indicators;
  • provides a communication tool for engaging a multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary group in an informed manner, by categorizing a set of complex issues and relations; and
  • provides a roadmap and systematic checklist for the IEA authors.

Several common analytical frameworks for environmental analysis exist (Table 3). Some, such as the drivers-pressures-state-impacts-responses framework, have been developed and tested in national SoE reporting. Others, such as the orientor framework, are more recent, but hold promise because they are based on a systems view of ecosystems and economies (Bossel 1999).

Table 3: Alternative analytical frameworks and their advantages and limitations.

Type Components Advantages and limitations
DPSIR Drivers-Pressures-State-Impacts-Responses on environment and human well-being.


  • Simple, intuitive analysis when focused on a single
  • issue.
  • Considers human-environment interlinkages.
  • Integrated complex environment-socio-economic   issues, analysing the impact of environmental   change on human well-being.
  • Brings together multi-stakeholders with disparate expertise, e.g., social sciences, natural sciences, and policy and law.


  • Difficult to see horizontal linkages among environmental issues. 
  • Provides little guidance on the type of impacts that can occur, or the types of policy responses that might be considered. 
  1. Exposure to environmental change.
  2. Capacity to adapt to change.


  • Identifies areas where potential for unsustainability may be greatest.


  • Not directly suitable for whole system analysis.
Ecosystem well-being Ecosystem services: 
  • provisioning
  • regulating
  • culturan.


  • Systematic linkages among many dimensions of the environment and human well-being interaction.
  • Research more focused and provides for new data.
  • Highlights emerging issues which require immediate policy response
  Human well-being:
  • the necessary material for a good life
  • health
  • good social relations to help others, and provide for children
  • security, human-made disasters
  • freedom and choice.


  • Detailed and complicated terminology.
  • Relevance not immediate for policy-makers whose focus is on political jurisdictions.
  • Selective analysis of ecosystems.
  • Still in relative infancy.
Capital based
  • Natural capital
  • Human-built capital
  • Social capital
  • Human capital


  • Solid basis in economic valuation and capital providing increased relevance for decision-makers.


  • Some resistance by practitioners to extending the concept of capital to environmental and social domains.
Sectoral Land, forest, biodiversity, fresh water, marine and coastal areas, atmosphere, built-up areas.


  • Relevant for those interested in sectoral discussion of issues


  • No immediate relevance for those interested in regional discussion.
  • Weak linkages to other issues relevant to mainstreaming the environment
Issue based Climate change, water pollution, urbanization, environmental education.


  • Resonates with public and decision-makers’ concepts and perceptions.
  • Provides for focused research and identifies emerging issues.


  • Can be ad hoc, depending on the contrast between public interest and what scientists deem important to address.
Sustainability Environment, economy, society; some variations include governance or institutions as fourth components


  • Based on systems perspective; takes environment/development interactions into account; intergenerational perspective; may require identification of safe thresholds or targets; increasingly accepted by public and private sector.


  • Potential for high level of complexity; uncertainty related to definition, interpretation and measurement

Discussion Question

Form groups of two and discuss what, if any, conceptual framework you have used in your work. Identify and explain the framework to your colleague; draw a diagram if applicable. What was your experience with the framework? When reconvening in plenary, prepare to comment on frameworks in your list.

This module is based on the Drivers-Pressures-State-Impacts-Responses framework. This framework is used in GEO reports, including the fourth Global Environment Outlook: Environment for Development (GEO-4) (see Figure 2 of Module 1). For training purposes, this resource book uses a graphically simplified version of the GEO-4 framework, and this is presented in Figure 2.1 This DPSIR framework guides you in telling an integrated story about an environmental issue. Arrows in the diagram indicate general cause-and-effect relationships among components of the framework. While some relationships are straightforward and easy to demonstrate, many linkages in environmental analyses are complex, and effects typically are attributable to multiple causes, related to different actors, operating on multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Analysing the STATE and TRENDS of the environment is central to IEA (Figure 2). This involves identifying priority environmental state issues, and analysing changes retrospectively through space and time. In the context of UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook reports, typical environmental state variables are grouped according to categories such as air, land, water and biodiversity. To effectively answer the question What is happening to the environment and why? (Step 1, Figure 1), an analysis of state variables must be accompanied by an understanding and appreciation of the DRIVERS (driving forces or indirect drivers) and PRESSURES (direct drivers) that affect state variables individually and collectively. Drivers (including demographic changes, economic and societal processes) lead to more specific pressures on the environment (including for example, land use change, resource extraction, emissions of pollutants and waste, and modification and movement of organisms). These pressures lead to changes of the STATE of the environment (e.g., climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, changes in biodiversity and pollution or degradation of air water and soils), which are in addition to those that result from natural processes.

These changes affect the ecological services that the environment provides to humankind, such as the provision of clean air and water, food and protection from ultraviolet radiation as well as impacts on other aspects of the environment itself, such as land degradation, habitat quality and quantity and biodiversity. As a result of changes in ecological services, and mediated by demographic, social and material factors, there are IMPACTS on the environment and human well-being (health, economic performance, material assets, good social relations and security).

Figure 2: Analytical framework for
integrated environmental assessment
and reporting based on GEO-4.

Societal RESPONSES can influence the environmental state and their associated drivers and pressures (either intentionally or unintentionally). Societal responses essentially fall under two categories: (1) responses directed at mitigating exposure to environmental impacts (e.g., through environmental restoration and enhancement); and (2) responses which help society adapt directly to the impacts that occur and/or build the capacity to adapt to changes in the environment. Societal responses include formulating and implementing public policy, laws and establishing/strengthening institutions, as well as through advances in science and technology.

The exposure to changes in various environmental states, combined with the ability of society to adapt to these changes, determines the degree to which people are vulnerable or are resilient to environmental change.

The basic structure of the diagram has been developed by the European Environment Agency (Smeets and Weterings 1999).

Figure 3: Interlinkages among environmental

It is clear that environmental issues are interlinked. An understanding and appreciation of these interlinkages is part of telling an integrated story of an environmental issue. For example, a driver (population growth in a forested watershed) can result in many environmental pressures such as increased logging and sewage discharge to rivers (Figure 3). Similarly, a pressure can have an effect on many environmental states (e.g., logging affecting the state of forest cover, soil quality and, in turn, water quality). 

Case Example

Telling an integrated story about water quality issues in Canada’s Red River Basin and Lake Winnipeg

Figure 4: Lake Winnipeg and the
Red River Basin

(Modified from Google Earth)
The Red River flows north from the United States into Canada where it empties into Lake Winnipeg, the world’s 10th largest freshwater lake. The Red River Basin is about 846 000 square kilometres in extent.

State: Water quality in the Red River experienced increases in flow-adjusted, total nitrogen and phosphorous concentration between 1978 and 2000, particularly north of the city of Winnipeg and the confluence of the Assiniboine and Seine Rivers.

Among the key Drivers (i.e., indirect drivers) of these pressures are urban expansion due to population growth and increased agricultural production to meet growing agriculture export demands.

Pressures (i.e., direct drivers): Total nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations in the Red River arise primarily from non-point source nutrient loading from intensive agricultural production in the Red River Basin, and from urban runoff and sewage discharges from the city of Winnipeg in Canada, and Grand Forks and Fargo in the United States.

The decreasing water quality of the Red River is having a serious negative Impact on Lake Winnipeg due to massive and rapid eutrophication. This ecosystem impact affects human well-being. For example, there is a decrease in the quality of recreational use of the lake, while commercial fish catches are at least temporarily higher due to the increased availability of biomass fish can feed on.

Currently, a mix of public policies implemented by the Manitoba provincial government of influences this environmental issue. For example, one policy is directed at the nutrient loading pressure. The Canada-Manitoba Agriculture Policy Framework calls for a 16 per cent reduction in average erosion rates on Manitoba farmland, and a 12 per cent reduction in residual nitrogen on Manitoba farmland by 2008. Specific policy instruments being implemented range from a single economic instrument (a riparian tax credit) to a host of direct programme expenditure instruments (e.g., expansion in number of conservation districts), regulatory instruments (finalization of water quality standards), and institutional instruments (e.g., provincial nutrient management strategy). Overall however, there is a general consensus that water quality in the Red River Basin in general, and in Lake Winnipeg in particular, is not being sufficiently addressed through the existing mix of local, provincial, federal and international policies.

Figure 5: DPSIR framework exercise

Those policy efforts are directed at reducing the rate of change in the state of water quality (i.e., exposure to change). What are the societal responses directed at facilitating adaptation to impacts? One example of current adaptation is by recreational swimmers who forego use of the lake during algae blooms, aided by public warnings through news and media. Additionally, the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board (2005) has been formed to study the lake, and make recommendations for mitigating the pressures on the lake and for adapting to the impacts. Many of these recommendations are now being advanced by the Lake Winnipeg Federal/Provincial Implementation Committee (2005).

The issue of water quality degradation in the Red River Basin and Lake Winnipeg is interlinked with other environmental issues as well. Perhaps one of the most striking examples is the potential impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate variability and change. An increase in occurrence of high-intensity rainfall events could affect water-borne soil erosion and subsequently, nutrient loading rates. 

See Exercise 5.3


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Module 5 - Integrated analysis of environmental trends and policies
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