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New Zealand proposes cow and sheep burping tax to reduce methane emissions

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New Zealand has more sheep than people, by a factor of about five. Now these sheep and other animals could be taxed for their incessant belching – a major source of greenhouse gases for the Pacific island nation.

The government on Wednesday announced a draft plan to charge farmers for emissions from their livestock, in what would be the first effort of its kind. The plan is part of a wider emissions reduction initiative proposed by the Department of the Environment, which includes plans for its energy, transport, waste and employment sectors from 2025.

New Zealand, with around 10 million cattle and 26 million sheep, is a major agricultural exporter. Agriculture accounts for half of New Zealand’s gross emissions, and putting a price on those emissions is one of the ways the country is looking to achieve its 2050 net zero goal.

An unusual snack for cows, a powerful solution for the climate

Revenue from the plan will be invested in research, development and advisory services for farmers, who will also receive incentives to reduce emissions through feed additives, Reuters reported.

Cows and sheep are ruminants, which means they have special, complex digestive systems with multi-chambered stomachs to digest their food. But as their food ferments in their bodies, they produce methane as a byproduct – which must be discarded.

The process allows them to release up to 500 liters of methane per day. The greenhouse gas is extremely effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere, more than 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

High-resolution satellites have even detected methane emissions from a cattle herd in California, meaning cow burps have been observed from space, according to environmental data firm GHGSat.