On April 3rd, the Energy, Resources and Environment Global Leaders Forum at the John Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies welcomed Dr. Robert L. Thompson to speak on the important matter of global food security within the next 40 years. The question posed in Dr. Thompson’s speech was one of growing importance as the years go by: How do you feed a population of 9 billion people when climate impacts are going to impose immense risks? While there is no simple answer, Dr. Thompson did successfully offer prospective solutions to the growing issue of food security and climate change in his hour long presentation.

Dr. Thompson’s background makes him an ideal speaker on food security and the environment. Dr. Thompson has served as a professor for the University of Illinois, where he holds the Gardner Endowed Chair in Agricultural Policy. Previously, he served as Director of Rural Development and Senior Advisor for Agricultural Trade Policy at the World Bank, CEO of the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development, and Assistant Secretary for Economic at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These positions, along with many other positions surrounding agriculture, make Dr. Thompson well versed in issues surrounding global food security and our environment.

Dr. Thompson’s speech came at a perfect time, as Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, and Christine Lagarde, Director of the IMF, convened a meeting on how economic growth can occur in the face of immense climate risk. Thus, it is clear that economic and food growth along with climate change--separate issues with separate solutions--have become top priorities in officials’ agendas.

Current population projections show that the global populations is expected to at least double by the year 2050, an increase of approximately 2.6 billion people. Unfortunately, most of the growth in population is projected to be seen in areas which are currently rated as either developing or least developing--a total of 47 percent of the total population increase. Thus, population growth is not only increasing rapidly in areas that still have yet to see food security, but global food demand is projected to grow 70 to 80 percent due to the incredible population increase.

How do we solve the looming threat of a drastic increase in food demand? Dr. Thompson suggests that, in order to have a sustainable future, we will be required to increase global food system productivity by making presently unusable soils productive, improving overall nutrition, and increasing water availability. In the long term, this will require both public and private sector investments for research so more efficient agricultural tools can be developed.

Where does climate change fit in to the prospective agricultural issues? While Dr. Thompson admits that many scientists have not come to a conclusive consensus about how climate change will ultimately impact the world, we should expect warming over land, water, and higher altitudes. These climate changes, whatever they may be, will most definitely impact our ability to succeed with agriculture in multiple ways.

As we look towards the future, how do we attack the problems associated with global food security and climate change? Simply put, Dr. Thompson suggests adaption in agriculture. If we increase productivity on lands already in crop production while also adapting to the oncoming climate changes that are virtually inescapable, we can establish a brighter future for global food security worldwide.

Photo: Rex Turgano (cc).

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.