This article was published as part of the launch of DeSmog’s Agribusiness Database, where you can find a record of companies and organisations’ messaging on climate change, lobbying around climate action, and histories of climate science denial.
From “climate change isn’t real” to “climate change is real and we’re serious about it” to “we are the solution” — there are established waymarkers along corporations’ paths to enlightenment on one of society’s greatest challenges.
Like Big Oil before it, the pesticide industry’s major players have progressed through the stages of the lobbyists’ climate playbook — delay, deny, appropriate — at glacial speed. With public pressure for action still high, despite a global pandemic, the agribusiness lobby seems to be entering a new phase.
“Like a pandemic, climate change is an inevitable threat that we must address before it is too late,” reads a June statement from the CEO of Syngenta, one of the pesticide industry’s biggest players. This is the boldest of a recent rush of statements from corporations, trade associations, and lobby groups about how agriculture, despite contributing more than 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, can be part of the solution to climate change.
It’s clear the sector must be part of the solution: The global population is set to continue growing, those additional mouths will need food, and the food system has never been more vulnerable to climatic changes (which agricultural practices have in part driven). As part of this productive system, the world will need the pesticides industry to take climate change seriously.
But is it? Or are companies just using new messaging to sell products into the same old high-carbon system?
The relationship between pesticides and climate change is complex. While pesticides can help create crops resistant to some climatic changes, the companies that manufacture them rely on a kind of intensive monocrop farming that is in large part responsible for the sector’s poor environmental record.
To show it is taking climate change seriously, the pesticides industry has homed-in on a couple of very specific solutions — “precision” agriculture, and “regenerative” agriculture — neither of which require companies to make fundamental changes to their business models. In some cases, the strategies actually reinforce reliance on the products they provide (and, indeed, the fossil fuels used to make them).
Precision agriculture, in which technology is used to increase efficiency and crop resilience, and regenerative agriculture, which emphasises preserving the ecological integrity of soil and farmland, can work — in theory. They are also the preferred solution of companies devoid of public trust after decades of lawsuits over products that destroy biodiversity and allegedly cause cancer.
For history to be the judge of these organisations’ actions, there must be a reliable record. And that is what DeSmog’s new Agribusiness Database, launched today, and which will be updated regularly, seeks to provide.
Through detailed profiles of key actors, the database allows readers to scrutinise themselves exactly what these corporate actors are saying about climate change, and what it might mean for the future of the planet. Together, the profiles reveal an ecosystem of multi-billion dollar multinationals, trade associations, and quasi-academic institutions working together, aligning their messaging on an issue it is no longer profitable to ignore.
Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change
Database: DeSmog’s Agribusiness Database
Factsheet: Digital and Precision Agriculture – Criticisms and Concerns
Factsheet: Regenerative Agriculture – Criticisms and Concerns
Industry responses: The Pesticide Industry’s Response to DeSmog’s Investigation – In Full
Reporting: Sharon Kelly and Fran Rankin. Additional research: Zak Derler, Stacey Knott, Rachel Sherrington, Tom Perrett. Editing: Mat Hope, Kyla Mandel, and Richard Collett-White. Graphics: Sam Whitham.