Category Archives: Plenary

Plenary Sessions

My Takeaways from Planet Under Pressure

By Nisha Pillai, Conference Moderator

Looking back on Planet under Pressure I can’t help feeling a touch dazed. What an extraordinary event to have moderated at, with the next Earth Summit, Rio +20 looming on the horizon. The sheer scale of the conference was mind-boggling, as three thousand people – scientists, NGOs, policy makers, a sprinkling of business folk and about a hundred journalists – descended on London’s ExCeL Centre from the four corners of the world. Yet somehow the level of debate was mostly high, the boiled-down, ten minute-long presentations were the most memorable I’ve encountered at many a conference, and the electronic questions, despite my initial misgivings, were a triumph…

A short digression on the use of social media and electronic questions, if I may. With time of the essence at such a vast event, the Planet under Pressure organisers decided early on to abandon conventional questions from the floor – and rely entirely on electronic questions sent in via Twitter, or text/sms, or directly through our live webstreaming page. And it worked! Reams of questions poured in: well over five hundred over the four day event. That, plus the ability to scan the questions on my ipad, gave me a far better chance to connect the audience to our plenary speakers and panellists than if I had simply called on random contributions from the floor. It also meant that a further three thousand or so people joining the conference via the live webstream could also participate by sending in their comments remotely. Best of all was: “no mic hogging from the floor”, as one tweet so memorably put it.

Other personal highlights: Sandra Diaz’s beautiful slides illustrating her presentation on biodiversity in peril; Lord Giddens of LSE’s humane wisdom; Bina Agarwal from Delhi University’s plea for small scale projects involving women; Richard Wilkinson’s persuasive evidence on how equality, not growth, is what delivers wellbeing; Oran Young and Maria Ivanona, who did the seemingly impossible and made governance interesting, even imperative. But the biggest surprise was Anne Glover, chief scientific advisor to the European Commission – was there ever such a blunt, outspoken, kick ass advisor as she?

Those are some of my personal takeaways from the crazy jamboree that was Planet Under Pressure. Please take a moment to add your own comments below – how was it for you?

PS: And I made a whole family of new friends too. From the IGBP: Wendy Broadgate, Owen Gaffney, Reed Evans, Hilarie Cutler, and my ace Twitter guru, Andrew Merrie. Also, Priya Shyamsunder, Felix Dodds and Nigel Cameron, not to mention the incomparable duo, Lidia Brito and Mark Stafford-Smith, plus always smiling, ever so helpful, John Ingram.

My Takeaways from Planet Under Pressure was published 3 April 2012 by Nisha Pillai at Nisha Pillai’s blog site with the author’s permission.

The voice of the people at #Planet2012

Questions asked at the Plenary Sessions (first three days)

Questions asked at the Plenary Sessions (first three days)

It has been an exciting and hectic three days here at Planet Under Pressure where we have been covering a huge array of topics in depth: from paradigm & values shifts, the developing concept of ecosystem services, principles of governance, participatory methods enabling collective intelligence to foster voluntary collective actions (rather than individual actions), ecological & engineering constraints of last-resort measures such as geo-engineering, through to Social Media For Sustainability. Prior to the conference it was difficult to say what the response from our online communities would be but after three days I can say that we are pleasantly surprised and extremely gratified by the huge response and engagement that we have experienced so far.

In fact, the latest analytics indicate that we have connected with over 1 million people on Twitter via the #Planet2012 and  Hashtag. Some of our Superstar tweeters who have helped us to spread the word include: @NewScientist, @CGIAR, @Revkin, @Oxfam, @SciDevNet, @pdjmoo & @NigelCameron, thank you to all of you and many others for your contributions and engagement.

Furthermore, thousands each day have watched us live from places as far away as Ghana, Thailand and Australia. Over the course of three days, we have received questions numbering around five hundreds via the online webcast, SMS and Twitter via #AskPlanet.

The number of questions received has been hugely valuable even if we have only been able to answer a small percentage of them during the plenary. Based on our analysis, we have identified six broad themes of ideas that people have expressed as being critical in building ‘knowledge towards solutions’ as we attempt to understand global environmental change and how we might shift to a more sustainable world. Each theme will be introduced along with some examples of questions and comments that were received.

1. Institutional/Political Change:

This first theme that emerged out of the questions is focused on many of the structural components of the system that make it either more difficult or amenable to change. At the conference we have heard from Institutional Scholars such as the Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom and the world renowned International Regime theorist Professor Oran Young. One Interesting question that came in from Ben Ramalingam drew on the insights of Ostrom’s work to ask:

What promising examples of scalable innovative ‘sustainable  commons’ institutions do the panel see ‘out there’?

Of course as important as institutions are for changing behavior, they only represent one part of the puzzle. Another aspect of this is the changing face of participation in governance processes at the international level, well articulated in the following question by Xin Yiang of the UN Rio+20 conference Executive coordinator office:

How to connect the virtual world in the negotiation room with the real world (say the civil society) ?

2. The Global, the Local and the Glocal:

The second very strong theme focused on the interaction of the local and the global and recognized the challenge of addressing cross-scale interactions. This theme revolves around the question of where is the best ‘place’ or scale to focus action and change. two questions clearly articulate these concerns:

Bhopal Pandey from kings college London – How do you think centralised or top down approach in effective governance such as reforestation in china and community or bottom up approach in Nepal and India doing the same thing. Which is more effective in terms of good governance?


How can we empower people in Africa and Asia to create solutions for themselves? From Mark, University of Reading. 

I think this question is particularly interesting because it gets at the issue of how the top down can empower the bottom up and how bottom up change is able to scale and create wider impacts.

3. Specific Tools and Actions to Drive Change:

The third theme of the questions represented the desire of many at the conference and watching online for practical solutions that can be implemented, if not immediately then certainly within the near future to drive change.

Dr Mike Slattery from the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth asked:

We have 1 billion without electricity and 2 billion on the way: if we have to shut down coal and are not going to engage in hydraulic fracturing, how do we move forward on supplying energy to a growing, ever consuming world?

The energy question, which provided a lot of questions is of course central to any debate around addressing the feasibility of a  shift to a more sustainable world and how to mitigate the current impact of the fossil fuel based energy system on global environmental change.

Another set of questions about specific actions revolved around lifestyle changes, Vicki Hird of the World Society raised these concerns with the following question:

 Can the panel say if they would support new measures to reduce and improve meat consumption and if so what clever new measures? Given that this issue keeps being avoided…

The Bridges to the Future Series of Participatory sessions at #Planet2012 made great progress on considering many new interesting approaches to moving forward, here is the information about the topics and methods:

4. Mental Revolutions and Shifting Paradigms:

The ‘Paradigm Shift’ was a very strong theme that came out of an analysis of all the questions. People clearly understand that with all the knowledge gathered by scientists and others in understanding the challenges we face and the solutions that exist, something deeper is required to drive long-term transformative change. A couple of questions illustrate this eloquently:

Steffen Bauer of the German Development Institute said;

We know a lot about biophysical tipping points, but how to approach social tipping points that need to be reached to avoid the biophysical ones in a timely and equitable way?

Also the mysterious Fitz stated that we need to change the nature of the obsession of modern society, which builds on the points made by Professor Wilkinson on equality being a key ingredient to sustainability:

How do we change our fundamental obsession away from consumption. i.e. towards an obsession with equality? 

This fundamentally about changing the conception of the good life rather than framing sustainability as Austerity, sacrifice and reduction.

5. The Science of the Anthropocene:

The Next theme comes from the recognition that something is fundamentally unique about the now, we are in a new era which requires not only new knowledge, governance and technology but a different kind of science.

One important set of questions by a number of people asked:

How in concrete ways could science engage more directly with arts and culture in order to move towards redefining the good life? 

This is something that in most cases, Science has not done well but as such it represents new field of endeavour for communicating in a deeper way that is able to create emotional connections and consideration of values through two very different but equally creative fields.

A different angle was presented by Christian Schweitzer of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Germany when he asked:

What is considered as an appropriate approach to integrate complex scientific results in policy discussions/decisions?  And how do you communicate this more complex, interdisciplinary and integrated science?

Two questions does not do this theme justice when it is very much at the heart of  #Planet2012

6. The Role of Business in Sustainable Transformation

Business has a somewhat complicated role with respect to sustainability being simultaneously responsible for a fair amount of environmental damage now evident at the global scale but also responsible for astonishing innovation, for raising many millions of people out of poverty and providing many dearly loved and necessary goods and services. This dualism was evident in the questions that were received.

A really interesting question was raised by ‘J.S.’ that focused on business innovation and the potential for sustainability:

You say clean energy and biodiversity has a potential market of billions of dollars. Private companies of similar size like Apple and Google have transformed our way of life, what do you think is preventing such change in terms of the environment even though the potential is huge?

This is a key issue. Colleagues at the Resilience Centre have been developing the concept of Social-Ecological Innovation to try and articulate what innovation actually means in a human dominated world.

A second component of this theme focuses more on the potential for knowledge sharing between science and business. After all, collectively business holds a huge amount of resources and information that could assist us to collectively better understand the challenges we face and how to develop and implement solutions. One such question was phrased as follows:

How do we see the role of business in contributing new knowledge to respond to a planet under pressure + how academia should work with business to generate solutions?

Business must be involved as part of the solution but they like science must transform to deal with a rapidly changing world.

Concluding Comments:

This overview of the questions and themes that have been raised at #Planet2012 in no way does justice to the 500 or so questions we received in only three days. It is encouraging though that many people are thinking about the challenges we face and the potential solutions across multiple dimensions and then connecting these dimensions as we together begin to start thinking more about systems amidst the recognition that there are no silver bullets, Panaceas or golden rules. It is going to be extremely difficult but humanity has never shied away from challenges and #Planet2012 plays an important role of facing these challenges head on.

And to conclude, here are collages of words coming from the collective questions people asked from all over the world, day by day, for your perusal…

Plenary Sessions Questions - Tuesday Day 2: State of the Planet

Plenary Sessions Questions - Day 1: State of the Planet

Plenary Sessions Questions - Tuesday Day 2: Options & opportunities

Plenary Sessions Questions - Day 2: Options & opportunities

Plenary Sessions Questions - Day 3: Challenges to Progress

Plenary Sessions Questions - Day 3: Challenges to Progress

Plenary Sessions Questions - Day 4: Planetary Stewardship

Plenary Sessions Questions - Day 4: Planetary Stewardship

Get Prepared to Grow: a new perspective on the changing business environment

By guest blogger Yvo de Boer, Special Global Advisor, KPMG Global Climate Change and Sustainability Services

Over the past two decades, we have recognised that the way we do business has serious impacts on the world around us. It is now apparent that the state of the world affects the way we do business. The central challenge of our age – maintaining human progress while minimising resource use and environmental decline – can simultaneously be one of the biggest sources of future success for business.

Given the unprecedented natural resource scarcity, skyrocketing food prices, escalating energy security issues and an expected population growth of up to 10 billion in 2100, the private sector is ever more challenged to overhaul its strategy and make its business models future proof. For example, if companies had to pay for the full environmental costs of their production, they would lose 41 cents for every US$1 in earnings on average. External “off balance sheet” environmental costs of 11 key industry sectors (including upstream supply chain) rose by 50 percent between 2002 and 2010.

Government policies, investor values and consumer preferences are also altering rapidly, thus impacting businesses’ bottom line and demanding a long-term vision, supported by immediate action. Is this forced by stakeholder demand, or primarily driven by sound entrepreneurship? It is up to each and every company to decide for itself.

Rather than attempting to survive risks resulting from global megaforces, business leaders can do much more. Indeed, with foresight and planning, and by undertaking pioneering actions to prepare for an uncertain future they can thrive by turning risks into new opportunities. Companies need to develop resilience and flexibility for an unpredictable future and build capacity to anticipate and adapt.

First and foremost, businesses need to fully assess and understand future sustainability risks, for example by integrating them into an Enterprise Risk Management tool, define their responses to deal with them, and analyse opportunities for efficiency, substitution or adaptation.

Integrated strategic planning and strategy development are needed as well, which requires business management to make sustainability central to their corporate strategy and incorporate it at all levels. Put simply, businesses must manage risks and capitalise on opportunities, by turning strategic plans and strategies into ambitious targets and actions. One can think of energy and resource efficiency improvements, sustainable supply chain management, investment into innovation on sustainable products and services, as well as gaining access to new markets for greener products, services and technologies. It is also imperative to explore tax incentives tailored to alternative energy, energy efficiency and other areas related to sustainability.

Another much discussed but less implemented tool to success in this area is measuring performance and reporting on sustainability, as well as the related benefits. The growing trend of integrated reporting is an example where companies are building frameworks for sustainability reporting processes, stronger information systems and appropriate governance and control mechanisms on a par with those currently used in financial reporting.

Organisations can’t do this alone. Collaboration with partners on sustainability issues is vital to enhance leverage and improve cost-benefit ratio of action. Business leaders should seek opportunities for genuine dialogue with governments and demonstrate new and innovative approaches to public-private partnerships. Improved dialogue could focus on economic instruments and market barriers that could be reduced to make sustainable business operation easier. Good management used to be about preparing for the expected, now it is just as much about preparing for the unexpected.

Competitive advantage can be carved out of emerging risk. It is clearly no longer the question if we must transcend to a more sustainable economy. The question is the pace in which we are able, and especially willing, to achieve it.

To thrive, or even just to survive, businesses needs to understand the root causes of what affects their operations, not just the symptoms. The bold, the visionary and the innovative recognise that what is good for people and the planet will also be good for the long term bottom line and shareholder value. This is how we can make our common economy future proof.

Yvo de Boer was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2006 – 2010, the body responsible for a multi-lateral response to climate change.  In 2010, he joined the accountancy firm KPMG as its Special Global Advisor, Climate Change and Sustainability and Global Ambassador.  In 2011, he was appointed to chair the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Climate Change.

Mr. De Boer will give a plenary presentation at Planet Under Pressure on Tuesday, March 27at 8:30 a.m. on Green Economic Development.