Integrated Environmental Assessments (IEA) are a powerful tool to help inform the development of evidence-based environmental policy and decision making. For IEAs to be most useful, they must be performed in a consistent manner. For this reason UN Environment, in collaboration with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), developed a training manual and guide for performing Integrated Environmental Assessments using the GEO approach .
An assessment involves the social process of undertaking a critical, objective evaluation and analysis of data and information, designed to meet a user’s needs as well as support decision making. It applies scientific knowledge from experts to analyze new and existing information and knowledge, to provide scientifically credible answers to policy-relevant questions (UNEP, 2015).
Environmental assessment is the process by which the consequences and effects of natural processes and human activities upon the environment are estimated, evaluated or predicted. Assessments can include within their scope ways to minimize, mitigate or eliminate those effects, and even to compensate for their impact (UNEP, 2015).
A good example is UNEP’s flagship assessment reports - the GEO reports - which over the past 20 years have examined a wealth of data, information and knowledge about the global environment; identified potential policy responses; and provided an outlook for the future. The GEO assessments, and their consultative and collaborative processes, have worked to bridge the gap between science and policy by turning the best available scientific knowledge into information relevant for decision makers (UNEP, 2016).
Typically assessments that have the most impact seem to be those where findings are not only well communicated but where there is also a plan for acting on those findings. These assessments are often produced using a results-based management approach: including a communication and outreach plan as part of the design, making the assessment an integrated part of a larger project as well as communicating the results, discussing action points as wells as follow up to ensure change and progress.