Scientist Graham Farquhar's work improving water-efficient crops and analysing climate change has made him the first Australian to receive the prestigious Kyoto Prize.
The Australian National University (ANU) scientist's entire body of work examining photosynthesis and plant physiology was recognised by his receipt of the Kyoto Prize for basic sciences.
His work has improved world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with far less water, and has also helped to solve mysteries about why clouds and wind patterns were not changing as climate change models suggested they should.
He found decreases in wind speed were behind a drop in evaporation, which in turn would make climate change damper than many expected.
"The Earth will become, in general, a warmer, wetter place — so plants will probably respond positively to that," Dr Farquhar, who took out the basic sciences category, said.
"The compromises that plants make between maximising photosynthesis while minimising water loss — that became a defining question for me for my whole career."
The Kyoto Prize was established in 1985 and recognises achievements in three fields: Basic sciences, arts and philosophy, and advanced technology.
No category had been won by an Australian before Dr Farquhar.
Dr Farquhar has previously been recognised at a national level, receiving the 2015 Prime Minister's Prize for Science.
He said the Kyoto Prize was the highest accolade available to scientists in his field.
"It's the first Australian and the first plant physiologist — so good for plant physiology and good for Australia," he said.
'I like doing science'
ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt, himself a Nobel laureate, said Dr Farquhar's work was of benefit to the entire world.
"To get this — what I would describe as one of the world's great science prizes — is a great tribute to the work he does.
"This is work that is going to help the 7.4 billion people on Earth live on Earth sustainably.
"Science is really about teamwork … someone has to get the credit and I can't think of anyone more deserving than Graham."
Dr Farquhar said he was proud to be recognised, but would continue his day-to-day work in plant physiology.