For cows in New Zealand, passing gas and belching may soon cost their farmers a pretty penny.
New Zealand’s leader has proposed taxing farmers for the greenhouse gasses their livestock produce, to combat climate change. Farming accounts for about half of the country’s total emissions, with methane overwhelmingly produced by livestock emissions, such as cow belching.
“The proposal would see New Zealand farmers lead the world in reducing emissions, delivering a competitive advantage and enhancing our export brand,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference on Tuesday.
If passed, it’d be the world’s first tax that makes farmers pay for their livestocks’ emissions, Ardern added.
New Zealand’s proposed tax is just the latest example of a country addressing farming’s impact on climate change.
The European Union in 2020 launched its Food to Fork Strategy, which aims to reduce carbon emissions and to make soil healthier. Healthier soil can store more carbon and can help farmers become more resilient to droughts and floods, which can damage crops. The strategy plans to reduce the use of fertilizer and chemical pesticides and cut soil’s nutrient loss by 50 percent.
In September, the U.S. government said it’d give $100 million to ranchers, farmers, and loggers to help them adopt practices that emit less greenhouse gasses.
In New Zealand, which is home to five million people and twice as many beef and dairy cattle, the government has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050. In the next eight years, it also plans to reduce methane emissions from farm animals by 10 percent, or up to 47 percent by 2050.
But New Zealand’s farmers, who represent the country’s largest industry, are dissatisfied with the recent proposal.
The government said the tax could see dairy farmers lose 5 percent of their total profit and output.
For sheep and beef farmers, profitability and output could shrink by 20 percent, which would have dire consequences on the farming community, Andrew Hoggard, a dairy farmer and the president of New Zealand’s leading rural advocacy and lobbying group Federated Farmers, told VICE World News.
“If they apply this price, you’re going to find people who think it’s just too much for them and it’s hampering their ability to have a decent life,” Hoggard said.
He feared farmers might be driven to sell their land to forestry companies, drying up the job market and diminishing small town communities centered on farming. “You’d just get this exponential spiral of communities going into Ghost Town material, really,” he said.
The proposal didn’t say how much farmers would be taxed, though they’d begin paying for emissions in 2025.
The prime minister said that the funds collected by the tax would be funneled into the industry to pay for research and new technology that reduce farm greenhouse emissions, and pay farmers to encourage them to adopt climate-friendly practices.