In regions of the world where vast population growth is projected, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the issue of dwindling natural resources will likely be magnified. [5 Places Already Feeling the Effects of Climate Change]
If the global population increases by 3 billion people, food production will also need to rise to meet these growing demands. Finding adequate agricultural land, however, will be a challenge, as soil erosion and more frequent droughts related to climate change render larger tracts of land unusable, Griggs, the Monash University climatologist, said.
"If we look at the next 50 years, we'd need to grow more food than we have in the whole of human history to date to feed those 9 billion people," Griggs said. "But since we have no more agricultural land, we'll have to produce all this food on the same land we're producing food on at the moment."
In particular, southern Asia, western Asia and northern Africa have virtually no spare land available to expand agricultural practices, according to the 2013 Statistical Yearbook of the Food and Agricultural Organization for the United Nations, published in June.
More people on Earth also means more competition for water, Griggs added. Currently, one of the main uses for water is in agriculture, and ensuring that populations have access to clean drinking water will be another significant challenge, he said, since global warming may cause arid regions of the planet to become even more parched.
In the United States, the Bureau of Reclamation released a report on the status of the Colorado River Basin in December 2012. The study concluded that over the next 50 years, water supply from the Colorado River will be insufficient to meet the demands of its adjacent states, including Arizona, New Mexico and California.
"The U.S. government was effectively saying, there will be no way to completely satisfy the water needs of the population that is currently projected in that part of the country," Engelman said.
Worldwide, the situation is not much better. A 2011 report on the state of the world's land and water resources, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, established that more than 40 percent of the world's rural population lives in water-scarce regions.
Ways to mitigate the impacts While the impact of population growth on climate change remains a topic of debate, experts agree that finding ways to mitigate the effects of climate change will be critical for the sustainability of the planet.
For one, nations need to address climate change issues now, in order to make communities more resilient in the future, said Declan Conway, a professor of water resources and climate change at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. This includes investing in renewable energy alternatives, such as technologies to efficiently harness solar and wind energy, he added.
As part of his work at the Worldwatch Institute, Engelman also promotes the idea of carbon taxes, which would introduce fees based on the carbon content of fuels. While these types of resource taxes have been suggested as an incentivized way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they remain politically divisive.
Still, others see positive changes on the horizon.
"Twenty years ago, climate change wasn't seen as an issue at all, but since then, technology has improved rapidly," Griggs said. "We don't have to hang around and wait for something bad to happen. There's no question that we can deal with all of these climate change issues now, if we want to. The real issue is: Will we? Will there be the political will and the leadership to take on these things?"
As for whether he remains optimistic overall, Griggs is a little more hesitant. "I'm schizophrenic about it," he said. " times, I look at what's happening in the world and the lack of progress, and I say, we're stuffed. On my good days, I'm optimistic and I see us moving in a direction that will allow us to solve these problems."
Original article on LiveScience.com.
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