New Zealand proposes to tax farmers for livestock burps

Livestock emissions are a major source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas; New Zealand has more livestock than people.

In a first, New Zealand will tax burps by cattle and sheep in order to tackle one of its biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new draft plan brought out by the government and farm representatives, Reuters reported June 8, 2022.

New Zealand is home to just 5 million people, but around 10 million cattle and 26 million sheep.

Farmers whose farms produce gas will be taxed from 2025. But those farmers who reduce emissions through feed additives, will get incentives. They can also use on-farm forestry to offset emissions.

The proposal would potentially be the biggest regulatory disruption to farming since the removal of agricultural subsidies in the 1980s, said Susan Kilsby, agricultural economist at ANZ Bank.

The proposal includes incentives for farmers who reduce emissions through feed additives, while on-farm forestry can be used to offset emissions. Revenue from the scheme will be invested in research, development and advisory services for
farmers, according to the Reuters report.

A final decision on this is expected by December this year.

New Zealand has more cattle and sheep than people — 10 million and 26 million respectively, against 5 million. It is a large agricultural exporter, with nearly half of its emissions, mainly methane, coming from agriculture. Although nearly half its total greenhouse gas emissions come from farming, mainly in the form of methane.

The country had not taxed its emissions from agriculture till now. The latest plan, if implemented, will make New Zealand the first country in this respect.

Under the draft plan, drawn up by government and farming representatives, farmers will have to pay for their gas emissions from 2025.

“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,” Climate Change Minister James Shaw said.

Methane, or CH4 is one of the primary greenhouse gases, along with carbon dioxide or CO2. More than 85% of New Zealand’s total methane emissions come from two agricultural sources: animal stomachs and animal manure, with the former accounting for 97% of that total.

In cows, most (95%) of the methane is exhaled, while 5% is emitted via flatulence. Methane is a potent accelerant of global heating so cutting it helps slow down warming. Methane in the atmosphere reached record levels in 2019, according to a report by the BBC.

“Over a 100-year period, it (methane) is 28-34 times as warming as CO2. Over a 20-year period, it is around 84 times as powerful per unit of mass as carbon dioxide,” the BBC report noted.

So cutting it is a powerful way to slow warming in the short term.

Most methane emissions now come from agriculture such as cattle and rice production as well as rubbish dumps, it added.

Human-caused methane emissions must be cut by 45 per cent to avoid the worst effects of climate change, Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions a report released by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the United Nations Environment Programme May 6, 2021, had said.

Such a cut would prevent a rise in global warming by up to 0.3 degrees Celsius by 2045, the report added. It would also prevent 260,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits annually, as well as 25 million tonnes of crop losses.

Cows stand in a field

“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, chair of the primary sector partnership, He Waka Eke Noa.

Agricultural emissions have previously been exempted from the country’s emissions trading scheme, drawing criticism of the government’s efforts to slow global heating.

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