New Zealand has more sheep than people, by a factor of about five. Now those sheep and other livestock could be taxed for incessant belching — a major source of greenhouse gases for the Pacific island nation.
The government Wednesday announced a draft plan to charge farmers for their livestock emissions, in what would be the first effort of its kind. The plan is part of a larger emissions reduction initiative proposed by the Ministry of Environment, which includes plans for its energy, transportation, waste and job sectors beginning in 2025.
New Zealand, with about 10 million cattle and 26 million sheep, is a major agricultural exporter. Agriculture makes up half of New Zealand’s gross emissions, and putting a price on those emissions is one of the ways the country seeks to reach its 2050 net-zero target.
Revenue from the plan will be invested in research, development and advisory services for farmers, who will also receive incentives for reducing emissions through feed additives, Reuters reported.
Cows and sheep are ruminants, meaning they have special, complex digestive systems with multichambered stomachs to digest their food. But as their feed ferments within their bodies, they produce methane as a byproduct — that needs to be belched out.
The process has them releasing up to 500 liters of methane daily. The greenhouse gas is extremely effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere, more than 25 times more potent as carbon dioxide.
High-resolution satellites even detected methane emissions from a cattle lot in California — meaning cow burps were observed from space, according to the environmental data company GHGSat.