Building the World

ENERGY: Taxing the air (from cows and sheep)

| 0 comments

Can taxing cows help fulfill the Global Methane Pledge? Image: “Two Cows” by photographer Kaptain, 2005. Creative Commons wikimedia CC1.0. Dedicated to the public domain by the photographer; included with appreciation.

Carbon taxing is widely discussed, but New Zealand may be the first to tax a source of methane emissions usually excluded from discussions around bank and government conference rooms. The new source of carbon taxes? Cows and sheep.

Glasgow, Scotland, site of COP26 and the Global Methane Pledge. Image: “University of Glasgow,” U.S. Library of Congress, circa 1890-1900. Wikimedia Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Since the Global Methane Pledge of COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, countries have promised to reduce methane by 30% by  2030, with 100 nations participating.  Methane is the second-most prolific greenhouse gas, and while it has a shorter life than carbon dioxide, methane is far more potent and dangerous. Over a 20 year period, methane is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So, stopping methane emissions is both a short-term step and a big win.

Fracking causes methane emissions. Image: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2013. Wikimedia Pubic Domain, included with appreciation.

Over 40% of methane (CH4) comes from natural sources like land, especially wetlands, but the rest is human-driven. Natural gas, especially that obtained by hydraulic fracturing or fracking, accounts for a major part of methane emissions: the United States leads in this sad statistic. Fracked shale wells may leak over 7% of the methane in the atmosphere.

New Zealand has 26,000,000 sheep, a major source of methane. Image: “Baby Lamb,” by photographer Petr Kratochvil, 2014. Dedicated to the public domain by the photographer and included with appreciation.

But methane is also emitted when sheep and cows burp. And New Zealand has plenty of both. While there are only five million people in New Zealand, there are 26 million sheep and 10 million cows. Half of New Zealand’s methane emissions come from animal sources. Under the taxation proposal, starting in 2025, farmers will pay a carbon tax on their animal belches. Monies derived will be directed to agricultural research and approaches to dietary change. Reducing beef and lamb consumption will help lessen methane emissions, and conserve land now used for grazing. For cattle and sheep that remain, nutritional approaches like including lemongrass or seaweed in animal feed may also mitigate methane release. Australia is feeding cows a form of pink seaweed “Asparagopsis” that reduces the carbon in burps (and flatulence) by 99%. That’s significant because one dairy cow can emit enough methane to fill 500 liter bottles – per day.

“Sheep on the Move in New Zealand,” by photographer Bernard Spragg. Dedicated to the public domain. Creative Commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

New Zealand would be the first country to place a price, and a tax, on agricultural emissions. Will this financial innovation help to balance the food-water-energy nexus?

CCBC. “Climate change: how cow burps and pink seaweed can affect the planet.” 17 August 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/49368462

Friedlander, Blaine. “Study: Fracking prompts global spike in atmospheric methane.” 14 August 2019. Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University. https:/news.cornell.edu/stories/2019/08/study-fracking-prompts-global-spike-atmosphereic-methane

Global Methane Pledge. https://www.globalmethanepledge.org/

Hoskins, Peter. “Climate change: New Zealand’s plan to tax cow and sheep burps.” 9 June 2022. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-61741352

Plewis, Ian. “Taking action on hot air: Why agriculture is the key to reducing UK methane emissions.” 24 May 2022. University of Manchester, UK. https://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/sci-tech/2022/05/taking-action-on-hot-air-why-agriculture-is-the-key-to-reducing-uk-methane-emissions/

Spang, Edware et al., “Food-Energy-Water-(FEW) Nexus: Informal Water Systems.” https://spang.ucdavis.edu/food-energy-water-few-nexus

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.


Skip to toolbar