The use of pesticides – which includes insecticides, herbicides and fungicides – increased by 16.7% worldwide between 2005 and 2020, according to Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK).
The group has released a report in which it points to a “vicious circle” between pesticide use and climate change, with each causing more of the other.
Some 99% of all synthetic chemicals, including pesticides, are derived from fossil fuels, with several oil companies such as Exxon, Shell and Chevron involved in their production, he pointed out.
The manufacture, packaging, transport and application of chemicals all produce greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbate climate change, as well as the environmental degradation they cause, PAN UK said.
At the same time, warmer temperatures encourage the use of more pesticides by allowing insects and plant diseases to spread, creating a “vicious circle”, the report says.
PAN UK said increased pesticide use will disproportionately affect wildlife populations already stressed by climate effects such as higher summer temperatures and milder, wetter winters, and that organisms will become more resilient to chemicals, further increasing pesticide applications.
Campaigners want the government to integrate pesticide reduction into climate plans, introduce ambitious reduction targets, support farmers in using alternative methods to protect crops and ban pesticides in urban areas.
Josie Cohen, Head of Policy and Campaigns at PAN UK, said: “The government urgently needs to take a joint approach to tackling the climate and natural crisis because they go hand in hand. The solutions to these emergencies must not harm each other.
“The UK’s net zero target cannot be achieved without transforming agriculture, including a major reduction in the use of pesticides, which will also bring huge benefits to nature and biodiversity,” said she declared.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) said farmers only use pesticides when they have to, and without them yields would drop, prices for consumers would rise and it would take twice as much of land used to grow the same amount of food.
But PAN UK argued that the idea of using pesticides to ensure food security was a “myth”, considering that they contribute to climate change, which weakens food security.
He cited the herbicide glyphosate – which has been embroiled in a number of court cases in the United States over its alleged impact on human health – as having a carbon footprint of 31.29 kg of CO2e for every kilogram. made.
Globally, the amount of glyphosate used in 2014 was equivalent to powering 6.25 million cars for a year, the group claimed.
In the UK, glyphosate use increased by 16% in the four years to 2020, according to government data. This generated 81,410 tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to more than 75,000 flights from London to Sydney, PAN UK said.
Other pesticides are greenhouse gases themselves, such as sulfuryl fluoride, which is nearly 5,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the group said.
Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist and Director of Policy at Greenpeace UK, said: “Public understanding of the role fossil fuel companies have played in driving the climate emergency has increased dramatically over the past few years. , and now we know we have to add the pesticide industry to the list of climate polluters.
“Reducing the use of pesticides would be at least a double win in tackling nature’s decline and the climate crisis,” he added.
Danny Halpin is PA’s environmental correspondent.