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For the community of inter-disciplinary and disciplinary scientists, analysts and practitioners who develop and use Integrated Assessment

September 2022
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FeatureFifty years of global environment assessments
IA News

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

The Society

The Integrated Assessment Society is a not-for-profit entity created to promote the community of inter-disciplinary and disciplinary scientists, analysts and practitioners who develop and use Integrated Assessment (IA). The goals of the society are to nurture this community, to promote the development of IA and to encourage its wise application.

We define Integrated Assessment as the interdisciplinary process of integrating knowledge from various disciplines and stakeholder groups in order to evaluate a problem situation from a variety of perspectives and provide support for its solution. IA supports learning and decision processes and helps to identify desirable and possible options for addressing the problem. It therefore builds on two major methodological pillars: approaches to integrating knowledge about a problem domain, and understanding policy and decision making processes. IA has been developed to address issues of acid rain, climate change, land degradation, water and air quality management, forest and fisheries management and public health.


Fifty years of global environment assessments:
a crowded landscape


by Jan Bakkes, TIAS Vice-president, retired from Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)
The recently published history of the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) describes, among many other things, the landscape of worldwide environment assessment and reporting in which GEO developed. That part of the book covers the full half-century of 1970 to 2020. The article presented here is adapted from extractions from the book, ”Keeping the World’s Environment under Review. An Intellectual History of the Global Environment Outlook”,  and highlights the steady growth of global assessments over most of that period, both in numbers and scope. (Bakkes et al. 2022, pp. 279-282)

Prior to the appearance of the first UNEP Global Environment Outlook, GEO-1, in 1997 there was no such thing as a comprehensive, forward-looking assessment series on environment and development. In the decades prior to GEO-1, comprehensive coverage of environmental trends was provided by the body of inputs to the 1972 Stockholm Conference that established UNEP (United Nations, 1973, p. 75) and the 1992 Rio Conference (United Nations, 1993). Decadal reports since 1972 and annual reports since 1974 reported on the state of the global environment (Holdgate et al., 1982; Tolba et al., 1992).

By the end of the 1980s, the information landscape featured many mature data series, but all of them were retrospective in nature. Many of these were produced by official statistical services in member countries of the OECD and throughout Europe, which was commonly based on the Driving forces - Pressures - State - Impacts - Responses (DPSIR) approach.

The emergence of global environment reports

By the early 1990s, two periodic report series were operational of the sort now recognized as modern assessments. Both of them were global as well as thematic – one on stratospheric ozone by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UNEP (WMO et al., 1985), and another on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (IPCC, 1992).  Another modern reporting system, which included a model-based component and capacity development, informed European East-West policies on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The Global Environmental Monitoring System of UNEP periodically published thematic monitoring reports, including global coverage of air and water, occasionally with an outlook component (UNEP et al., 1991; WHO and UNEP, 1992). Global development institutions, notably the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, regularly produced indicator-based reports comprising selected data series on pollution and natural resources (UNDP, 1996; World Bank, 1997).

None of these resembled the GEO in its current state, combining  thematic and regional coverage, environment and development perspectives, forward-looking aspects and collaborative processes. At the time, the environment assessments most closely comparable to GEO in terms of content were Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome, published already 20 years earlier (Meadows et al., 1972), and the biennial World Resources Report series from the World Resources Institute (WRI and IIED, 1986). WRI decided to join the effort that would lead to GEO, favouring it over its own series, and it remained a partner institute through to GEO-5 in 2012.

The emergence of thematic cross-cutting assessments

Since GEO was first published 25 years ago, reliance on integrated environmental assessment has become more prevalent in the science-policy arena (Jabbour and Flachsland, 2017; Maas et al., 2020). Over this period, three gradual changes have taken place with the combined effect of more and sometimes overlapping assessments on environment and development.

First, various thematic assessment series began to address important issues within specific sectors. For example, the Food and Agricultural Organization started to address the world’s genetic resources from a food and agriculture perspective (FAO, 2007). As some thematic assessments developed along these lines, the interaction of sectors were increasingly reported on, for example, the nexus of freshwater, land and agriculture (CGIAR and IWMI, 2007; IUFRO, 2012; UNWWAP, 2014). Recently, more assessments with an explicit cross-cutting objective have been published. In addition to their explicit aim to be cross-cutting, these assessments apply an even broader scope. Good examples are the 2020 assessment of coastal zones (GESAMP, 2018) and various assessments concerning global resource use (IRP, 2019).

Second, assessment series on environment and development began to appear in greater variety. This is especially so in the case of specialized, sector-oriented assessments. For example, 2020 saw at least three global assessments on energy production and use and the energy transition (British Petroleum, 2020; DNV, 2020; IEA, 2020). While somewhat different from assessments like GEO, especially on collaboration aspects, these sector-oriented assessments are now a familiar feature of the information landscape. Multiple assessments began to address the same specific themes, each applying its own specific lens. For example, three outlook reports on land-related issues were published over a short period (IPBES, 2018; IPCC, 2019; UNCCD, 2017). Even comprehensive assessments on environment and development started to appear in parallel, each with their own perspective (e.g. OECD, 2008; UNEP, 2007a; WBCSD, 2010).

Third, the issue domain of environment and development became mainstream and expanded, most notably with the eventual advent of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNDESA, 2019). In lockstep, the overall scope of assessments on environment and development expanded further still,  frequently and extensively discussing the deep drivers of change, long-term impacts and envisaged transitions.

The figure illustrates the effect of these changes on the number of global assessments. Assessments on specific themes (e.g. climate, oceans, chemicals) have always been there but have become more prevalent, especially after 2000. More comprehensive assessments started to appear in parallel. The category of cross-cutting assessments, for example on resource use, has grown markedly during the last ten years. The combined effect of these changes has been a sustained, 50-year long increase in the number of policy-oriented assessments on environment and development. Every ten years, the number of global assessment reports has roughly doubled, eventually stabilizing during the last ten years. The development of GEO was part of this.

Figure: Global assessments on environment and development, 1971-2020
Notes: The numbers are approximations. Only assessments that are collaborative or have at least a clear assessment process have been included. Single assessments delivered through multiple publications are counted singly.
Sources: Jabbour and Flachsland, 2017; UNEP, 2019b, and research for Bakkes et al. (2022)

If and how GEO will again find a niche in this landscape in the future is an open question. The History of GEO documents a number of key characteristics, such as a robust network of collaborating centres, strong and varied connections between planetary and regional perspectives, and, largely absent so far, the use of modern technology for engagement and dissemination. The book even sketches scenarios for GEO’s future (or lack of it). Most important of course, is the preparation process for GEO-7 that has just started.

Bakkes, Jan, Marion Cheatle, Nora Mzavanadze, Laszlo Pinter and Ronald G Witt. (2022). Keeping the World’s Environment under Review. An Intellectual History of the Global Environment Outlook. Central European University Press, Budapest – New York – Vienna

British Petroleum. (2020). Energy Outlook. 2020 edition.

DNV. (2020). Energy Transition Outlook 2020. Det Norske Veritas.
FAO. (2007). The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

GESAMP. (2020). Science for a sustainable ocean. Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from:

Holdgate, M. W., Kassas, M., and White, G. F. (Eds.). (1982). The world environment: 1972-1982. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme. Tycooly International Publishing.

IEA. (2020). World Energy Outlook 2020. International Energy Agency.

IPBES. (2018). Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

IPCC. (2019a). Climate Change and Land. An IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

IRP. (2019). Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future We Want. International Resource Panel.

IWMI. (2007). Water for food, water for life: A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (D. Molden, Ed.). International Water Management Institute.

IPCC. (1992). Climate Change: IPCC First Assessment Report. Overview and Policymaker Summaries and 1992 IPCC Supplement. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

IUFRO. (2012). Understanding Relationships between Biodiversity, Carbon, Forests and People: The Key to Achieving REDD+ Objectives. A Global Assessment Report. International Union of Forest Research Organizations.

Jabbour, J., and Flachsland, C. (2017). 40 years of global environmental assessments: A retrospective analysis. Environmental Science and Policy, 77, 193–202.

Maas, T., Kok, M., and Lucas, P. (2020). Keeping global environmental assessments fit for purpose. Challenges and opportunities for a changing context. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., Randers, J., and Behrens, W. W. (1972). The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. Universe Books.

OECD. (2008). OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Tolba, M. K., El-Kholy, O. A., El-Hinnawi, E., Holdgate, M. W., McMichael, D. F., and Munn, R. E. (Eds.). (1992). The World environment 1972-1992: Two decades of challenge (1st ed.). Published by Chapman and Hall on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme.

UNCCD. (2017). Global Land Outlook (1st ed.). United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

UNDP. (1996). Human Development Report 1996: Economic Growth and Human Development. United Nations Development Programme.

UNEP. (2007b). Global Environment Outlook-4: Environment for development. United Nations Environment Programme.

UNEP. (2019e). Global Environment Outlook 6 for Youth Africa. A wealth of green opportunities. United Nations Environment Programme.

UNEP, WHO, UNESCO, and WMO. (1991). GEMS/WATER 1990-2000: The Challenge Ahead. United Nations Environment Programme, World Health Organization, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and World Meteorological Organization.

United Nations. (1973). Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 5-16 June, 1972. United Nations.

United Nations. (1993). Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June, 1992. Volume I, Resolutions Adopted by the Conference.

UNDESA. (2019a). Global Sustainable Development Report 2019: The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

UNWWAP. (2014). The United Nations World Water Development Report 2014. Water and Energy. United Nations World Water Assessment Programme.

WBCSD. (2010). Vision 2050: The New Agenda for Business. World Business Counicl for Sustainable Development.

WBCSD. (2014). Action 2020: Overview. World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

WHO and UNEP. (1992). Urban Air Pollution Monitoring: Report of a Meeting of UNEP/WHO Government-Designated Experts, Geneva, 5-8 November 1991. World Health Organization and United Nations Environment Programme.

WMO, NASA, FAA, NOAA, UNEP, European Commission, and BFT. (1985). Atmospheric Ozone 1985—Volume I: Assessment of Our Understanding of the Processes Controlling its Present Distribution and Change. World Meteorological Organization, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States) ; Federal Aviation Administration (United States), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (United States), United Nations Environment Programme, European Commission, Bundesministerium für Forschung und Technologie.

World Bank. (1997). World Development Report 1997: The State in a Changing World. Selected World Development Indicators.

WRI and IIED. (1986). World Resources 1986: An assessment of the resource base that supports the global economy. World Resources Institute; International Institute for Environment and Development.


Seminar: Integrated assessment for environmental policy in a ‘post-truth’ society

6-7 October 2022, The Hague, Netherlands and online (hybrid event)

The PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and The Integrated Assessment Society are pleased to announce their seminar, Integrated assessment for environmental policy in a ‘post-truth’ society. This hybrid event will focus on the underlying elements of the alleged knowledge crisis to identify current practices that are used to address contested knowledge in IA, and explore promising, alternative strategies for dealing with this phenomenon. The event will also provide a platform for participants to exchange views and experiences in various situations associated with the science-policy interface, with an emphasis on IA.

The programme comprises keynotes and short statements by scientists and practitioners who have dealt extensively with the issues at hand. Two rounds of three parallel sessions will complement the programme. The first round will focus on current practices in IA that seem particularly relevant in times of contested knowledge. The second round will focus on identifying ‘better’ strategies for the future. The seminar will close with a round table discussion to refine and anchor insights and findings from the keynotes and parallel sessions. The themes to be presented and discussed include:
  • Discomfort with the post-truth society and contested knowledge
  • Current IA practices for dealing with contested knowledge
  • Environmental assessments and divergent perspectives
  • Socio-environment models and their grand challenges
  • Promising future practices
Programme for 6 & 7 October 2022 and registration here 


Upcoming Webcast in SES Modeling series - 26 Sept 2022 
Participatory Modelling to Address Socio-Environmental Problem

Monday, 26 Sept., 2022,  15:00 –16:30 (EDT UTC -4)
Monday, 26 Sept., 2022, 21:00 – 22:30 (CEST UTC +2)
Tues. 26 Sept., June 2022, 05:00 – 06:30 (AEST UTC +10)


Welcome: Margaret Palmer, Director, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, USA

Introduction: Sondoss Elsawah, Associate Professor, University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia

Presentation: “Participatory Modelling to Address Socio-Environmental Problems”
Moira Zellner, Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Director of Participatory Modeling and Data Science,
Northeastern University

Panel Session:
Laura Schmitt Olabisi, Professor, Michigan State University, USA
Juan Castilla-Rho, Senior Lecturer, Canberra University, Australia
Nagesh Kolagani, Professor, Centurion University of Technology and Management, India

Q&A: Presenters and panelists respond to questions from the participants

Open Discussion

More information and registration ...

The webcast is part of the ongoing webcast series, exploring the Grand Challenges in Socio-Environmental Systems (SES) Modeling: an Assessment Perspective, hosted by SESYNC, SEMSO and TIAS. Previous webcasts in this series...

IA News

  Seminar: River basins, deltas and port economies in times of climate change

Rotterdam, October 11-12, 2022 (hybrid event)

Hosted by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Nature Conservancy and the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design

The seminar,  River basins, deltas and port economies in times of climate change: the Rhine, Yangtze and MissRijkswaterstaatissippi, will take place in Rotterdam and online on October 11 to 12, 2022. Challenges of and ideas for integrated management of river basins and deltas in times of climate change will be discussed using the examples of the Mississippi, Rhine and Yangtze basins. All three play a central role in the drainage of their respective continents as well in economic development and egional identity. All three rivers are central transport corridors and their deltas house the largest port complexes of the world.

A central hypothesis of the seminar is that the unfolding ‘game changer’ in terms of adaptation to climate change and drastic decarbonisation of our economies can be usefully compared in both extent and scale, to the earlier ‘ game changer’ approximately 150 years ago, when ambitious engineering was extensively applied in order to steer water and land use to serve economic development. Speakers from the three basins as well as panelists in the field of water management, urban development, ecology and port economics will reflect on this.

More information and registration...


Call for papers – Biodiversity: Transformative Change Assessment 
As part of the upcoming Transformative Change Assessment of the IPBES, the scientific journal Biodiversity and Conservation is preparing a special issue on how transformative change can help achieve the 2050 vision of biodiversity. The journal invites interested individuals to submit a short synopsis of a topic they would like to write as a review, original research article, commentary or a short communication for this special issue to be published before the IPBES-9 plenary planned for the end of 2023. Students and Early Career Researchers are also encouraged to submit a short synopsis.
Submission deadline: November 30, 2022      Expected publication date: March 2023

More information on submissions

Back to top

Adapted from photo by Aleksi Tappura on Unsplash

Recent Publications
Colelli, F.P., Emmerling, J., Marangoni, G. et al. Increased energy use for adaptation significantly impacts mitigation pathwaysNat Commun 13, 4964 (2022).  

Fraisl, D., Hager, G., Bedessem, B., Gold, M., Hsing, P-Y., Danielsen, F., Hitchcock, C.B., Hulbert, J.M., Piera, J., Spiers, H., Thiel, M., Haklay, M. (2022). Citizen science in environmental and ecological sciencesNature Methods Reviews Primers DOI: 10.1038/s43586-022-00144-4 

Herzog, L., Tanguay, L.,  Beisner, B.E., Pahl-Wostl, C. Audet, R., and Schlüter, M.. (2022). Studying human-nature relations in aquatic social-ecological systems using the social-ecological action situations framework: how to move from empirical data to conceptual models. Ecology and Society 27 (3):7. [online] URL:

IISD Policy Brief #30 Science-Policy Interfaces: From Warnings to Solutions. Jan. 2022.

IISD Insight Article. Not Just Who, But Where: The need for geospatial data to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. May 2022.

Liu, Z., Deng, Z., Zhu, B. et al. (2022). Global patterns of daily CO2 emissions reductions in the first year of COVID-19 | Nature Geoscience. Nat. Geosci. 15, 615–620.


26 September 2022: Webcast on Participatory Modelling (as part of the Socio-Ecological Modeling series) with presenter, Moira Zellner, Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Director of Participatory Modeling and Data Science, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Northeastern University. 
 6-7 October 2022. Seminar: Integrated assessment for environmental policy in a ‘post-truth’ society.  and The Hague, Netherlands  and online (hybrid event)

11-12 October 2022, Afternoon CEST. Seminar: River basins, deltas and port economies in times of climate change: Rhine, Yangtze and Mississippi. Location: Rotterdam and on-line

2-6 May 2023, The International Society for Ecological Modelling Global Conference 2023: Ecological Models for Tomorrow’s Solutions|.University of Toronto, Scarborough, Canada. Deadline for symposium proposals: 16 Sept. 2022

Job Openings
Assistant Professor in Water and Climate Governance  ( Governance and Technology for Sustainability (CSTM), University of Twente, Netherlands. Deadline 15 Sept. 2022

Post-doctoral Researcher ( Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany. Deadline: 18 Sept. 2022

PhD position: Robust Energy Transition Pathways. ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Deadline: 30 September 2022

PhD position in “Valuing water for sustainable, equitable, efficient, and resilient water allocation” University of Twente, Netherlands. Deadline: 22 October 2022



TIAS Newsletter

The newsletter is published several times per year by The Integrated Assessment Society.

ISSN: 2077-2130

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