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U.S. household greenhouse gas intensity in 2015 by state. Household GHG intensity represented by kilograms CO2-equivalents per square meter (kg CO2-e/m2) by state. Benjamin Goldstein
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By Chris Arsenault
A first ever study has provided detailed estimates of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire soy producing agribusiness sector in Brazil. The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, found that countries and companies in the European Union and China importing soy from Brazil have driven deforestation there, causing a marked increase in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when the soy came from certain regions.
A soy plantation in the Brazilian Cerrado. Alicia Prager / Mongabay.
A tractor works to turn deforested land into a soy field in São Desidério, Bahia state, Brazil in 2017. Jim Wickens Ecostorm / Mighty Earth
“Underground Forest”<p>Lucia von Reusner, campaign director at Mighty Earth, a U.S.-based environmental NGO, said the study is crucial for highlighting deforestation risks in Brazil's Cerrado. "It's one of the world's most biodiverse savannas and a huge concern for people who care about some of the world's most beautiful and threatened species." Also, "Deforestation is one of the biggest drivers of climate change."</p><p>The region has been dubbed an "underground forest" due to the complex root systems of shrubs and small trees, which retain soil and sequester tremendous sums of carbon, she added in an interview with Mongabay. "When the soy industry moves in, all of that is ripped up and burned. All the carbon stored in the roots, trees and soils is burned and released into the atmosphere."</p><p>The Cerrado, dubbed "Brazil's last agricultural frontier" has some of the highest deforestation rates in Latin America, von Reusner said, with only 50% of its native vegetation remaining. The greatest CO2 emissions occurring in the Cerrado during the 2010-15 study period arose in the so-called MATOPIBA region, comprising the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí, and Bahia. Though the study offered no current deforestation or carbon emission data, MATOPIBA continues to be an agribusiness powerhouse today, a <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/01/communities-in-brazilian-cerrado-besieged-by-global-demand-for-soy/" target="_blank">center of soy production and deforestation</a>.</p>
This map shows total carbon dioxide emissions embedded in Brazilian soy imports for different regions between 2010 and 2015. The European Union imported 67.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions embodied in Brazilian soy, while China imported 118.1 million tons of emissions. Escobar, N. et al.
This graph shows total carbon dioxide emissions embodied by Brazil soy imports in major soy importing countries from 2010 to 2015. Escobar, N. et al.
Examining Total Emissions From Soy<p>The study is the first to provide an estimate of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire soy sector in Brazil with such a high level of detail. To come to their conclusions, researchers analyzed data from 90,000 different soy supply chains between 2010 and 2015.</p><p>Soy is the most internationally traded agricultural commodity on earth, so analyzing data and strategies to reduce its impact on climate change is crucial for policymakers who want to preserve forests while simultaneously reducing emissions.</p><p>"This study does a good job in noting where along the supply chain we can pinpoint to reduce emissions," said University of California, Santa Barbara, land systems scientist Robert Heilmayr. He researches deforestation in Brazil and was not involved in the recent study.</p><p>The depth of the paper's data helps underscore how the Cerrado is "a new frontier in deforestation," he added, and establishes the importance of including the savanna in any plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to other soy producing regions of Brazil.</p><p>In the Amazon rainforest, a moratorium on clearing new lands for soy was launched in 2006, which <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2015/01/brazils-soy-moratorium-dramatically-reduced-amazon-deforestation/" target="_blank">greatly reduced</a> the conversion of rainforests to make way for new soy plantations. The moratorium continues to work, though <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/06/14-straight-months-of-rising-amazon-deforestation-in-brazil/" target="_blank">Amazon deforestation is increasing</a> due to intense cattle ranching and mining pressures. One study found that the slowing of soy growth in Amazonia, merely <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/11/saving-the-amazon-has-come-at-the-cost-of-cerrado-deforestation-study/" target="_blank">shifted and intensified</a> soy production in the Cerrado.</p><p>Extending the Amazon Soy Moratorium into the Cerrado, via the so-called <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/03/cerrado-manifesto-could-curb-deforestation-but-needs-support-experts/" target="_blank">Cerrado Manifesto</a> or <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/06/14-straight-months-of-rising-amazon-deforestation-in-brazil/" target="_blank">other initiatives</a> — something transnational commodities companies have strongly resisted — could help reduce deforestation related to soy there, Heilmayr and <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/08/more-companies-sign-on-to-cerrado-manifesto/" target="_blank">others contend</a>.</p>
Data was gathered from 90,000 soy supply chains and shows how the amount of greenhouse gases released from soy production, processing and export varies between Brazilian municipalities, and from year to year. This map indicates carbon dioxide emissions from soy exports from around Brazil between 2010-15. Escobar, N. et al.
Complicated Supply Chains<p>Deforestation isn't the only cause of soy-related emissions, Escobar explained. Transportation of soy from remote rural production areas to the South American coast especially by truck is another significant driver of carbon emissions.</p><p>In some inland communities in Brazil's center-west region, where poor infrastructure means soy needs to be trucked over long distances, transportation accounts for about 60% of total carbon emissions, especially from export-oriented municipalities in Goiás and Mato Grosso states. This has in part justified vigorous efforts to construct less carbon intensive <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/10/grainrail-2nd-revolution-in-brazilian-agribusiness-and-amazon-threat/" target="_blank">rail lines</a> and <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/01/battle-for-the-amazon-tapajos-basin-threatened-by-massive-development/" target="_blank">industrial waterways</a> connecting Brazil's interior with its coastal ports — though environmentalists worry about the deforestation such infrastructure might bring with it.</p><p>The global trade in agricultural food products more than doubled between 2000 and 2015, from US$600 billion to over US$1,300 billion, according to data from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). But most of the soy exported from Brazil isn't actually eaten by people, explained Reusner; it's primarily used for animal feed or biodiesel.</p><p>To produce enough food for a growing global population, she said transnational companies should incentivize producers to not clear forests for new plantations, but plant soy on land that's already been degraded. <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/05/brazil-has-the-tools-to-end-amazon-deforestation-now-report/" target="_blank">Studies have shown</a> that Brazil has plenty of degraded land to meet global commodity demands, without causing any new deforestation.</p><p>"There is enough degraded land across Latin America to meet the needs of global markets to avoid compromising some of our last remaining ecosystems," she said.</p>
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By Lauren Waller and Warwick Allen
But there is ongoing debate about whether to prioritize native or non-native plants to fight climate change. As our recent research shows, non-native plants often grow faster compared to native plants, but they also decompose faster and this helps to accelerate the release of 150% more carbon dioxide from the soil.
How Non-Native Plants Change the Carbon Cycle<p>There is uncertainty in our climate forecasting because we don't fully understand how the factors that influence carbon cycling - the process in which carbon is both accumulated and lost by plants and soils - differ across ecosystems.</p><p>Carbon sequestration projects typically use fast-growing plant species that accumulate carbon in their tissues rapidly. Few projects focus on what goes on in the soil.</p><p><span></span>Non-native plants often <a href="https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-102209-144650" target="_blank">accelerate carbon cycling</a>. They usually have less dense tissues and can grow and incorporate carbon into their tissues faster than native plants. But they also decompose more readily, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51402506_Plant_species_traits_are_the_predominant_control_on_litter_decomposition_rates_within_biomes_worldwide" target="_blank">increasing carbon release</a> back to the atmosphere.</p>
Planting Non-Native Trees Releases More Carbon<p>We established 160 experimental plant communities, with different combinations of native and non-native plants. We collected and reared herbivorous insects and created identical mixtures which we added to half of the plots.</p><p>We also cultured soil microorganisms to create two different soils that we split across the plant communities. One soil contained microorganisms familiar to the plants and another was unfamiliar.</p><p>Herbivorous insects and soil microorganisms feed on live and decaying plant tissue. Their ability to grow depends on the nutritional quality of that food. We found that non-native plants provided a better food source for herbivores compared with native plants – and that resulted in more plant-eating insects in communities dominated by non-native plants.</p>
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A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
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By Johnny Wood
A group of Danish companies are joining forces to build one of the world's largest facilities producing synthetic fuels. The unique partnership aims to help decarbonize the country's transport sector by manufacturing sustainable alternatives to fossil-based fuels like gas and diesel.
Generating Hydrogen<p>In the project, <a href="https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-production-electrolysis#:~:text=Electrolysis%20is%20a%20promising%20option,a%20unit%20called%20an%20electrolyzer." target="_blank">hydrogen will be produced using electrolysis</a>, a process that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.</p>
What electrolysis looks like. U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy<p>When an electrolyzer is powered by renewable energy sources like offshore wind, <a href="https://oilandgas.mhi.com/stories/hydrogen-powering-a-net-zero-future/?_ga=2.38535141.775327741.1591182039-1110157552.1562745288" target="_blank">the hydrogen produced is emissions-free</a>. Unlike fossil-based fuels like gas or diesel, when hydrogen combusts it doesn't produce carbon dioxide emissions.</p>
Global demand for pure hydrogen, 1975-2018. IEA, Paris
Cutting Costs<p>This sort of industrial scale is key to bringing down the cost of sustainable fuels – and meeting climate targets, like Denmark's moves to cut <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-denmark/denmark-should-sharply-increase-carbon-tax-to-meet-emissions-target-government-adviser-idUKKBN20W1M6" target="_blank">carbon emissions to 70% of 1990 levels</a> by the end of the decade.</p><p>The group behind the project believe that to be competitive the production of these fuels will need to see similar cost reductions as offshore and onshore wind and solar.</p>
Falling cost of renewables. IRENA<p>But challenges remain. The COVID-19 crisis has paused some countries' efforts toward renewable energy. Resulting economic downturns could create barriers to the types of investments needed to make these shifts a reality. Additionally, as the IEA explains, a broad portfolio of clean energy technologies will be needed to truly decarbonize all parts of a country's economy.</p><p>As part of its Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials platform, the World Economic Forum has set up the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/projects/accelerating-clean-hydrogen" target="_blank"> Accelerating Clean Hydrogen</a> initiative to help overcome these challenges by helping forge new collaborations to scale clean hydrogen.</p>
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Amazon announced that its carbon footprint rose 15 percent in 2019, meaning the online retail giant emits the carbon equivalent of running 13 coal fired power plants all year, according to the CBC. That also included an 18 percent rise in emissions from fossil fuels.
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By Daniel Ross
The wildfires that tore across Australia were as devastating as they were overwhelming, scorching some 15 million hectares of land, killing 34 people and more than 1 billion animals. In terms of its apocalyptic imagery — sweeping infernos torching great swaths with unerring speed — Australia's wildfires were hauntingly reminiscent of the fires that roared through the Amazon rainforest over the past year. Indeed, more than 80,000 fires hit the region during 2019, according to the Brazilian government.
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