Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Towards Solutions

A major International science conference focusing on solutions to the global sustainability challenge.

The 2012 International Planet Under Pressure conference will provide a comprehensive update of the pressure planet Earth is now under. The conference will discuss solutions at all scales to move societies on to a sustainable pathway. It will provide scientific leadership towards the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio+20.

Conference Vision

The global scientific community must deliver to society the knowledge necessary to assess the risks humanity is facing from global change. It must provide knowledge of how society can effectively mitigate dangerous changes and cope with changes we cannot manage.

Based on the latest scientific evidence, the London Planet Under Pressure conference will provide a comprehensive update of our knowledge of the Earth system and the pressure our planet is now under. The London conference will focus the scientific community’s and the wider world’s attention on climate, ecological degradation, human well-being, planetary thresholds, food security, energy, governance across scales and poverty alleviation.

The conference will discuss solutions, at all scales, to move societies on to a sustainable pathway. It will provide scientific leadership towards the 2012 UN Rio +20 conference, also in 2012.

Guiding the direction for the conference is the International Council for Science’s five grand challenges for global sustainability research: observations, forecasting, thresholds, governance and economic requirements, and innovation (technological, political and societal). The conference will also support international assessment processes, for example the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the new biodiversity assessment, plus the Millennium Development Goals.

The programme will be designed to attract senior policymakers, industry leaders, NGOs, young scientists, the media, health specialists, and academics from many disciplines.

A new vision for trans-disciplinary research and broader partnerships

The London conference will act as a platform to strengthen and enlarge the global-change research community and mark a move to a new vision for global-change research. Further, the vision is for a conference that connects leading social and natural scientists with business, investors and the development agenda to create a new understanding and environment for tackling global sustainability challenges.

Solutions that cross scales

Working across scales will be a strong theme for the conference. The scientific community will stress that there must be many governance and technological solutions at all levels, from local and national, to regional and global. It will stress that while there are many threats, global change also provides many opportunities.

The event will include strong policy interaction and a dedicated policy day. Through workshops and seminars, delegates will be encouraged to discuss options and solutions to climate change, energy, food security, water, poverty and other pressing issues.

Conference outline

The four-day conference will follow this flow:

Day 1: State of the planet: the latest knowledge about the pressures on the planet

Day 2: Options and opportunities: exchanging knowledge about ways of reducing the pressures on the planet, promoting transformative changes for a sustainable future and adapting to changes in the global system

Day 3: Challenges to progress: clarifying what is preventing or slowing humanity from implementing potential solutions

Day 4: Ways ahead: a vision for 2050 and beyond, and exploring new partnerships and pathways towards global sustainability

Each day will include relevant aspects of the conference themes (details below).


  • Meeting global needs: food, energy, water and other ecosystem services
  • Transforming our way of living: development pathways under global environmental change
  • Governing across scales: innovative stewardship of the Earth system

Multidisciplinary, multi-sectorial discussions about solutions will build up over the conference. These will culminate in discussion of the policy, investment and research environments and interactions between them needed for effective management of the planet’s increasingly scarce resources.

Theme detail

Key pressures on the planet arise from increasing globalization, urbanization and consumption in a changing climate. Global sustainability science, with its view of the Earth as a coupled socio-ecological system operating at many levels on linked scales, has insights to offer for the management of all these pressures. It cannot do this alone. It must do so in partnership with decision-makers in policy, development, business and the wider non-government sector.

Three broad themes will guide the conference:

A. Meeting global needs: food, energy, water and other ecosystem services

Demands on Earth’s terrestrial, marine, freshwater and atmospheric systems continue to rise, and society has failed to stem biodiversity loss. In addition, adequate nourishment and equitable access to clean water is still not assured for the world’s populations. We must meet humanity’s growing and interacting needs for food, energy and water, while also safeguarding the planet’s capacity to deliver a broad range of ecosystem services including carbon storage and climate regulation.

What is the state of the planet and what biophysical constraints and opportunities affect the pursuit of this integrated goal?

What is the future of the planet under different scenarios?

What roles do socioeconomic and political factors play in this context?

How can knowledge producers best interact with knowledge users so as to inform choices and help societies achieve the necessary behavioral, technological, institutional, political, economic, and cultural changes?

B. Transforming our way of living: development pathways under global environmental change

While material consumption rises in affluent societies, the fate of the planet’s poorest 1-2 billion remains bleak. We must find development pathways that can improve the quality of life for the world’s growing population in the face of the interacting pressures of globalization, urbanization, unsustainable production and consumption and large-scale environmental changes.

How will these environmental changes affect efforts to alleviate poverty?

What other metrics for assessing human well-being are needed beyond income and GDP?

What kinds of cultural, social, technological, economic and political changes have been successful in moving societies towards sustainability?

What are some new feasible strategies, and what constraints and opportunities will emerge from an active engagement between the global-change research community and stakeholders whose primary concern is improving human well-being?

How are the engineering and technology sectors responding to the global sustainability challenge?

C. Governing across scales: innovative stewardship of the Earth system

While global forces such as climate change and trade affect welfare at all levels, local actions are having global consequences. We need more effective systems for managing human activities that affect and are affected by Earth system processes.

How do human uses of natural resources and waste disposal practices affect the oceans, polar regions, freshwater, biodiversity, the atmosphere and other global commons?

How can we better manage urban development and devise effective systems to manage or govern resource use and ecosystem services from local to global levels, responding simultaneously to the globalization of problems and the growing pressure for local empowerment?

To find out more about the conference, sign up for email alerts, submit a session or an abstract, please click here.