A new briefing from responsible investment charity and Pesticide Collaboration member ShareAction points to the severe impacts pesticides have on biodiversity, and calls on pesticide companies and their investors to act urgently to turn the tide.

ShareAction, a UK-based non-profit organisation working toward a financial system that works for people and planet, has highlighted that investors can play a key role in addressing biodiversity loss. In this briefing, the organisation highlights how pesticide use, and the industrialised food system, fuel the ongoing nature crisis.

Pesticides are driving widespread damage to species and ecosystems. Around 99 percent of global agricultural land uses pesticides– a shocking statistic that provides some insight into why the food and agriculture industry is considered a leading cause of biodiversity loss.

In the UK alone, neonicotinoids have been shown to reduce bee reproduction by 44 percent. Despite their clear contributions to pollinator loss, these pesticides have been repeatedly approved for emergency use in the UK against the advice of experts.

The food system is hooked on pesticides. And pesticide companies deepen this dependence by arguing their products are essential for food security. But massive volumes of these chemicals are used to grow crops that are not helping to feed a growing population.

Instead, the vast majority of soy and corn, which use huge volumes of pesticides, are destined for livestock feed, highly processed foods and biofuels. ShareAction’s briefing reveals that pesticide use is highest in countries that produce these commodities, like China, the United States, Brazil and Argentina.

There’s strong evidence that more sustainable alternatives like agroecology and precision technologies (alongside other changes like reducing food waste and loss) can help meet our food production needs. Pesticide companies have nonetheless failed to phase out toxic products, relying on a weak argument of food security to maintain their business operations.

Despite the ongoing damage, policymakers are starting to address the destruction caused by pesticides. The Global Biodiversity Framework, agreed at the UN biodiversity conference (COP15) in December, sets targets for halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 that Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will implement into national policy. It includes a specific target on reducing the risks posed by pesticides (Target 7).

Governments worldwide have already started to act. From new biodiversity policies such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, to targeted regulation of financial institutions such as Colombia’s Green Taxonomy, there are signs that decision makers understand the urgency of this issue and are holding companies and investors accountable for their role in pesticide-related biodiversity loss.

But, as ShareAction’s briefing notes, pesticide companies consistently lobby to derail the efforts of legislators to address dangerous pesticides. These lobbying activities, from holding positions in government to threatening policymakers, allow pesticide companies to severely hinder governments from effectively addressing the harms caused by pesticides.

The worst culprits for this lobbying are the very same companies that dominate the pesticides market: BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC Corporation, Syngenta and UPL. Together they controlled 70 percent of global pesticide sales in 2021. All six of these companies continue to produce Highly Hazardous Pesticides and lack robust strategies to address their contributions to biodiversity loss.

From consumers to governments, farmers to food companies, there is a growing awareness of the dangers of pesticide use to both biodiversity and human health.

But ShareAction also sees an opportunity for investors to help tackle this issue and drive transformation within the pesticides industry. The industry’s largest companies have thousands of shareholders, such as large asset management firms, and are also regularly financed by banks.

Because they finance the activities of these companies, investors have the power to insist that they change their behaviour. This might mean having conversations with the company to request action on an issue, voting on a shareholder resolution at their annual general meeting, or even divesting from the company altogether if the company has failed to change.

In this briefing, ShareAction urges investors to start using their power for good. As the owners and financiers of pesticide companies, they can be part of a wider movement to halt and reverse the dire impacts pesticides are having on our natural world.

By Eve Gleeson