I attended the following sessions (as well as most of the plenaries) at Planet under Pressure 2012:
Staying away from the edge: avoiding biophysical, ecological and social tipping points.
New strategies for defining planetary boundaries.
Future Earth (an integrated research programme for 2012-2020 for the global environmental change scientific community)
Reconciling food security, biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.
Highlights from biodiversity and ecosystem services research: a DIVERSITAS perspective.
Pressures on agriculture from increased bio-energy demand and biospheric carbon management.
Securing progress: identifying and implementing solutions for environmental change.
Global scenarios: sustainability boundaries and the great transition.
Other topics included: the oceans, climate, freshwater management, developing countries, research programmes of international scientific bodies, geo-engineering, governance, ICT, energy, infrastructure, cities, psychology and values, communication, equality.
The most inspiring solution that I came across at the conference was the farmer-to-farmer exchange of agroforestry techniques in South and Central America. This is an example of people taking their future into their own hands, and the reason this approach has taken off is firstly, because these countries have an unequal distribution of wealth, so waiting for governments to solve problems isn't worthwhile, and secondly, the effect on the land is so obvious. Slash-and-burn agriculture involves using the land for 2 years and leaving it fallow for 14 years, whereas in an agroforestry system, the land can be used productively for 10 years with 5 years fallow (photo from GEF).
I went to Planet under Pressure to highlight permaculture (among other things), so it was pleasing to see that the permaculture community is closely linked in with the farmer-to-farmer movement. Permaculture was mentioned in passing on several posters and I also made a point of introducing permaculture to the people who co-ordinate the international research programmes, so that they ask the sort of questions that permaculture can answer.
The biggest omission that I noticed (I didn't go to every session so I may have missed some relevant presentations) was reporting on the growth of renewable energy – despite some sessions on energy transitions. Renewables are being installed at an increasing rate in every major developed and developing country in the world, with annual global installations now far higher than for nuclear energy. Wind and solar are expanding fastest, and photovoltaics (PV) are unique in terms of the drop in price that comes with greater production – the cost per watt has more than halved in the last year, and grid parity (the point when it is cheaper than buying from the national grid, and therefore from big fossil fuel power stations) has already been reached in locations with expensive electricity, for example Hawaii and California. Grid parity will signal a revolution in energy supply equivalent to the transition from mainframe computers to hand-held devices – when I was a kid, my father's office had one computer, which took up the second floor of the building. Your mobile phone probably has a more powerful processor. For further technical discussion by industry professionals of every aspect of energy distribution and supply, including lots on the practicalities of implementing large-scale renewables, have a look at http://www.claverton-energy.com/.