UK government warned to change its approach to pesticides

A tractor spraying pesticides PAN UK
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Pesticides in food production are overwhelmingly derived from fossil fuels and worsen the climate crisis. This is the verdict of NGO Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK), in a report released on 5 July. It urged action from the UK government.

Pesticides: ‘exacerbating’ the climate crisis

PAN UK said:

Pesticides exacerbate the climate emergency throughout their life cycle…

Unless we change our approach, the impacts of the climate emergency are expected to lead to an increase in pesticide use, which will create a vicious cycle between chemical dependency and worsening climate breakdown.

Global food systems account for more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, including from agriculture, according to the findings.

PAN UK published the report with fellow campaigners Pesticide Collaboration. The group said that major companies including ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron Phillips Chemical manufacture pesticides or their chemical ingredients. It added:

Despite this, pesticide reduction as a solution to the climate crisis has largely been ignored.

The agro-chemical industry presents pesticide use as a “climate mitigation strategy”, the report said. However, it added that such a strategy “perpetuates the myth” that:

continuous use of harmful chemicals is the only way to guarantee global food security while protecting precious habitats.

PAN UK also said the controversial herbicide glyphosate was increasingly being used. The report compared the overall impact of glyphosate to the carbon footprint of tens of thousands of long-haul flights from London to Sydney.

UK government must act

Britain has long vowed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 to help tackle climate change. However, PAN UK said:

The UK government must take action to transform agriculture in order to avoid the worst effects of today’s climate and nature crises…

Policies addressing climate change should, therefore, include a focus on pesticide reduction as a key strategy for tackling greenhouse gas emissions and improving the climate resilience of food and farming system.

Moreover, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist and policy director Doug Parr said:

Public understanding of the role that fossil fuel companies have played in driving the climate emergency has increased hugely in the last few years, and now we know that we need to add the pesticide industry to the list of climate polluters. Reducing the use of pesticides would be at least a double in addressing nature decline and climate crisis.

Covering the report on Medium, journalist Monica Piccinini wrote:

Some pesticides, such as sulfuryl fluoride, are powerful greenhouse gases, having nearly 5,000 times the potency of carbon dioxide.

Piccinini added:

With increasing temperatures, there is a corresponding surge in pest populations, leading to decreased crop resilience. Consequently, a greater quantity of pesticides becomes necessary.

The heightened reliance on pesticides subsequently fosters the proliferation of resistance among insects and weeds towards herbicides and insecticides. Moreover, it perpetuates the detrimental impact on human health and the environment.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Stefan Thiesen – Wikimedia, resized to 770×403 under licence CC BY-SA 3.0

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