Frequently Asked Questions
 
Who are GEO partners, and how were they involved in the GEO-4 production process?
  Strong partnership is vital for GEO assessments. The main strength of the GEO process is that it is consultative, participatory and inclusive; it includes a ‘bottom-up’ capacity building component and a global network of GEO Collaborating Centres and other partners.
The ‘GEO partners’ comprise a vast network of centres of excellence, individual experts, government representatives, UN bodies and other partners. The global network of GEO Collaborating Centres forms a strong assessment partnership at the core of the process and a focus for building capacity at various levels. More than 50 CCs played an active role in preparing the GEO-4 report. Three organizations, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), represent global networks while the rest are regional or specialized centres of excellence. Regional centres were responsible for most of the regional inputs, combining top-down integrated assessment with bottom-up environmental reporting.
Throughout its process, GEO strives to consistently achieve a balance on disciplinary, regional and gender in the selection of its experts. More than 380 regional and global experts, forming ten Chapter Expert Groups (one per each GEO-4 chapter), were involved in research and drafting of the GEO-4 report as lead authors.
A total of 157 experts covering a wide range of thematic, technical and/or policy expertise were nominated by 48 governments for the GEO-4 report. Some of the nominees participated in chapter expert groups. Others availed themselves as reviewers. A total of 47 governments sent their representatives to GEO-4 regional consultation meetings. In the UN system, all UNEP divisions have contributed to the GEO-4 report providing content, reviewing draft materials and other kinds of support. Multilateral Environment Agreement (MEA) secretariats have also been involved either in chapter expert groups and/or in review of the drafts of the report drafts within the Secretariats as well as by MEAs technical and scientific advisory bodies
Who did you consult with before embarking in the GEO-4 report production?
  The design process for GEO-4 was an extensive consultative exercise consisting of a number of discrete but progressive steps and parallel planning activities aimed at further strengthening the GEO assessment process. It included GEO-4 design meetings and expert and partner consultations and regional consultations on GEO-4 in all GEO regions involving all the stakeholders in 2004 and early 2005, and the Global Intergovernmental and Multi-stakeholder Consultation on GEO-4 in February 2005.
For the first time in the comprehensive GEO reports cycle the design of the assessment has been subject to regional stakeholder consultations. Regional policy-makers and representatives of the scientific community, private sector, civil society and NGOs provided their recommendations to UNEP on key regional issues, the implementation plan for GEO-4 and on strengthening its policy relevance of the report.
The Global Intergovernmental and Multi-Stakeholder Consultation in February 2005 represented the culmination of the consultative process for GEO-4. It was convened in order to ensure that the assessment is as responsive and relevant as possible to policy makers needs as possible. About 170 participants representing governments, individual scientific and policy experts, GEO Collaborating Centres, NGOs, IGOs, MEAs and other GEO stakeholders presented the Executive Director of UNEP with a set of recommendations on the GEO-4 objectives, scope, process, overarching outline and key questions to be considered.
Who were the GEO fellows and what were their inputs into the GEO process and report?
  The GEO Fellowship initiative was established in August 2005 to bring young and qualified professionals into the GEO-4 process. A total of 34 fellows from 27 countries were selected to participate in the GEO-4 production process. Fellows were Master and PhD students, experts in their own right on particular topics, and came mainly from developing countries. Regional and gender balances were taken into consideration in the selection process. The GEO fellows became part of Chapter Expert Groups, and were involved with research, writing, fact-checking and reviewing the report.
What is and who comprises the GEO-4 High-level Consultative Group?
  The GEO-4 High-level Consultative Group was set up to provide strategic guidance on various issues, including the intergovernmental components of the GEO process, the GEO-4 launch in October 2007, high-level involvement and outreach for GEO-4.The group consists of representatives from key funding partners (Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands) and other governments, GEO Collaborating Centres, scientists, and other UN agencies. 15 high-level individuals provide a great variety of policy, science, business and civil society backgrounds.
What is the GEO Data Portal?
  The GEO Data Portal is the reference database for data and indicators used in the GEO assessment process and reports. The on-line resource provides the most important data for underlying analysis and report publication purposes, compiled from authoritative international data sources. The database currently holds more than 450 different variables, as national, subregional, regional and global statistics or as geospatial data sets (maps), covering environmental themes such as climate, forests and freshwater and many others, as well as socioeconomic categories, including education, health, economy, population and policies. The data can be explored and displayed on-the-fly and presented as maps, graphs, data tables or be downloaded in different formats. Developed to serve the data and indicator requirements of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook assessment, it has also become of interest and value to other (UN) organizations, the research community and decision-makers across the world in supporting environmental and sustainable development reporting as well as capacity development efforts in various parts of the world.
 
Did the GEO-4 report undergo a peer review process? How were comments from reviewers addressed in the drafting of the GEO-4?
  The GEO-4 report underwent two rounds of governmental and expert review. We received over 13 000 comments on the drafts of the GEO-4 report and 3 000 comments on the GEO-4 Summary for Decisions Makers. Every comment was recorded and addressed by the GEO-4 Chapter Expert Groups, and their responses to the comments were posted on a password-protected Web site. All reviewers were able to see the responses to their and others' comments. The Web site is not available to the general public in order to maintain confidentiality and allow for candid feedback from the reviewers. Further review was provided by independent experts who served as review editors, ensuring that all review comments were adequately and objectively addressed by the Chapter Expert Groups.
Why is the title "Environment for Development" and not "Environment for Sustainable Development"?
  The place for the fourth Global Environment Outlook report in the context of the human development was highly debated during the consultative process for GEO-4. Since the World Commission on Sustainable Development (the Brundtland Commission, 1987) popularized the sustainable development paradigm, the human development process has been enriched with new internationally agreed development goals and targets addressed, among others, in the Millennium Declaration, the Johannesburg Declaration and its Plan of Implementation and relevant environmental global and regional instruments. Those, in many cases, include sustainable development goals but provide a wider understanding of the issue. The name was also chosen because “Environment for Development” is UNEP’s current slogan.
What is the connection between the GEO-4 and "Our Common Future" (the Brundtland Commission report)?
  The GEO-4 report comes exactly twenty years after the publication of the Brundtland Commission's report, "Our Common Future," which first popularized the idea of sustainable development. GEO-4 looks at the progress that has been made over the past 20 years in terms of environmental policy and institutions, and the areas where more work is needed. In order to highlight these connections, progress made, and recurring issues in the effort to achieve sustainable development, "Back to Our Common Future" seminars will be held in each of the regions in conjunction with the launch of the GEO-4 report.
What is the difference between GEO and the state of the environment reports?
  Traditionally, state of the environment reports focused on biophysical aspects, and saw economic and social issues as important but separate concerns. GEO represents an evolution in environmental assessment from a purely bio-physical focus to one that includes social and economic aspects (i.e. the other pillars of sustainable development), interlinkages among different components of the environment and development and outlook for the future, making it a comprehensive integrated environmental assessment. For example, GEO-4 examines the evolution of environmental policy and environmental institutions over the past 20 years, and includes a new focus on human well-being and vulnerability. The assessment also incorporates a new forward-looking aspect, with an exploration of potential future scenarios, including projections through the medium-term to 2050.
What is the relationship between GEO-4 and the GEO Yearbook?
  When, in 2003, the Governing Council of UNEP adopted the decision to extend the reporting period between GEO reports from 2.5 to 5 years, it also requested UNEP to publish shorter annual GEO-type reports in between the comprehensive GEO reports in order to provide decision makers with a snapshot of the year’s global emerging issues, regional environmental challenges, a feature focus, and trends in most important environmental indicators.
Being much shorter as compared to the main GEO report, the GEO Year Book annual reports keep abreast of environmental issues as they unfold, highlighting the most significant environmental developments in the year in a visually appealing format. The comprehensive GEO report often elaborates the findings and messages of the GEO Year Book annual issues.
Although the GEO Year Book is more of an ‘expert report’, there is marked synergy between the two publications, the comprehensive GEO report often elaborates the findings and messages of the GEO Year Book annual issues and the Year Book series may follow up on some of the issues and trends analyzed in the GEO reports; for example, next year’s issue of the GEO Year Book will draw on findings of the GEO-4 report looking at climate change.
Starting in 2008, the annual publication will be known as the UNEP Year Book, rather than the GEO Year Book, in order to better distinguish one from the other, reflecting the different processes UNEP applies for their production.
What is the relationship and difference between GEO-4 and other global assessment processes, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments?
GEO capitalize on findings from reputable scientific assessment processes such as the IPCC assessment. As well as many individuals and expert institutions have at the same time contributed to GEO, the IPCC reports, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and other reports. While the GEO-4 draws on the findings and analyses found in other major assessment reports and processes, it addresses them from a somewhat different perspective. GEO addresses the global environmental change in a holistic manner, analyzing it in all its complexity, while taking into account regional implications of change and complex intrelinkages in the bio-physical environment and between the environment and society. For example, in the case of climate change, GEO attempts to take a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach, addressing the broader impacts of climate change, within the context of human well-being, vulnerability and development. In terms of scientific basis, GEO does not go beyond the findings of the reports it refers to but the main value added originates from its unique interdisciplinary consultative approach which benefits from full stakeholder participation at all stages.
What are GEO-4’s main messages?
  The GEO-4 assessment report has four messages:
  1. The world has changed considerably over the past 20 years, but we have not turned the corner towards sustainable development. We live in a better world than at any time in history, but unprecedented environmental change has made us more vulnerable than we have ever been.
  2. Human innovation to engineer and exploit the environment is being countered by the force of environmental change itself. Change is happening faster than we can keep up with.
  3. We have a much better toolbox and technologies to tackle some of the global challenges. We have better science, a more informed public, and a more proactive private sector but are yet to cross the threshold of sustained action and staying power to reverse the negative trends of environmental decline.
  4. How many environmental assessment reports such as GEO-4 and various others that have been or are being launched in 2007 do we need to reach the tipping point? We have a better understanding of the challenges we face. We can undo and reverse some of the damage now unfolding, adapt to those we can’t, and cease opportunities to strengthen mitigation. But we don’t have the luxury of time – delay exacerbates the problems and increases the complexity and cost to address the problems of environmental decline. The time to act is NOW!
Does the GEO-4 report focus on what has been achieved over the past 20 years?
  The report examines what responses have been made to environmental issues, successful or not, and where progress has been made (e.g. the ozone-depleting substances phase out). This includes changes in institutions and regulations over the past 20 years, their effectiveness and levels of enforcement, and where there are weaknesses or room for improvement.
What is the main difference between the GEO-4 and GEO-3 reports?
  GEO-4 differs from previous GEO reports in terms of scope, analytical framework, and findings. Each report had a different baseline and time period under review; GEO-3 took at 30 year retrospective, from 1972-2002, whereas GEO-4 looks at environmental trends as well as changes in policies and institutions since 1987, the year of publication the Our Common Future report. It also goes far beyond GEO-3 in outlook for the future providing scenarios up to 2050 while the GEO-3 report scenarios stop in 2030.
The GEO-4 report presents compelling evidence of unprecedented environmental change, within a new conceptual framework based on human well-being, vulnerability (both of ecosystems and people in developed and developing countries), and economic valuation of environmental services, or “natural capital.” GEO-4 works toward the mainstreaming of environmental and economic valuation, and the integration of social, economic, and environmental analysis. The GEO-4 authors look at the environment through a natural capital lens, the approach that will help appeal to finance and economics ministers, and be more accessible for a wider audience.
GEO-4 is the first in the GEO report series which comprehensively recognizes climate change as one of the most important threats to the human environment and development
How has the GEO-4 report captured UN’s new foci on gender and poverty and environment?
  These themes have been examined throughout the chapters, particularly within the framework of Human Well-Being and Vulnerability. They are also key issues within the regional sections in Chapter 6: Sustaining a Common Future.
How do you deal with emerging environmental challenges in the GEO-4?
  All of the chapters examine emerging issues and challenges, and what can be done to address them. The last chapter on Options for Action, presents a spectrum of responses to emerging challenges.
How do you achieve the balance between science and policy in GEO-4?
  All policy recommendations in the GEO-4 were backed up with best available data and scientific evidence, and underwent a comprehensive peer-review process. All reviewers' comments were considered and responded to by the Chapter Expert Groups and independent review editors in a transparent fashion. In all cases, the biophysical aspects came first. Because each chapter had over 20 authors, it was hard for one person or view to dominate or skew findings to support their own policy recommendations or priorities. The regional consultations on the GEO-4 draft organized in 2006 in all GEO regions were crucial in the science-policy dialogue providing an organizational platform for UNEP, scientific experts, policy practitioners and other stakeholders to exchange opinions and effectively bridge science and policy in the GEO-4 report.
Are the GEO-4 report and other GEO products available online?
  Yes, the report is available for downloading starting October 25th, 2007, from the main GEO Web site: http://www.unep.org/GEO/. Previous GEO assessments (GEO-1, GEO 2000, and GEO-3), GEO regional reports, such as the Africa Environment Outlook, and thematic reports, such as the Global Deserts Outlook, are also available from the main GEO Web site. Data used in the development of the GEO products are available from the GEO Data Portal at http://www.unep.org/geo/data or http://geodata.grid.unep.ch/.
How can I order a copy of the GEO-4 report?
  The GEO-4 report is available from 25 October, 2007 through UNEP's publications department (at UN book fairs and online at http://www.unep.org/publications) and SMI (Distribution Services) Limited; Phone: +441438748111; Fax: +441438748844; http:// www.earthprint.com and www.smibooks.com.
Copies will also be distributed at all regional launches and to the UNEP Divisions and some partner institutions.
Can I get the GEO-4 report in my language?
  The GEO-4 report will also be translated into other five UN official languages and made available as soon as possible after the October 25th launch. The other language versions of GEO-4 will be available for downloading at the GEO Web and can also be ordered via SMI (Distribution Services) Limited; Phone: +441438748111; Fax: +441438748844; http:// www.earthprint.com and www.smibooks.com.
Are there ready presentations and other outreach and educational materials for different audiences that I could use in my own regions?
  There are a lot of such materials, including graphics, fact sheets, press releases, podcast, video news release in different languages at the GEO-4 Web site suitable for downloading. These materials may be used freely for educational and non-commercial purposes provided UNEP is acknowledged.