Taking the 32 storm sudden commencements (SSCs) listed by the International Service of Geomagnetic Indices (ISGI) of the Observatory de l’Ebre during 2002 (solar activity maximum in Cycle 23) as a starting point, we performed a multi-criterion analysis based on observations (propagation time, velocity comparisons, sense of the magnetic field rotation, radio waves) to associate them with solar sources, identified their effects in the interplanetary medium, and looked at the response of the terrestrial ionized and neutral environment. We find that 28 SSCs can be related to 44 coronal mass ejections (CMEs), 15 with a unique CME and 13 with a series of multiple CMEs, among which 19 (68%) involved halo CMEs. Twelve of the 19 fastest CMEs with speeds greater than 1000 km s−1 are halo CMEs. For the 44 CMEs, including 21 halo CMEs, the corresponding X-ray flare classes are: 4 X-class, 19 M-class, and 21 C-class flares. The probability for an SSC to occur is 75% if the CME is a halo CME. Among the 500, or even more, front-side, non-halo CMEs recorded in 2002, only 23 could be the source of an SSC, i.e. 5%. The complex interactions between two (or more) CMEs and the modification of their trajectories have been examined using joint white-light and multiple-wavelength radio observations. The detection of long-lasting type IV bursts observed at metric–hectometric wavelengths is a very useful criterion for the CME–SSC association. The events associated with the most depressed Dst values are also associated with type IV radio bursts. The four SSCs associated with a single shock at L1 correspond to four radio events exhibiting characteristics different from type IV radio bursts. The solar-wind structures at L1 after the 32 SSCs are 12 magnetic clouds (MCs), 6 interplanetary coronal mass ejections (ICMEs) without an MC structure, 4 miscellaneous structures, which cannot unambiguously be classified as ICMEs, 5 corotating or stream interaction regions (CIRs/SIRs), one CIR caused two SSCs, and 4 shock events; note that one CIR caused two SSCs. The 11 MCs listed in 3 or more MC catalogs covering the year 2002 are associated with SSCs. For the three most intense geomagnetic storms (based on Dst minima) related to MCs, we note two sudden increases of the Dst, at the arrival of the sheath and the arrival of the MC itself. In terms of geoeffectiveness, the relation between the CME speed and the magnetic-storm intensity, as characterized using the Dst magnetic index, is very complex, but generally CMEs with velocities at the Sun larger than 1000 km s−1 have larger probabilities to trigger moderate or intense storms. The most geoeffective events are MCs, since 92% of them trigger moderate or intense storms, followed by ICMEs (33%). At best, CIRs/SIRs only cause weak storms. We show that these geoeffective events (ICMEs or MCs) trigger an increased and combined auroral kilometric radiation (AKR) and non-thermal continuum (NTC) wave activity in the magnetosphere, an enhanced convection in the ionosphere, and a stronger response in the thermosphere. However, this trend does not appear clearly in the coupling functions, which exhibit relatively weak correlations between the solar-wind energy input and the amplitude of various geomagnetic indices, whereas the role of the southward component of the solar-wind magnetic field is confirmed. Some saturation appears for Dst values <−100 nT on the integrated values of the polar and auroral indices.