NEW ZEALAND: In a revolutionary move that is a first for the world, New Zealand is likely to introduce a scheme that will require farmers to pay for their agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, including the methane released by farm animals and nitrous oxide emitted through livestock urine.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and three of her faithful ministers stood behind a podium of hay bales at a North Island dairy farm on Tuesday morning to unveil the government’s new scheme to levy a sort of climate tax on farming.
The emissions created by New Zealand’s nearly 6.3 million cows are among the country’s most significant sources of environmental problems. The new government plan includes taxing both methane emitted by livestock and nitrous oxide produced mainly from fertilizer-rich urine. These deadly outcomes contribute to around half of New Zealand’s emissions.
Acknowledging that the new green tax would give the country’s biggest export market (worth $46.4bn a year) a competitive edge globally while putting the nation on track to meet its 2030 methane reduction target, Ardern stressed the importance of levying the tax on farmers. “The proposal, as it stands, means New Zealand’s farmers are set to be the first in the world to reduce agricultural emissions,” she said.
“No other country in the world has yet developed a system for pricing and reducing agricultural emissions, so our farmers are set to benefit from being first movers,” Ardern said. “Cutting emissions will help New Zealand farmers to be the best in the world and the best for the world.”
The plan was the culmination of the He Waka Eke Noa scheme, a partnership between farming leaders, Maori, and the government. The scheme was formulated in 2019 to answer farmers’ calls for environmental changes at the farm level rather than forcing farmers into the separate Emissions Trading Scheme, which they criticised as an ineffective tool for evaluating agricultural emissions.
Under the proposal, by 2025, those farmers who adhere to the herd size and fertiliser use will be required to pay a levy to the government set every one to three years, on advice from the Climate Change Commission and farmers.
Consequently, the prices will be determined by the country’s progress towards meeting its international methane target to cut methane by 10% by 2030, down from 2017 levels. That comes alongside an additional net-zero emissions target for 2050.
The revenue will be allocated for new technology, research, and incentive payments to farmers who adopt these green practices.
James Shaw, the climate minister and Green Party co-leader, emphasised the need for farmers to opt for greener farming options rather than offsetting emissions through forestry. “It has been a very long journey, and it is well past time we got going,” he said.
“It is better than the ‘backstop’ of bringing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme, which could see agribusiness simply offsetting farm emissions without making any actual changes to reduce emissions on farms,” he added.
Meanwhile, industry groups who intend to partake in the scheme have until mid-November to consider the government’s plan.
Some are already expressing concerns that the Emissions Trading Scheme will recognise on-farm planting (sequestration) rather than being included in the agricultural pricing scheme.
“If farmers are to face a price for their agricultural emissions from 2025 on, it is vital they get proper recognition for the genuine sequestration happening on their farms,” said Andrew Morrison, the chairman of Beef+Lamb New Zealand.
“New Zealand sheep and beef farmers have more than 1.4 million hectares of native forest on their land, which is absorbing carbon, and it’s only fair this be appropriately recognised in any framework from day one.”
However, such green taxes can only be levied in a first-world country as rich and advanced as New Zealand.
Developing countries like India, whose majority population relies on agriculture and farming as the sole source of livelihood, can barely afford these privileges. Despite government schemes for modernisation and green farming like Krishi Vikas Yojana, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, and so on.