Credit for honour 'belongs to researchers'

Last updated 12:00 31/12/2013

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Dr Harry Clark is quick to place credit for his New Year honour on the shoulders of the many researchers he has worked with since arriving in New Zealand in 1991.

Internationally respected for his research into agriculture's impact on climate change and how it can be reduced, Clark was today named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

The Palmerston North scientist, director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, said he was "absolutely surprised" when he learned of the honour.

"It's very much a reward for a New Zealand effort that I have been the public face of," he said.

"We are seen as world-leading in some areas. It's a more general reward for the effort that goes into that science."

That science has been to study the impact of agriculture on the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The aim is to reduce the amount of gas produced by animals such as cows.

A 2006 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation found the livestock sector is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

"We're trying to change a basic biological function," Clark said.

Cows had evolved to live off grass and the digesting of that grass created gases such as methane.

"We're trying to modify that very well-developed process... to be a very efficient process."

Those modifications needed to be done without negatively impacting on the health of animals or at an unaffordable cost to the economy.

The methods Clark and his researchers are exploring include selectively breeding animals that emit lower levels of gases, or creating vaccines and chemicals that can inhibit the production of gases in the animal, and using different types of food.

"In all of these things you have to look at the economics, what the costs are, is it economically viable?"

Clark arrived in New Zealand from the United Kingdom in 1991. Before his role at the NZAGRC he directed AgResearch's Climate, Land and Environment section in Palmerston North.

His first work in New Zealand on climate change involved developing a method for calculating the country's greenhouse gas emissions, so that improvements in emission levels could be tracked.

He sits on New Zealand and international government panels and committees. He is a member of the European Union's Food Security, Agriculture and Climate Change Science Advisory Board, lead author for the International Panel for Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, and co-chair of the Livestock Research Group of the Global Research Alliance.

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The alliance is an initiative started by New Zealand that now involves researchers from about 40 countries working on climate change problems.

"The research effort is now global and there's a lot of co-operation across borders," Clark said.

Tackling climate change was a global problem, he said, but the research out of New Zealand was highly regarded worldwide.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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