(AP) — New Zealand’s government on Tuesday proposed taxing the greenhouse gasses that farm animals make from burping and peeing as part of a plan to tackle climate change.
The government said the farm levy would be a world first, and that farmers should be able to recoup the cost by charging more for climate-friendly products.
But farmers quickly condemned the plan. Federated Farmers, the industry’s main lobby group, said the plan would “rip the guts out of small-town New Zealand” and see farms replaced with trees.
Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard said farmers had been trying to work with the government for more than two years on an emissions reduction plan that wouldn’t decrease food production.
“Our plan was to keep farmers farming,” Hoggard said. Instead, he said farmers would be selling their farms “so fast you won’t even hear the dogs barking on the back of the ute (pickup truck) as they drive off.”
Opposition lawmakers from the conservative ACT Party said the plan would actually increase worldwide emissions by moving farming to other countries that were less efficient at making food.
New Zealand’s farming industry is vital to its economy. Dairy products, including those used to make infant formula in China, are the nation’s largest export earner.
There are just 5 million people in New Zealand but some 10 million beef and dairy cattle and 26 million sheep.
The outsized industry has made New Zealand unusual in that about half of its greenhouse gas emissions come from farms. Farm animals produce gasses that warm the planet, particularly methane from cattle burps and nitrous oxide from their urine.
The debate in New Zealand is part of a broader global reckoning about farming’s impact on the environment and the steps some say are needed for mitigation.
In the Netherlands, farmers have dumped hay bales on roads and driven tractors along busy highways to protest government proposals to slash emissions of damaging pollutants.
In New Zealand, the government has pledged 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 per cent by 2030 and by up to 47 per cent by 2050.