A research team whose work has significantly lifted the accuracy of measuring and reporting greenhouse gases, to better track progress and help find solutions, has won the Supreme Award at this year’s Science New Zealand Awards.

AgResearch’s Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Inventory Development Team has produced “excellent and significant science on an important topic for New Zealand”, according to the judges for the annual awards, which include entries from New Zealand’s seven crown research institutes and Callaghan Innovation.

“What is particularly impressive is that between the team members they have made a sustained contribution over a number of years,” the judges said.

“There is also a very high level of engagement with a broad range of stakeholders across New Zealand and internationally which is ensuring their results are being used for policy design and monitoring.”

The team - led by senior scientists Cecile de Klein, Tony van der Weerden, Jiafa Luo, Stefan Muetzel and Arjan Jonker - has been able to show through its work that estimates of nitrous oxide and methane emissions should be significantly adjusted, compared to previous calculations using former standard methods from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With support of partners, the AgResearch scientists guided the development of what is known as country-specific “emission factors” to improve the accuracy of calculating New Zealand’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions estimates. Emission factors relate the quantity of an emitted greenhouse gas to a specific activity, such as fertiliser application.

This is critical for New Zealand given methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture make up approximately half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, compared to about only 10 per cent in other developed countries. The IPCC prepared guidelines in 2006 for assessing national greenhouse gas emissions, however many of the IPCC’s default values were based on Northern Hemisphere research, where farming systems are different to those in New Zealand.

The NZ-specific emission factors developed by the team were incorporated into the Ministry for Primary Industries’ national agricultural inventory, which is now considered one of the best inventories in the world. And with every new update, the accuracy of the estimates has been improved by the research from the team.

“It is fantastic to have the work of the team recognised like this,” says AgResearch senior scientist Tony van der Weerden.

“But the biggest thrill of all for us is knowing that the research is making a real difference for New Zealand. We all know the challenge of climate change confronting us, and that agriculture is New Zealand’s single biggest contributor, so we all need to act. By better understanding the challenge and the extent of these greenhouse gases, we can not only better understand how we are tracking as a country, but also what tools and approaches could be most effective in reducing emissions.”

“This award is truly the result of a team effort from people across AgResearch, supported by our collaborators at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Plant & Food Research, Lincoln University, the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and the Ministry for Primary Industries.”

This is the second consecutive year that AgResearch has won the Supreme Award in the Science New Zealand Awards, both recognising cutting edge and globally relevant research in the climate change area. Last year AgResearch’s low methane sheep breeding team won the award.    

The full list of Science New Zealand Award winners for 2022 can be found here(external link).

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