Insights from the intellectual history of the Global Environment Outlook


The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) has successfully established a template for global, regional and local reporting on environment and development. GEO highlights upcoming challenges and options for policy. It has been the world’s leading assessment since the mid-1990s. An independent retrospective of GEO’s 25 years history is being conducted, with PBL as one of the supporting organisations.

At the occasion of the biannual meeting of the UN Environment Assembly and the release of the sixth Global Environment Outlook, both mid-March 2019, a summary of the retrospective is being published. A full-size book is in preparation.

Many more GEO reports discovered worldwide

Research for the retrospective has identified almost 300 worldwide, regional or local GEO reports. That is much more than previously thought. In particular Latin American countries applied GEO when they prepared for more ambitious and better-integrated environment policies. One of GEO’s key achievements has been the establishment, early on, of regional next to global perspectives on worldwide environmental resources such as land, climate, air pollution and biodiversity.

GEO needs reinventing

The retrospective is being written for the benefit of those who will commission, design and use this kind of comprehensive assessments, in support of policies during the 2020s. Times have changed, with many more thematic studies around (land, climate, water), new data sources and novel dissemination possibilities, more cases of disputed science and often shrinking budgets. In particular, assessments in the 2020 need to illuminate realistic options for action, even more so than the previous decades.

The retrospective’s authors are not completely sure if GEO has a place in support of policies on environment and development and, by now, the sustainable development goals. If it has, it needs reinventing from the principles it has previously established. Elements of GEO’s craftsmanship will be useful in any alternative policy-supporting arrangements.


Other authors
Jan Bakkes (TIAS, retired from PBL), Marion Cheatle (retired from UNEP), Nora Mzavanadze, Laszlo Pinter (IISD fellow, CUE), Ron Witt (retired from UNEP)


Publication title
Insights from the intellectual history of the Global Environment Outlook
Publication date
11 March 2019
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