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NASA Climate Scientist wins World Food Prize 2022

Young woman with glasses smiling
3 min read
AUTHOR: Molly Long
Cynthia Rosenzweig

Photo credit: Kisha Bari

Climatologist, agronomist and former farmer Dr Cynthia Rosenzweig has been named the 2022 World Food Prize Laureate and has been awarded the $250,000 prize by the World Food Prize Foundation.

Dr Rosenzweig currently works at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and as an Adjunct Senior Research Scientist at the Colombia Climate School. She has been recognised for her pioneering work in modelling the biophysical and socio-economic impacts of climate change on food production worldwide.

Models are powerful computational tools in the arsenal of climate and agricultural scientists, as they help to conceptualise current interactions and project future trends. Dr Rosenzweig’s models have shaped how we understand the climate crisis currently facing us and have been instrumental in more than 90 countries’ response to it.

“I am honoured to receive the World Food Prize this year, as food systems are emerging at the forefront of climate change action,” said Dr Rosenzweig. “Climate change cannot be restrained without attention to food system emissions, and food security for all cannot be provided without resilience to increasing climate extremes.”

“As we move into a crucial decade of action on climate change, food needs to be ‘at the table.’”

Dr Rosenzweig’s scientific career has been focused on the impact of climate change on food for the last four decades. She completed the first ever projection of how food production in North America will be impacted by the crisis in 1985, followed by a global analysis in 1994.

According to the World Food Prize Foundation, this early work was an “important methodological breakthrough” in what was then the fledgling field of climate change impact assessment.

Also in the 1980s, Dr Rosenzweig led the US Environmental Protection Agency’s first assessment of the potential effects of climate change. A long-time member and Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), she was the first to bring climate change to the ASA’s attention and organised the very first sessions on the issue during the decade.

However, her interest in the environment and its intricate relationship to food stretches back much further. In the late 1960s, Dr Rosenzweig moved with her partner, now husband, to Tuscany, Italy, where they started a farm, growing fruit and vegetables and raising chickens, goats, and pigs – this is where she pinpoints the start of her awareness.

Following their return to New York in 1972, Dr Rosenzweig undertook a two-year degree in agriculture at Rutgers University’s Cook College. Simultaneously, she founded the Blue Heron Farm with her partner and friends, growing different types of corn and cucumber.

Most recently, as a pioneer in her field, Dr Rosenzweig has participated as a Lead or Coordinating Lead Author on three global assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Her work contributed also to the scientific foundation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the process which led up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015.

Dr Rosenzweig joins a long list of previous World Food Prize Laureates, which includes leading nutrition expert Dr Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted (2021), Indian dairy pioneer Dr Verghese Kurien (1989), the developer of the cattle plague vaccine Dr Walter Plowright (1999) and one of the core architects of the United Nations World Food Programme, Catherine Bertini (2003).

The award has been awarded every year since 1987.

On Dr Rosenzweig’s recognition, World Food Prize Foundation Board of Directors Chair Paul Schickler said: “Dr Rosenzweig has been the world’s foremost advocate for science-based solutions to climate challenges.

“Hundreds of researchers, policymakers and others use her methods daily to transform food systems. We applaud her extraordinary efforts to increase global food security.”


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