Taxing cow burps? New Zealand’s novel climate change plan has farmers crying foul

New Zealand’s government on Tuesday proposed a tax on greenhouse gases that farm animals make from burping and urinating as part of a plan to tackle climate change.

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The government said agricultural tariffs would be the first in the world, and farmers should be able to offset the cost by paying more for climate-friendly products.

But the farmers immediately condemned the plan. The industry’s main lobby group, Federated Farmers, said the plan would “rip the guts out of small-town New Zealand” and replace farms with trees.


Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard said farmers have been trying to work with the government for more than two years on an emissions reduction plan that won’t cut food production.

“Our plan was to keep the farmers farming,” Hoggard said. Instead, he said farmers would sell their fields “so fast you won’t even hear the dogs barking behind the utt (pickup truck) as they drive by.”

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Opposition lawmakers from the conservative ACT party said the plan would actually increase emissions around the world by shifting farming to other countries that were less efficient at making food.

New Zealand’s agricultural industry is vital to its economy. Dairy products, including those used to make infant formula in China, are the country’s biggest export earners.

New Zealand has just 5 million people but some 10 million beef and dairy cattle and 26 million sheep.

Outdoor industry makes New Zealand unusual in that nearly half of its greenhouse gas emissions come from farms. Farm animals produce gases that heat the planet, particularly methane from cattle belching and nitrous oxide from their urine.

The government has resolved to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the country carbon neutral by 2050. Part of that plan includes a pledge that it will reduce methane emissions from farm animals by 10% by 2030 and by 47% by 2050.

Under the government’s proposed plan, farmers will start paying for emissions in 2025, the price of which is yet to be decided.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said all money collected from the proposed agriculture levy would be put back into industry for new technology, research and incentive payments for farmers.

Ardern said, “New Zealand farmers are the first in the world to reduce agricultural emissions, positioning our largest export market for a competitive advantage, which makes the world increasingly smarter about the origins of its food.” makes.”

Agriculture Minister Damian O’Connor said this was an exciting opportunity for New Zealand and its farmers.

“Farmers are already experiencing the effects of climate change with more regular droughts and floods,” O’Connor said. “Leading agricultural emissions is good for both the environment and our economy.”

The liberal Labor government’s proposal goes back to a similar but unsuccessful proposal by the previous Labor government in 2003 to tax farm animals for their methane emissions.

Farmers still strongly opposed the idea, and political opponents ridiculed it as a “fart tax” – although a “burp tax” would have been more technically accurate since most methane emissions come from belching. The government eventually abandoned the plan.

According to opinion polls, Ardern’s Labor Party has slipped in popularity and lagged behind the main opposition National Party since Ardern won a second term in 2020 in a landslide victory of historic proportions.

If Ardern’s government fails to settle on the proposal with farmers, who have considerable political influence in New Zealand, it could be difficult for Ardern to win re-election next year when the country goes back to the polls.

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