Global environmental assessment

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International Encyclopedia of Geography, 2020, 1, 1, pp. 1-13
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Global environmental assessments (GEAs) are expert‐led reviews of scientific knowledge about one or more problems arising from human uses of the biophysical world. Over 40 years old, they are now an established feature of intergovernmental decision‐making about environmental management. They also increasingly capture the attention of the news media, as reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrate. Some 140 assessments have been completed so far, and many more will follow as the scale, scope, and magnitude of the human impact on the Earth increases. Over time, the processes and outcomes of assessments have evolved in a number of important ways. Though rarely the subject of formal evaluation procedures, the overall performance of assessment processes and outcomes has also seen improvement since the first assessment was completed in 1977. Even so, some argue that a new assessment paradigm is now needed in order to make assessments fit for the so‐called Anthropocene, which is the new geological epoch humans may be entering because of their unprecedented impacts on the Earth. This paradigm, according to its advocates, needs to focus less on problem identification and more on solutions delivered through technology, public policy, business initiatives, and citizen action. Operationalizing the new paradigm will be extremely challenging. Geographers have been frequent contributors to GEAs so far, and will be to any future ones, whatever form they may take. This is because GEAs cover the core academic concerns of geography and span the spectrum from natural science to the humanities.
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