Lessons from global environmental assessments

Global targets for development and the environment will not be achieved if current trends are to continue. Analyses in IPCC Climate Change 2007, UNEP Global Environment Outlook 4, OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030 and the IAASTD Agriculture Assessment all show that swift action is needed, worldwide, to achieve the internationally set targets. From the assessments, land use emerges as a new theme for international policy, as the competition over land is growing. The assessments infer that many of the solutions are already known and that possible measures are theoretically affordable. This report focuses on two areas that warrant global attention: ‘agriculture, food and biodiversity’ and ‘energy, climate and air pollution’.

The four assessments are unanimous in identifying the main global challenges in sustainable development

This report provides further insights, derived from four global assessments, into the areas of environment and sustainable development, which were published in 2007 and 2008:

  • Global Environment Outlook 4: Environment for Development, published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, 2007).
  • Climate Change 2007. Fourth Assessment Report, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007a, b, c and d).
  • Environmental Outlook to 2030, published by the OECD (OECD, 2008).
  • International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which is supported by, amongst others, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank (IAASTD, 2008).

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has played an important role in bringing about these assessments. In this report some implications for policies of the Netherlands and the EU are highlighted. From the assessments, together counting over 5000 pages, two important areas have been singled out: land (agriculture, food and biodiversity) and energy (energy supply, climate change and air pollution).

Unanimous view on global challenges

While working with very different approaches, the four assessments are remarkably unanimous in identifying the main global challenges in sustainable development. Extreme hunger and poverty will not be halved by 2015 in all developing countries (UN Millennium Development Goals). The rate at which biodiversity is being lost will not be reduced by 2010 (a goal set in the Convention on Biological Diversity, the CBD) and the impacts of climate change will not remain within safe limits (the goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC). Rapid action is, therefore, needed to bring these goals closer and to ensure that the world deals with land and energy in a more sustainable way.

Competition over land

Competition over land is a new theme that is highlighted by all the assessments, except for the climate assessment. The concerns about a secure and affordable food supply, the changes in diet (more and more people are eating meat), the maintaining of biodiversity and the demand for bio-energy, and the increase in land use by expanding urbanisation and infrastructures, all affect and are affected by the demand for land. Because further loss of biodiversity appears inevitable, priorities will need to be set in policies extending beyond 2010: which natural areas really must be preserved and should, therefore, be protected?

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Kok MTJ , Bakkes JA , Eickhout B , Manders AJG , Oorschot MMP van , Vuuren DP van , Wees M van , Westhoek HJ


Publication title
Lessons from global environmental assessments
Publication date
10 September 2008
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