GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT PROJECT: Overview

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The Global Environmental Assessment (GEA) Project is an international, interdisciplinary effort directed at understanding the role of organized efforts to bring scientific information to bear in shaping social responses to large scale environmental change. The focus of the Project was the growing number of such efforts ranging from the periodic reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the Global Biodiversity Assessment to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that have been conducted in support of international policy-making over the last quarter century. Its central concern was to understand the impacts of environmental assessments on large-scale interactions between nature and society, and how changes in the conduct of those assessments could alter their impacts. The Project attempted to advance a common understanding of what it might mean to say that one effort to mobilize scientific information is more "effective" than another. It tried to view such issues from the perspectives of the scientific experts involved in producing assessments, the decision-makers at multiple scales who use those assessments, and the societies affected by the assessments. It attempted to embed its research approaches and interpretation of findings in contemporary theoretical frameworks of science studies, policy studies, and international relations. At the same time, the Project tried to ensure that its efforts were consistently informed by pragmatic policy considerations and perspectives through a series of workshops that engaged practitioners, users, and scholars of assessments in an off-the-record dialogue that let them compare insights and experiences. The project was launched in 1995 by William C. Clark, Nancy Dickson, Jill Jaeger, Sheila Jasanoff, Robert O. Keohane, and James J. McCarthy.

Over the course of the study, the GEA Project engaged more than 50 senior scholars, post-doctoral fellows, and students drawn from the natural, social, and policy sciences in an intensive program of training and research. Its series of workshops with assessment practitioners and managers engaged another 50 individuals. The Project produced more than 40 working papers, many of which have appeared in the peer-reviewed literature. Three synthesis volumes have emerged from the GEA Project. Earthly Politics: Local and Global in Environmental Governance (MIT Press, 2004), edited by Sheila Jasanoff and Marybeth Long Martello, has been written for scholars concerned about the tensions between political power, governance and the globally and locally referenced knowledge that is mobilized or marginalized in environmental assessment practice. Assessments of Regional and Global Environmental Risks: Designing Processes for the Effective Use of Science in Decisionmaking (RFF Press, 2005), edited by Alexander E. Farrell and Jill Jaeger, is directed towards assessment practitioners and summarizes findings on how the practices of global and regional environmental assessment can be reformed to improve their utility to decision-makers. Global Environmental Assessments: Information and Influence (MIT Press, 2006) edited by Ronald B. Mitchell, William C. Clark, David W. Cash, and Nancy M. Dickson is addressed to the community of scholars and institutional designers seeking to understand the interactions of information and institutions in structuring international affairs. A web site for the project, at http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/gea/, provides detailed information on its participants, publications and activities.

Initial support for the Global Environmental Assessment Project was provided by a core grant from the National Science Foundation (Award No. SBR-9521910) to the "Global Environmental Assessment Team." Supplemental financial support for the Team was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Global Programs, the Department of Energy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Numerous groups provided additional financial and institutional support for the Project.

 

 
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