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Press Release

The Carbon Lottery

02.09.2020 Huge carbon emissions risk in Europe’s Brazilian beef trade, new Earthsight research reveals

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The Carbon Lottery: Europe blind to potentially huge Brazilian beef carbon footprints

02.09.2020 Europe’s overreliance on beef from Mato Grosso state in particular, and an absence of due diligence by both meat producers and traders, leaves Europe not only blindly complicit in Brazil’s increasing deforestation crisis but also exposed to significant levels of emissions embedded in imports. As much as 20.8 million tonnes of Greenhouse Gasses (GHG) could have been emitted in Brazil to produce beef imported into just five European countries in 2019, equivalent to the annual climate footprint of 2.4 million EU citizens – twice the population of Brussels. Even more conservative estimates suggest emissions could have reached as high as 2.6 to 4.9 million tonnes of CO2e (tCO2e), equivalent to the annual footprint of up to 465,000 Europeans. The findings form part of a new Earthsight analysis, The Carbon Lottery: Estimating carbon footprints embedded in European imports of Brazilian beef, and highlight how importers must take concrete steps to source beef not linked to the highest contributing factor in the carbon intensity of beef production – deforestation. While global GHG emissions are predicted to drop this year due to slowed economic activity following the Covid-19 pandemic, Brazil is set to contradict this trend and see a rise of between 10 and 20 per cent, mostly because of rising levels of deforestation. Brazilian Amazon deforestation has increased every year since 2017, and by 30 per cent in 2019.  Clearances in the first six months of 2020 rose by 24 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, reaching 2,544sq km, the second largest amount in any semester since 2010. 2020 has seen the worst start of Brazil’s fire season in a decade, with burning in the Amazon biome in danger of exceeding those in 2019, which were up 85 per cent on 2018. Deforestation accounts for nearly half of Brazil’s total GHG emissions, with agriculture and cattle ranching, activities closely linked to forest loss, accounting for a further quarter. In 2018 cattle ranching was responsible for nearly a fifth of all emissions in Brazil – if deforestation for ranching is taken into account this share rises to 45 per cent. Calculating the carbonQuantifying the true scale of carbon emissions tied to European imports of Brazilian beef is a major challenge. There is little evidence that producers or importers consistently verify if the beef they trade comes from cattle linked to deforestation or high-emitting, degraded pastures, while the involvement of unknown indirect suppliers remains unfettered across Brazil’s meatpacking industry.In calculating the range of possible emissions, the research illustrates the lack of transparency in the industry and the risks importers are taking in sourcing beef from Mato Grosso and other states with high levels of deforestation.Although Trase, a supply chain transparency platform, and past studies have estimated the carbon footprint embedded in Europe’s Brazilian beef imports, Earthsight’s analysis provides estimates on more recent trade using different methods. Earthsight’s estimates are not limited to emissions from deforestation but also includes Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from the entire beef production cycle, including land use change, farm inputs, cattle ranching, herd and soil emissions, slaughtering and transportation to point of export.The analysis builds on a recent study from Instituto Escolhas that calculated average emissions footprints for beef produced in each Brazilian state over a decade, including for different types of representative herd management systems and pasture qualities.Instituto Escolhas estimated the national average carbon footprint of beef production, between 2008 and 2017, ranged from 25kg to 78kg CO2e (carbon emissions equivalent) per kilo of beef, depending on whether deforestation was involved. In contrast, the average CO2e per kilo of beef produced in the EU has been estimated to be around 22kg.Earthsight’s analysis largely employed Instituto Escolhas’ state-level estimates across a range of herd management and pasture types, including state averages, and both degraded and stable pastures.Combining the state-level average emissions estimates produced by Instituto Escolhas and Brazilian export data enabled calculations on carbon footprints embedded in shipments received by the selected countries and their importing companies.



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