British Academy Global Professor to research food systems at Oxford Martin School

13 May 2024

Paul Behrens cropped
Professor Paul Behrens will join the Oxford Martin School in September after being awarded a British Academy Global Professorship, working on rapid food system transformations in a rapidly changing world.

During his time at the School, Professor Behrens will develop food system models that connect producers and consumers through trade. He will also explore the social outcomes of a Great Food Transformation (to reduce environmental harm and increase food system resilience) —from subsidy and land management shifts to increasing food security.

Discussing his research further, he said:

‘We are facing significant challenges to food supply in the short to medium term. Research suggests that the chances of losing food crops due to extreme weather events will increase rapidly in the coming years. Yet we also know that food systems are a major driver of many environmental crises, including climate change.

‘Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to make food systems more resilient while providing food that is healthy for humans and the planet.’

Professor Behrens joins us from his current role as Associate Professor in Environmental Change at Leiden University. From the UK originally, he moved to New Zealand to begin his career as a physicist, completing his PhD on wind energy at the University of Auckland. After working for the Royal Society of New Zealand on policy advice – exploring a wide range of areas from the need for a national language policy to the regulation of genetically modified organisms – he made a return to academia at Leiden.

I was stunned and delighted to win the professorship, it’s a real privilege.

Professor Behrens’ popular science book, ‘The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: Futures from the Frontiers of Climate Science’ describes humanity’s current trajectory and possible futures in paired chapters of pessimism and hope, on topics including the economy, energy, land, and food. He and colleagues published a multidisciplinary textbook on Food and Sustainability with Oxford University Press in 2020. His research and writing have also appeared in scientific journals and media outlets such as the BBC, The Guardian, Thomson Reuters, Nature Food, and Nature Sustainability. Professor Behrens and his team won the 2023 International Frontiers Planet Prize for their work on the climate potential of dietary shifts.

Reacting to being named an awardee of the British Academy Global Professorship – one of eight recipients for 2023/24 – he added:

‘I was stunned and delighted to win the professorship, it’s a real privilege. The Oxford Martin School is a global leader in food system research with so many great researchers focussed on different aspects of the food system. I’m hoping that this four-year project can make a real-world difference to food system transformation. I can’t wait to get started.’

Director of the Oxford Martin School, Professor Sir Charles Godfray, said:

‘We are delighted to welcome Paul to the School and also to the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food. His research interests dovetail excellently with much work currently in the Programme and we much look forward to interacting with him.’