Spain set a dubious record Monday when it became the first country in Western Europe to pass half a million coronavirus cases.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Katell Ané
The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. It is the newest strategy under the European Green Deal, setting sustainability targets for farmers, consumers, and policymakers.
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 Jeannette Cwienk
When it comes to recycling and recyclability, very little, it seems is straightforward — even something as seemingly simple as orange juice can present a conundrum. In Germany, many smaller shops sell drinks in cartons or plastic bottles, both of which will end up in the yellow recycling bin. But how do their recycling credentials stack up?
More and More Multilayer Packaging<p>How easy is it to recognize multilayer packaging? With drink cartons, it's usually obvious that they're made from a combination of different materials, but with other products, such as candy wrappers, it's a different story.</p><p>Such packaging can be made from a complex mix of up to 10 different films of plastic, which as Joachim Christiani, managing director of German recycling institute cyclos-HTP, explains, is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germany-produces-record-amount-of-packaging-waste/a-51293541" target="_blank">invisible to consumers</a>.</p><p>"In recent years there's been a trend toward so-called multilayer packaging, which is extremely light and thin. It saves material as well as CO2 emissions during transport, but can't be recycled," Christiani says.</p><p>Because it is not possible to melt the different plastics together, or — at least for now — to separate the individual films from one another at recycling plants.</p>
Lack of Recycled Plastic<p>A 2017 cyclos-HTP study into the recyclability of conventional packaging waste concluded that a third of it was not recyclable, and only 40% of the remaining two-thirds was made into plastic recyclate. The rest was used as fuel <em>—</em> in other words it was incinerated.</p><p>"There was no economic or political pressure to recycle more than this amount," Christiani says. "The prescribed recycling quotas were met, and there were not nearly enough recycling plants."</p>
Room for Greenwashing<p>According to a 2018 survey by Germany's vzbv consumer protection association, most consumers would like to see more plastic recycling, especially when it comes to packaging.</p><p>Although some products come in packaging that is advertised as being "made from recycled material," Elke Salzmann, a resource protection officer with vzbv, says that can be misleading.</p><p>"It says nothing about how much recycled material the packaging actually contains," according to Salzmann. "And it also doesn't mean that the recycled plastic comes from collected plastic waste. It could just as well come from plastic leftovers created during the production of primary plastic."</p><p>The term "ocean plastic," which some textile and shoe manufacturers use to advertise the recycled plastic in their product lines, can also be misleading, Salzmann says.</p><p><span></span>"Plastic waste from the ocean is in much too bad a state to be recycled. Instead, they use plastic waste from beaches or riverbanks."</p>
Laws Against Plastic<p>Images of garbage choking our waters and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/eurythenes-plasticus-a-deep-sea-crustacean-full-of-plastic/a-52663559" target="_blank">killing marine wildlife</a> have played a key role in giving plastic a negative reputation among the public, and politicians have started to act.</p><p>Many countries worldwide have introduced bans on single-use items, and in Germany, a 2019 packaging law stipulates a plastics recycling quota of 90% from 2022, up from 36%. That said, the quota only refers to how much material has to be fed into the recycling system, not how much ultimately needs to be recycled.</p>
Rethinking the Whole System<p>Although plastic is a very useful material, at the end of its life it causes many problems, EASAC environmental program director Michael Norton tells DW, adding that we have to rethink the whole system and completely change the way we use plastic.</p><p>Joachim Christiani says the packaging industry is starting to catch on. Around 70% of recycled mass can currently be generated from packaging, but that figure is expected to rise in the future.</p><p>"95% is quite feasible," says the engineer, adding that sorting facilities are currently undergoing improvements, while packaging design is also changing.</p>
Clear Plastics Are Easiest to Recycle<p>As things stand, PET bottles are easiest to recycle because they're not mixed with other materials. New bottles can therefore easily be made from the old ones and the recycling rate is high. But the color of the bottle can pose a problem.</p><p>Because plastic is sorted by type rather than color, if different colors of plastic are mixed, the resulting recyclate cannot be used for light-colored packaging, which many manufacturers want. The upshot is the introduction of new plastic instead.</p><p>Consumer and environmental associations have long called for recyclability, greater sorting purity and better sorting facilities, but their most important demand remains waste avoidance through reusable systems.</p><p>"Why melt down disposable bottles to make new disposable bottles when you can refill them up to 20 times?" Buschmann asks.</p>
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A new study has shown that drops in nitrogen dioxide in the air and fine particulate matter as coal and oil consumption have plummeted over the last month have saved an estimated 11,000 lives across Europe. The range may be as low as 7,000, but as high as 21,000 deaths avoided.
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By Roman Goncharenko
Unseasonably warm temperatures, blue skies and gardens in full bloom — most of Europe is currently enjoying dreamy spring weather. But that's not how farmers see it. They are hoping for rain, and fear that without it their crops will suffer greatly. And experts say there is a very real prospect that beyond the continuing coronavirus pandemic, Europe could be facing weather-induced crop failures in the very near future.
Global Warming Hasn't Gone Away<p>"January was too warm. There is no evidence that global warming has paused or slowed," says Andreas Becker of the German Weather Service (DWD) in Frankfurt am Main. Moreover, he says, January and March were far too dry and February too wet. Water levels in Germany's largest river, the Rhine, were more than 6 meters (20 feet) above average in early March, though they are now falling once again. Currently, the Rhine is close to its average depth of 3.5 meters, but water levels are continuing to drop.</p><p>Meteorologist Becker says the good thing about having such a wet February is that it helped offset some of the groundwater loss that occurred over the past two years as temperatures soared above 40℃ (104℉). He says plants, which draw water from the top 20-50 centimeters (8-20 inches) of soil, have been doing better than trees, which draw theirs from depths closer to two meters. Becker says there is very little water remaining at those levels.</p><p><span></span>Now, he warns, things will have deteriorated further still as March was such a dry month. This year, Germany only received 50-75% of the rainfall that it usually gets for the month. For meteorologists, that comes close to qualifying as a drought.</p>
Eastern Europe Especially Dry<p>Andreas Marx from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research's Central Germany Office in Leipzig points out that the past three years have seen unusually low amounts of precipitation. He says that has been the case not only in northern Germany, but also in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Romania.</p><p>The expert says three-week cycles without rain are normal for Europe, but says what has been unusual over the past three years has been the increasing stabilization of the jet stream, which normally meanders around the North Pole some 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) above the Earth. A veritable conveyor belt for winds, the jet stream normally winds and shifts its path, changing weather patterns on the Earth's surface.</p><p>"Climate change has caused the North Pole to warm far faster than the Equator. Now the jet stream is increasingly moving in a north-south direction," says Marx. As a result, the jet stream is not moving around as much as it once did, leading to stable weather patterns such as the extended dry periods that Germany suffered in 2018.</p>
How Dry Will Things Get This Summer?<p>Since weather predictions for even a week or two are considered uncertain, meteorologists shy away from making long-term weather predictions about things such as how the upcoming summer might be. Both Becker and Marx add that due to Europe's varied geography — including its mountains and oceans — it is far more difficult to predict the weather in Europe than in places like Australia, which is surrounded by water. Still, both expect this summer to be warmer than usual. The German Weather Service, for instance, has already suggested that temperatures in Germany could be half a degree (Celsius) warmer than average.</p><p>Marx, who is currently basing his modeling on data from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), says not only does he expect the coming summer to be warmer than usual, but also drier. He points out that hot periods have changed all over the world.</p><p>"Technically, hot days are those over 30℃. Statistically, one can expect seven or eight such days each year in Leipzig. But we had 36 of them in 2018, and 29 in 2019. That means heat waves last three to four times longer than average." Marx says that has serious consequences for farmers but also for human health. </p>
Heat Could Amplify the Effects of the Coronavirus<p>If things go as the experts expect, Europeans will not only face the prospect of movement restrictions necessitated by COVID-19, but will also have to suffer under extended periods of extreme heat. That heat is something that already plagues elderly citizens — who are also most at risk from the coronavirus — and it makes wearing a face mask all the more uncomfortable.</p><p>Long droughts also increase the chance of forest fires and the massive amounts of smoke that they produce. That would be yet another burden on peoples' lungs, especially those infected with the coronavirus.</p>
The entire country of Italy has gone into lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.
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The executive branch of the European Union announced a "climate law" Wednesday that would make it legally binding for the 27-nation group to achieve zero emissions by 2050, but activists including Greta Thunberg say it does not go far enough.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press conference on the European Climate Law at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 4. Europe unveils a landmark law on March 4 to achieve "climate neutrality" by 2050. JOHN THYS / AFP / Getty Images<p><br></p><p>"We are acting today to make the EU the world's first climate neutral continent by 2050. The Climate Law is the legal translation of our political commitment, and sets us irreversibly on the path to a more sustainable future," she said, according to a <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_335" target="_blank">commission press release</a>.</p>
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Vondelpark, Amsterdam's public urban park in the southwest of the city, is anything but a remote place. Even on a weekday, it's full of people taking a stroll, playing soccer or chatting with friends on the neatly mowed grass.
Collecting What's There<p>Every day for a week, eight amateur researchers set up traps on the island to catch different kinds of resident critters, such as spiders, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/we-cannot-survive-without-insects/a-44297313" target="_blank">beetles, worms and moths</a>.</p><p>"I'm not sure how many species we caught but I was surprised that it was so many," Norbert Peeters, a participant and philosopher from the city of Leiden, told DW.</p><p>Iva Njunjic says the group collected 143 different types of moths alone. Taxonomy experts at the Free University of Amsterdam helped the amateur researchers identify the species under the microscope.</p><p>"By the end of the week we were given some hints that we might be onto something," Peeters said.</p><p>It turns out the group discovered two species of insects that hadn't previously been described by scientists.</p><p><span></span>Njunjic unscrews a small plastic container to reveal one of the new finds. It is a small black dot, no larger than 3 millimeters or one-eighth of an inch, glued to a piece of paper and neatly labelled.</p><p>She explains that it's a beetle belonging to the family of Leiodidae, commonly called "round fungus beetles."</p><p>It most likely lives underground. "We think this species probably feeds on some decaying organic matter or fungi because we found it in a trap with meat and cheese."</p>
Its Penis Gave It Away<p>How did they know this beetle was a new discovery?</p><p>"It differs from very closely related species from southern Europe by the shape of its penis," Njunjic explains and laughs. "When studying insects we compare male genitalia. So we had to dissect its penis and observe it under a microscope."</p><p>The group decided to name the new species after the band "The Beatles," because as Njunjic puts it, "it's kind of unfair that there is no beetle species named after them yet." Its full name will be <em>Ptomaphagus beatles</em>.</p><p>The group of researchers also found a new species of parasitic wasp, which are small insects that lay their eggs on or in the bodies of other invertebrates, sooner or later causing the death of their hosts.</p><p>The new parasitic wasp will be named <em>Aphaereta Vondelpark</em> to honor the place where it first was found.</p>
More to Uncover<p>According to Martin Kubiak, insect researcher at the Center of Natural History at Hamburg University, who was not involved in the study, the outcome of the Vondelpark expedition is "not surprising."</p><p>While the fauna in Central Europe is well explored in terms of species of vertebrates, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/in-costa-rica-butterfly-breeders-protect-the-forest/a-51917138" target="_blank">butterflies</a> and dragonflies, there is still much to discover in other parts of the animal world.</p><p>"We still know amazingly little about insect groups comprising beetles, wasps, bees, flies and mosquitoes, especially if they are only 1 to 2 millimeters big," Kubiak says.</p><p>In 2011, biologists from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, estimated that there are an overall <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127" target="_blank">8.7 million species</a> on Earth.</p><p>So far, scientists have only described 1.5 million species.</p><p>Using a technique called <a href="https://ibol.org/about/dna-barcoding/" target="_blank">DNA barcoding,</a> researchers identify species by analyzing a short section of their DNA.</p><p>When biologists at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30977972" target="_blank">analyzed the genetic material</a> of a large number of insects they had trapped across Germany, they were able to estimate that 930 different gall midges — a family of flies — live around us, yet only 800 species have been described so far. </p>
Biodiversity and the City<p>Like Norbert Peeters, many people might assume that cities are not where animals are most likely to be found.</p><p>But Menno Schilthuizen, evolutionary biologist at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and co-founder of Taxon Expeditions, says the opposite is the case.</p><p>"In a country like the Netherlands, cities are actually biologically rich in comparison to the countryside," he told DW. "This is because there is intensive agriculture everywhere."</p><p>The organizers hope their findings will shed light on the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/insect-apocalypse-dying-ecosystem-species-loss-a-52160360/a-52160360" target="_blank">importance of insects</a>.</p><p>"Even though they're so tiny they perform many important functions like aerating the soil, decomposing organic matter and pollinating the plants," Iva Njunjic says. "Everyone wants to save pandas and lions, but insects are actually more important."</p>
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After marathon talks in Brussels, the leaders of European Union member states – bar Poland – agreed early Friday to commit to going carbon neutral by 2050.
The European Commission introduced a plan to overhaul the bloc's economy to more sustainable, climate-conscious policies and infrastructure, with the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050, according to CNBC.
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European Parliament declared a "climate and environmental emergency" Thursday, calling on the European Commission to make sure all legislation and budgets align with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
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By Tim Schauenberg
Technician Christopher Olk concentrates hard as he removes the broken drive from a DVD player and pushes it back in again.
"If it's the mechanics or the electronics, I can fix it," explains the 26-year-old, who is working on his Ph.D. in battery technology at Aachen University. "If the chip or the cooling system is affected then I can't do anything, because I'm missing the equipment and spare parts."
At the repair cafe in Cologne, Christopher Olk is trying to get this faulty DVD player up and running again.
Old televisions are much easier to repair compared to modern LED screens.
Brussels will soon be discussing whether to include longer-lasting smartphones and laptops in the new regulations.
The more complicated the technology, the harder it is to identify which parts are broken.
Not all electronic devices can be repaired using normal, everyday tools.
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