Showing articles associated with Charles Godfray

Professor Sir Charles Godfray is Director of the Oxford Martin School.

He is interested in how the global food system will need to change and adapt to the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, including constraints over water, soil, biodiversity and land. He investigates how we can increase agricultural yields without damaging the environment, and the relationship between food production, ecosystem services and biodiversity.

He is a population biologist with broad interests in the environmental sciences and has published in fundamental and applied areas of ecology, evolution and epidemiology.

In 2017 he was knighted for services to scientific research and for scientific advice to government.

"There are extraordinary challenges ahead and all parts of society including its major research universities have a really critical role to play in this."

What do you do?

I’m Director of the Oxford Martin School and also lead the School’s programme on the Future of Food which tries to bring together all researchers in the University working on any aspect of food and the food system.  We are particularly interested in forging links between different disciplines; for example, environmental scientists and people working on the health effects of different diets, and food system economists. An example of where this really works  is the Wellcome-funded Livestock Environment and People (LEAP) project that Susan Jebb (from the Medical Division) and I co-direct. It’s well known that meat is one of the food types that has the greatest impact on the environment and we’re trying to understand and quantify the impacts of different types of meat and dairy and how they may be mitigated. The project has a major policy focus and includes work on how consumers may be persuaded to alter their diets and the effectiveness of fiscal and regulatory interventions. 

Why is the research of the Oxford Martin School important in this global challenge?

We are fortunate that due to the generosity of the Martin family we can respond to researchers in the University who have innovative ideas to address major global challenges.  We are very solution-focussed, and aim to give our researchers the space and time to think innovatively.  A key criterion we use in deciding what projects to support is intellectual adventurousness – ideas that are difficult to fund through other routes.  Often our projects are interdisciplinary – even though everyone agrees many challenges require an interdisciplinary approach, it is still often very hard to fund research that crosses traditional subject boundaries.  The School works in many areas across the natural and social sciences, but I guess about a third of our work relates to the environment and planetary challenges. 

What do you view as the most pressing issue in tacking climate change?

There are two that I think are most important. One, is to reduce the effects of climate change on food production. There’s a term, ‘climate smart agriculture’, which describes how we can adapt agriculture so that it both contributes to the mitigation of climate change and also adapts to inevitable climate change.  Getting this right is critical for future food security.

The second area is diet change.  It is just not possible that a global population of 10 billion in the second half of this century can eat the type of diets we enjoy today in the rich world.  We must simultaneously moderate our diets in high-income countries and allow people in poorer countries to improve their diets.  We need to start a debate in civil society about future diets.

There needs to be a new dialogue?

That’s right. Especially today it’s too easy to be cynical about our politicians.  Many know what they need to do but don’t know how to get re-elected if they promote sustainable policies!  We, as individuals, need to give our politicians the licence to make difficult decisions, including around diets. An important role for the University is to provide unbiased data and information to allow people to make up their own minds on these complex issues. 

Charles Godfray