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Australia weighs killing some of its 1.2 million camels in effort to tackle climate change

As scientists and environmentalists in Australia search for ways to reduce that nation's greenhouse gas emissions, some have proposed that killing many of the country's estimated 1.2 million wild camels should be part of a solution, NPR reported.

Australia has the world's largest population of wild camels, and they are considered to be a growing environmental problem, according to AFP. Imported in the 19th century to help Europeans explore the vast, arid continent, and then set loose in the 1920s, the feral camels are considered a major pest, the Independent said. Not only do they compete with native animals for food and water, trample vegetation and damage fences, they also make a hefty contribution to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

A camel produces an estimated 100 pounds of methane a year, which is about the same as 1.1 ton of carbon dioxide in terms of the greenhouse gas emissions, the Associated Press said. That is about one-sixth the amount of CO2 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an average car produces per year.

So Australia is now considering awarding carbon credits for culling feral camels as a way to tackle climate change, according to AFP. The proposal is included in Canberra's Carbon Farming Initiative, a consultation paper by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, which was seen Thursday.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for years for something to be done about the camels, whose numbers are estimated to be growing at about 10 per cent a year and doubling every nine years, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The parliament is considering legislation that would create a Carbon Farming Initiative, a carbon offsetting plan that would offer new economic incentives to farmers and other landholders who help the environment by reducing carbon pollution. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the general outlines of the plan include:

Actions that store carbon, such as tree planting or changes to soil management practices, would generate credits that could be sold to companies wanting to offset their own carbon pollution. And credits will also be created by actions to reduce agricultural emissions, such as reduced methane emissions from feedlots and reduced nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer use.

Last week the independent committee set up by the government to advise on which activities will be credited under the scheme, put out for consultation a proposal to credit feral camel culling as part of the Carbon Farming Initiative.

A government registry will be set up to determine which actions will qualify for carbon credits, and a decision is expected by the end of the year about whether killing camels will be among them, the Associated Press said. Mark Dreyfus, the government's parliamentary secretary for climate change, said that under the proposed initiative, the camels could be killed for their meat as well as for carbon credits, adding to the financial benefit to those who currently herd and kill camels for human and pet food.

Killing camels is one of three proposals currently being considered by the government for carbon credits under the new law. The others would extract methane from landfills and change how Aborigines manage fire in savannah grasslands.

Australia is one of the world's worst per capita polluters with its heavy reliance on coal-fired power and mining exports, and the government is looking at ways to clean up its act, according to AFP.