On the world, by the world, for the world

On the world,
by the world,
for the world

The Global Environmental Outlook

Delegates to UNEP's 1997 Governing Council will receive the first copies of a new mould-breaking international report, The Global Environment Outlook (GEO-1). The first of a biennial series, whose third edition will constitute UNEP's decadal State of the Environment Report, its importance lies as much in the way it was produced as in what it says.

The last Governing Council, in May 1995, requested the preparation of a new, comprehensive report that would include essential problems and threats to the environment, trends in environmental change and the global effects of expected economic development, population increase, and consumption and production patterns. It should also recommend action and measures that could effectively reverse unwelcome trends. UNEP responded to this request by launching the GEO project: a region-based, participatory global assessment initiative addressing current and emerging environmental issues.

Over 450 people have been involved in producing the first report in a worldwide drafting and consultative process which Veerle Vandeweerd, Chief of the State-of-the-Environment Reporting for UNEP, describes as time-consuming but 'extremely worthwhile'. 'The way you produce a report is a function of what you want to achieve through it,' says Vandeweerd. UNEP sees the report as a tool in building the international consensus needed to further the global environmental agenda, and so a participative, decentralized approach was essential. 'This is not a report written by a group of experts in Washington or Nairobi for everyone else,' she explains. 'It is a report written by the world for the world.'

GEO-1 has three major sections: regional assessments of the state of the environment; an examination of policy responses; and an exploration of prospects for the future. Much of the key information in the report has come from the participants at the regional consultative meetings and from some 20 institutes in different parts of the world designated as GEO Collaborating Centres (see below). Each of these collaborating institutes is internationally known for the quality and the breadth of its research, and is in close touch with other more specialized centres of excellence in its country or sub-region.

Work began on GEO-1 over a year ago. Early chapter drafts were widely reviewed and extensively modified before being discussed with policy makers at the consultations held in all six of the UNEP regions. The drafts were then changed all over again to reflect the wealth of ideas that were pooled by the participants. The result is a report which the regions can truly call their own.

GEO-1 also breaks new ground in attempting to analyze the effectiveness of what is being done to address environmental issues. This has proved a difficult task for the report's compilers. 'Information is generally available about what environmental policies are in place', says Veerle Vandeweerd, 'but it is much harder to assess the impacts of these policies, because the mechanisms for this sort of evaluation do not exist.' One of GEO's aims is to encourage governments to look more closely at their successes and failures, and to see what can be learned from them.

The final section of GEO-1 looks forward to the possible state of the world in 2015, if things go on the way they are. It balances the gloomy 'business as usual' scenario projections with a brief exploration of the improvements which would result from a drastic change in current policies and life-styles.

GEO-1 is the first step on a long journey. Each subsequent report in the series will build on previous ones, expanding on the issues which are identified as requiring closer political, public and scientific scrutiny. UNEP is engaged in an ambitious attempt to upgrade and harmonize the way in which this is done. Four international working groups have been set up to support the Collaborating Centres and to develop methodologies which will make it easier to compare and integrate regional studies. One group is devoted to models, another to possible scenarios for the future, a third to reviewing policy options and a fourth to harmonizing the compilation and distribution of data.

UNEP hopes to continue working with other United Nations organizations and agencies to develop a consortium of global report producers, to aid coordination and avoid duplication; and to set up a cooperative forum of integrated assessment centres to coordinate funding and agenda-setting, promote the exchange of data, knowledge and technology and to integrate efforts to build up regional capacity.

GEO-1 will be launched in Nairobi at the UNEP Governing Council meeting in January 1997 and subsequently in the regions. Copies of the report can be obtained through UNEP.

The GEO Collaborating Centres are: Arabian Gulf University, Manama, Bahrain; Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, Dhaka, Bangladesh; Central European University, Budapest, Hungary; Centre for Environment and Development for the Arab Region & Europe, Giza, Egypt; Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, Cali, Colombia; El Colegio de México, México, D.F., México; India Musokotwane Environment Resource Centre for Southern Africa, Harare, Zimbabwe; International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Canada; Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; National Environment Protection Agency, Beijing, China; National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, The Netherlands; National Institute for Environmental Studies, Tsukuba, Japan; Network for Environment and Sustainable Development, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire; Royal Scientific Society, Amman, Jordan; Stockholm Environment Institute, Boston, United States of America; Tata Energy Research Institute, New Delhi, India; Thailand Environment Institute, Bangkok, Thailand; University of Chile, Santiago, Chile; World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C., United States of America; Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Wuppertal, Germany.

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