UNEP-MCC collaborative research initiative (2013–2017)

The future of global environmental assessment-making (FOGEAM)

In the follow-up to the Paris climate agreement and the adoption and early implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals involving many synergies and trade-offs, the need to shift the focus from environmental problem analysis towards the exploration of specific solution options can be observed in international environmental governance debates. To remain policy-relevant, credible and legitimate, global environmental assessments (GEAs) must carefully adapt to a rapidly evolving governance landscape. The research project “The Future of Global Environmental Assessment Making” that was jointly initiated in 2013 by UN Environment and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change shed light on the potential utility and implications of increased solution-orientation of GEAs.

The release of GEO-5 (the Fifth Global Environment Outlook) in 2012 provided an opportunity to step back and reflect on the experiences and lessons learned from past large-scale global environmental assessments (GEAs) including the IPCC WG III AR5, IAASTD, MA, and the plans for IPBES. In this context, the MCC and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiated a collaborative research initiative (2013–2017) called “The Future of Global Environmental Assessment Making” (FOGEAM). FOGEAM was advanced by the MCC Working Group Scientific Assessments, Ethics, and Public Policy (SEP).

The research under the FOGEAM initiative aimed to learn from past GEAs in order to inform the strategic design and conduct of future GEAs, i.e. future deliberations of GEA designs between scientists, policymakers, and other stakeholders engaged at the science-policy-society interface.

FOGEAM worked toward establishing a deeper understanding of the evolution of GEAs and how their policy orientations have shifted in recentyears. It analyzed the relationships between the objectives, means (procedures, methodologies, resources, etc.) and practical consequences of GEAs, e.g. regarding policy discourses. FOGEAM investigated major obstacles and tradeoffs that have arisen in these complex and large-scale learning processes. In view of the increasing demand for solution-orientated assessments that can support the attainment of the multiple environmental goals that have been established at the international and domestic levels in recent decades, FOGEAM put a special focus on strengthening the procedural and methodological options for carrying out and integrating solution-oriented public policy assessments.


Major outputs:

  • Special Issue of Environmental Science and Policy
    • Building on the FOGEAM project, this Special Issue (Nov 2017) sheds light on the potential utility and implications of increased solution-orientation of GEAs. The article collection includes research on the coevolution of assessments and the increasingly solution-oriented governance context; conditions of success for contemporary assessment processes; the treatment of divergent viewpoints, stakes and stakeholders in solution-oriented GEAs; knowledge aggregation; and the enhanced measurement of GEA effectiveness in the emerging governance landscape. Inter alia, this body of work had significant influence on UN Environment’s recent report on “Strengthening the Science-Policy Interface: A gap analysis” (2017). The introduction to the Special Issue is available with open access.
  • High-level synthesis article in Nature Climate Change
  • Policy report prepared for UNEP in 2014
  • Three expert workshops to facilitate exchange and systematic reflection on contemporary GEAs by practitioners, scholarly observers, and other stakeholders.
    • A first workshop was held with UNEP´s assessment experts (UNEP-DEWA) in August 2013 in Nairobi.
    • A second two-day expert workshop with GEO-5 authors was held in Berlin in October 2013 to identify and discuss the lessons learned from GEO-5 and other assessments.
    • Finally, 30 Sep - 01 Oct 2015, we held a high-level expert workshop in Berlin on the challenges and prospects of solution-oriented policy assessments (see here for program and participants).
  • Paper on the objectives for stakeholder engagement in GEAs
    • Based on the FOGEAM interviews with GEA experts and practitioners, this paper analyzed the diversity of objectives for stakeholder engagement activities.
  • Presentation of FOGEAM work at various events
    • …including inter alia: the International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP), Milan, July 2015 (panel organized by C. Flachsland and M. Kowarsch); the World Science Forum, Budapest, November 2015 (INGSA side event); a webinar organized by the Intergrated Assessment Society (TIAS), June 2017; and the 3rd German Future Earth Summit in Berlin, Feb 2018.


Main methods, and people involved:

  • While also drawing on STS approaches, methods and results and employing critical perspectives, the FOGEAM project went further to largely adopt a more constructive, practical and informative perspective on GEAs that focuses more on pragmatic alternatives for GEA design.

  • FOGEAM explored GEAs by means of exploratory case studies and an empirical analysis of past GEAs, as well as theory development (also introducing novel conceptual terminology) – building on scholarship from diverse and relevant strands of literature.

  • Empirical analyses were based on: (1) roughly 100 semi-structured expert interviews (55min on average, anonymity ensured) with individuals engaged in various GEAs. All of the interviews were recorded and transcribed with the participants’ prior consent, and MAX QDA was used to facilitate coding and analysis; (2) GEA background documents, including scoping papers, meeting reports, independent evaluations, official United Nations documentation, government reports, news articles, and, of course, the assessment publications themselves; (3) our literature reviews; (4) numerous informal conversations and discussions, including with members of the IPCC AR5 WGIII Technical Support Unit, located near Berlin, several other IPCC authors from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), and the MCC, as well as with experienced scholars working at the science-policy interface and international environmental governance; and (5) the personal experiences of project team members with various GEAs: one team member (Jabbour) was part of the production team of GEO-5, and another (Flachsland) was a contributing author to the IPCC AR5 WGIII.

  • The core research team consisted of Dr. Martin Kowarsch (project leader, MCC), Dr. Christian Flachsland (project manager, MCC), Jason Jabbour (project manager, UNEP), Jennifer Garard (PhD student, MCC and TU Berlin) and Pauline Riousset (PhD student, MCC and FU Berlin).


Contact information:

For further information and document requests, please contact Dr. Martin Kowarsch.