British geographer Prof John Anthony Allan has received an award from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation for his work on water security.
He introduced the idea of “virtual” water, whereby the amount of water used in food production can be traded when that food is imported or exported.
The awards were presented a ceremony in Monaco on Monday evening.
The two other winners were US environmental scientist Jane Lubchenco and Spanish geologist Jeronimo Lopez.
Dr Lubchenco is the most recent chief of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Prof Lopez is president of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (Scar).
The purpose of a virtual water market is to account for all of the water embodied in the production of food.
As Prof Allan explained during his acceptance speech, “it takes 1,000 tonnes of water to raise a tonne of wheat, and it takes 16,000 to raise a tonne of beef”.
The ultimate aim of a global market for virtual water, he said, would be to “trade our way into food security” as water-intensive commodities are traded from places where they are economically viable to produce, to more water-scarce places where they are not.
At the awards ceremony, Prince Albert said that Prof Allan had “opened up new perspectives in the management of water stocks and their trade, in particular in regions suffering from [water] shortage, such as the Middle East.
Prof Allan, who is based at King’s College London, said: “Accountants could save the world if we enable them to put accounting rules into and reporting rules into this food supply chain, which looks as if it’s a market, but it has no accounting rules or reporting rules for water”.
This was the sixth annual Prince Albert II Foundation awards.
The three awards represent each of the research areas the prince has named as priorities for his foundation: climate change, biodiversity and water.
Dr Lubchenco, who received the climate change award for her work on ocean acidification, told BBC News that she hoped the award would help draw attention to the fact that climate change was “happening now and in our own back yards”.
“The recent IPCC (UN climate panel) report provides very compelling evidence that that is the case, but that evidence has not yet translated to sufficient action to reduce carbon emissions, and we need that if we are to transition to a better place.”