Climate change is helping plant pests spread, the UN warns

3 Juni 2021

As the climate warms, species that prefer warmer temperatures are spreading northwards to the detriment of native species and people alike.

A case in point: insects that decimate crops.

Climate change could affect how infectious, widespread and severe pests that decimate plants can become around the world, warns the United Nations in a new report.

The report’s authors examined 15 plant pests that are already spreading or could soon spread as a result of warming temperatures, which aid the spread of destructive insects.

“Species such as [the] fall armyworm, which feeds on crops that include maize, sorghum and millet, have already spread due to [a] warmer climate,” the scientists explain in a statement.

“Others, such as desert locusts, which are the world’s most destructive migratory pests, are expected to change their migratory routes and geographical distribution,” they add.

The worst-affected will be small holder farmers with limited means to protect crops as well as those in developing countries where food security is already at risk from a changing climate and inhospitable conditions.

Already around 40% of global crop production is lost to pests and plant diseases cost more than $220 billion each year to the global economy, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Invasive pests alone cause damages of at least $70 billion annually, while they also drive biodiversity loss.

The authors of the study stress that stepping up international cooperation in managing plant pests could reduce the harm they cause as their spread could be limited.

Importantly, as much as a half of all emerging plant diseases are spread through travel and trade, which means that limiting transmission this way could also serve a vital function, the experts note.

Failure to act could result in further losses of annual crop yields, which would jeopardize global food security, the FAO warns.

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