ASU researchers, Nobel laureate have stake in 'Planet under Pressure' forum

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The future of the oceans, poverty alleviation, global trade, biodiversity and food security are among research areas that will be at the core of the “Planet under Pressure” (PUP) conference this month with more than 2,500 participants, including several scientists from Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

“The agenda for worldwide sustainability science will be set at this conference,” stressed Sander van der Leeuw, dean of ASU’s School of Sustainability and a PUP conference participant. “The whole of the research agenda for sustainability science for the next several years will be recast and the funding reorganized to take account of the discussions at this conference,” he said.

According to organizers, the Planet under Pressure forum will provide a comprehensive update of human knowledge of the Earth system and the pressure the planet is now under, based on the latest scientific evidence. This major international science gathering, held March 26-29 in London, is designed to focus on solutions to the global sustainability challenge, organizers said. It will discuss solutions, at all scales, to move societies onto a sustainable pathway. Additionally, it will provide scientific leadership toward the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio +20”) in Rio de Janeiro this June.

ASU research professor and Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom is the chief scientific advisor for the Planet under Pressure conference.

“Given the mounting evidence of the sheer scale of global changes we are witnessing, the scientific community has a responsibility to urge public officials, citizens and private firms in all countries to focus on the need for major policy changes to avoid major irreparable damage to our planet,” Ostrom said in a stakeholder statement.

“I sincerely hope the 2012 conference will make a significant contribution to placing sustainability on everyone’s agenda,” said Ostrom, founding director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Ostrom, who also is a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist in GIOS, is widely known for her study of institutions — conceptualized as sets of rules — and how they affect the incentives of individuals interacting in repetitive and structured situations. She splits her research time between ASU and Indiana University, where she is a Distinguished Professor and Senior Research Director for the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.

Also participating at PUP will be the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) project hosted by GIOS at ASU. The UGEC project will convene and co-convene the majority of urban-themes sessions during the four-day forum, including:

• “Urban responses to climate change: evidence from cities in the Global South.” Michail Fragkias, executive officer of UGEC and Rimjhim Aggarwal, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability and a project associate for UGEC, are co-authors of a paper to be presented during this session.

• “State of the world's cities: an overview of interactions between cities and global environmental change.” Fragkias is a convener of this session.

• “Urbanization as an opportunity for a sustainable future.” Fragkias is this session’s organizer and Christopher Boone, an ASU professor and associate dean of the School of Sustainability, is the session convener.

• “Urban governance challenges for sustainability and global environmental change.” Boone and Fragkias will be presenting a paper during this session that they co-authored, titled “A re-examination of urban ecosystem services delivery for good urban governance: implications for environmental justice and vulnerability.”

• “Improving collaborations in global environmental change research: perspectives from the IHDP core projects.” Van der Leeuw, Fragkias, and Corrie Griffith, project coordinator for UGEC, will discuss challenges and ways forward drawing from their own perspectives and experiences, exploring how the connections between the human and natural science dimensions of global environmental change could be strengthened as well as how to work better together collaboratively for future interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary sustainability research.

Among other ASU researchers involved in Planet under Pressure are:

• Marco Janssen, an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and a Senior Sustainability Scientist in GIOS. Janssen is co-chairing and speaking at the session “Building capacity for sustainability by learning to model nature and society.” He also is a co-convener of the session “Catalyzing improved global governance: achieving more precautionary global risk management through fit-for-purpose science policy engagement.”

• B.L. Turner, a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the School of Sustainability. Turner is on the scientific committee of DIVERSITAS, one of the PUP conference coordinating organizations. DIVERSITAS (the Latin word for diversity) was established to address the complex scientific questions posed by the loss in biodiversity and ecosystem services and to offer science based solutions to this crisis. “One purpose of the PUP is to redesign global environmental change toward sustainability and science-practice boundary,” said Turner. “This is what DIVERSITAS will be doing.”

• Kenneth W. Abbott, a Senior Sustainability Scholar in GIOS and a professor of international relations in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, is a co-author of one of the nine policy briefs commissioned for the PUP conference. The policy brief is titled “Transforming Governance and Institutions for a Planet under Pressure: Revitalizing the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development. “This is one of the official inputs of the research community into the planning process for the UN Rio +20 conference this June, where one of the two main themes will be the institutional framework for sustainable development,” said Abbott.

• Katelyn Parady, a graduate student in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change will be attending PUP as a fellow of the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) in Urban Ecology at ASU.

Van der Leeuw also is chairing the session titled “Collective action for the transition to a sustainable society: building the research and action agenda” and co-chairing a session titled “Searching the past for clues to the future (IHOPE)” during which he will introduce several Integrated History and Future of People and Earth (IHOPE) projects.

Live streaming of each day’s plenary sessions is also planned. Additional information about the Planet under Pressure conference is online at More information about ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability in at GIOS is a transdisciplinary unit of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, which is advancing research, entrepreneurship, innovation and economic development.