Fleeced! New Zealand Sheep Farmers Flock to Carbon Trading

Aug 24, 2010· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
On the lookout for the sheepdog—and its greenhouse gases. (Photo: Bloomberg via Getty)

Leave the sheep, trade the carbon.

Enticed by the possibility of earning an extra $600 per hectare per year, New Zealand’s sheep farmers are lining up to trade carbon dioxide emission permits.

The country’s 2-year-old carbon trading system “pays more to plant trees than sell wool and mutton,” reports the New Zealand Herald.

A combination of factors—dwindling wool prices, drought, fighting with the dairy and lumber industries for land—has pushed sheep farmers to the precipice of economic insolvency.

"If you're an industry in decline, you have to see what options are available," said Neil Walker, a forester in the Taranaki region, to the Herald. "There's an economic case to be made for converting hill-country sheep farms to forests."

According to Bloomberg.com:

Sheep have been in decline for decades and have fallen in number from a 1982 peak of 70 million to about 40 million, official data show.

The scheme has to major opponents—one obvious, one surprising.

Don Nicolson, president of Federated Farmers of New Zealand, says that forcing farmers to pay for the emissions their cows and sheep make through belching is simply too much of an economic burden.

The other chief opponent is the Kiwi government, according to Bloomberg:

Even the government says the program will have little impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. New Zealand ranks 51st in greenhouse gas emissions with 0.2 percent of the global total, according to the United Nations. Rather, the government introduced carbon trading to enhance the country’s green image, boost exports, attract tourists and increase influence in global climate talks, Prime Minister John Key said on Television New Zealand in June.