Wind power: New Zealand plans to tax farmers for cow and sheep’s burps

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New Zealand is to target agricultural emissions as part of its climate change goals  (Nathan Frandino)
New Zealand is to target agricultural emissions as part of its climate change goals (Nathan Frandino)

New Zealand intends to tax the burps of sheep and cattle in an attempt to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the scheme, farmers will have to pay a charge based on the total volume of emissions by their livestock. If the proposal is adopted, the country would become the first in the world to take this step.

Farmers will be incentivised to lower their emissions through feed additives, while they will be encouraged to offset pollution with tree planting.

New Zealand has roughly 10 million cattle and 26 million sheep, but only 5 million people.

In a country where cattle outnumber humans by two to one, methane makes up a significant proportion of all agricultural emissions, which themselves account for half of the country’s overall air pollution.

"There is no question that we need to cut the amount of methane we are putting into the atmosphere, and an effective emissions pricing system for agriculture will play a key part in how we achieve that," James Shaw, New Zealand’s climate change minister, said.

The draft plan, which was assembled by ministers and representatives of the farming community, will be voted on later this year.

"Our recommendations enable sustainable food and fibre production for future generations while playing a fair part in meeting our country’s climate commitments," said Michael Ahie, who runs He Waka Eke Noa, a climate action partnership.

Last October, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern pledged that her country would slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.

“While we are a small contributor to global emissions, as a country surrounded by oceans and an economy reliant on our land we are not immune to the impact of climate change, so it’s critical we pull our weight,” she said at the time.

“Climate change is a priority for the government because it’s a threat to our economy, our environment and our everyday lives,” Ms Ardern added.

The Ardern administration had previously been criticised for exempting the agricultural sector from its green reforms.

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