Sunday, August 14

A burp tax

Although it may sound like a joke, it is the serious proposal being studied in New Zealand to tackle one of the main sources of greenhouse gases that affects the country. With a population of 5 million inhabitants, but with more than 10 million cows and 26 million sheep, it turns out that almost half of the emissions of these gases in that country come from the stomachs of animals, mainly in the form of methane, which are mainly expelled via belching.

Methane is a more powerful and harmful gas for global warming than the carbon dioxide emitted by combustion vehicles and, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, only farm cattle are responsible 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, estimating for example that each cow can belch up to 500 liters of methane per day. However, to date, the emissions of these gases have not been included in the emission rights trading system.

New Zealand’s minister for climate change plans to tax greenhouse gas emissions from farm animals from 2025 through a system of pricing polluting emissions from livestock similar to that in place for industries. In this way, emission limits will be established for livestock farms that will receive emission rights in exchange for the payment of the tax, which, later, will be able to market among themselves based on the surpluses or needs of rights that they have at the end of each year. . The aim is to encourage the reduction of said emissions.

The plan includes different actions to reduce the gases emitted into the atmosphere, such as the use of algae or other food additives in animal feed or the planting of trees on farm land to offset the impact of pollution . The possibility of using face masks for cattle that trap the gases and filter them before they are exhaled outside is even being studied. In any case, the existence of alternatives to be able to reduce the polluting effects of livestock activity and, consequently, to be able to reduce the tax burden introduced by this new tax, allows us to talk about environmental taxation or how taxes can help in the fight against climate change.

However, too often, and in our country we have plenty of examples, environmental taxation refers to a series of taxes that penalize activities that are harmful to the environment, but without real options for those obliged to pay, or those that exist are too expensive, which allow them to change their habits to stop polluting. The fact of increasing the costs (and prices) of polluting products and services via taxes when consumers cannot choose others, ends up generating the perception that environmental taxation is not really designed to help fight climate change but simply as a new way to increase public revenue collection.

But, in addition to not achieving the objectives for which they were created, many of these so-called green or environmental taxes are regressive, given that they reinforce the idea that you do not pay for polluting, but that you can pollute if you pay, so that those who can afford it can continue to pollute. If farmers have to face new costs due to the tax on the emission of polluting gases from their animals and they are not offered alternatives to reduce them and avoid paying them, the well-intentioned (and publicized) objective of combating the negative effects of the change climate change would be pure rhetoric. On the other hand, if at the same time that the tax is created, alternatives are introduced and offered to reduce polluting activities and, consequently, also the tax bill, then the objective of environmental taxation is to encourage change in the behavior of citizens takes on all its meaning.

Applying a tax on cow burps might seem like an outlandish idea to obtain public resources, but considering the plans of the New Zealand government, it can be a really useful tool to achieve its objective of reducing pollution from livestock activity in that country, view of the alternatives offered to farmers. On the other hand, when in our country it is proposed to increase the rates for the use of planes and ships without the existence of other less polluting but equally efficient transport options, or it is decided to increase the taxation of private combustion vehicles and fossil fuels when electric cars cost twice as much or there is no adequate alternative public transport available, or there are plans to tax congestion in large cities or the use of expressways without offering planned mobility alternatives, even if all this does not make us happy , from the point of view of environmental taxation it would be a joke, but not in the sense of the term that means fun, but in that of an expensive or annoying thing.

For all these reasons, environmental taxation is welcome, as long as it truly serves to fight climate change, but let us directly call it taxation to pollute the rest since, as long as taxpayers do not have alternatives that allow them to change their activities easily and quickly pollutants, their effects will not be noticed in the environment, but mainly in their pockets and those of the Treasury, of course.