Much has been said about the cleanliness of Venetian canals, of Indian skies and wildlife wandering through lockdowned towns. There is little doubt that global carbon emissions have declined during the pandemic. The International Energy Agency, a policy advisory group to 30 member countries, projects that global carbon emissions are set to fall by 8%, or levels the world hasn’t seen for a decade.
“This may sound small at first, but it is the largest drop since World War II, as emissions have generally increased year-over-year, even during recessions,” Ankur Desai, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told USA TODAY.
However, this is not enough to counter the long term effects of decades of greenhouse gas emissions.
The current drop in emissions is also not yet detectable in total carbon dioxide concentrations, according to Benjamin Houlton, a professor of environmental science at University of California, Davis. “The challenge is that carbon dioxide has an average lifespan of around 100 years in the atmosphere,” he told USA TODAY.
Emissions would need to drop by more than 25% to see a total drop in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and thus slow an annual global rise in temperatures, Houlton explained.
Despite these falls in carbon emissions around the world, Brazil is bucking the trend. The carbon emitted in 2020 due to deforestation could increase by 50% in relation to 2018 levels. So while the rest of the world is anticipating a net reduction of 6%, Brazil could see an increase of 10%.
Only today, the BBC reported that up to one fifth of of Brazilian soya exports to the European Union could be contaminated by illegal deforestation. Researchers discovered that 2% of properties were responsible for 62% of illegal deforestation.
“Without knowing it, we’re eating meat and dairy products from animals fed on soy grown on deforested land in Brazil,” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK. “We need to stop importing habitat destruction.”
The research, published in Science magazine, also revealed that European purchases of Brazilian soybeans may have been indirectly responsible for 58.3 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions between 2009 and 2017 from both legal and illegal deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado regions.
Tragically, the Brazilian Government reacted to the release of the June deforestation figures by sacking an official at the national space agency Inpe whose department is responsible for satellite monitoring of the Amazon rainforest. Lubia Vinhas was the general-coordinator of Brazilian space agency Inpe’s Earth Observation Institute, which is an umbrella for divisions that monitor the Amazon and panels to debate climate change with civil society organisations. It’s unclear whether the removal of Vinhas from her position was connected to the data. Her subordinate who heads the division directly overseeing satellite monitoring of Amazon deforestation remains employed. Inpe said in a statement posted to its website Monday night that the change was part of a shake-up at the agency to improve synergies.
Inpe figures published on Friday showed 400 square miles (1,034 square kilometers) of deforestation in the Amazon in June (two thirds the size of London and four fifths the size of New York City), a new record the month since data started being gathered in 2015. So, next time you reach for a burger, just remember that the cow you are eating might have been fed on soya grown on land illegally deforested.