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New Zealand has revealed plans to tax burps and farts from livestock in an attempt to reduce its emissions of methane gas.
Roughly half of New Zealand’s carbon emissions come from its agricultural sector, a major pillar of its economy. The nation is a major exporter of meat and dairy products: roughly 5 million people live in New Zealand compared to 10 million cattle and 26 million sheep.
“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.
Until now, animal emissions have not been included in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme, but under the proposed plan farmers would have to pay for their livestock’s gas emissions from 2025 onward. Methane gas is a more potent greenhouse gas in the short term, “more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide,” according to the EPA. Still, it generally leaves the atmosphere after roughly a decade, while CO2 can remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Consequently, climate change activists have often singled out regulating the meat industry as a key policy to achieve a rapid reduction in global warming, but New Zealand would be the first nation to tax belching and flatulence.
The plan would incentivize farmers to reduce methane emissions via additives to animal feed or carbon capture methods such as planting more trees on farms. The revenue from the tax would finance research and development as well as advisory services for farmers.
Andrew Hoggard, a dairy farmer and the national president of Federated Farmers of New Zealand, said he largely approves of the plan in a statement provided to the BBC.
“We’ve been working with the government and other organisations on this for years to get an approach that won’t shut down farming in New Zealand, so we’ve signed off on a lot of stuff we’re happy with,” he said. “But you know, like all of these types of agreements with many parties involved, there’s always going to be a couple of dead rats you have to swallow.”