Metrics for evaluating climate smart technologies in agriculture are broken

Dr. Fatma Kaplan
6 min readFeb 13, 2024

Pesticides’ carbon footprint is massively underestimated. We need better metrics for innovative technologies.

Crop protection does not have one big bad wolf pesticide like fertilizers’ nitrogen. According to (1, 2) “Manure and synthetic fertilizers emit the equivalent of 2.6 gigatons of carbon per year -more than global aviation and shipping combined.” For impact and climate investors going after one big problem with a significant impact is a no brainer. Calculating reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in terms of gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is easy because there are many publications and market reports available for climate and impact investors (3). Nitrogen alone cannot solve agriculture’s carbon emission problem because the bigger problem, crop protection, is overlooked and underestimated.

Crop protection has many medium size wolves which collectively create more CO2e emissions than nitrogen. Furthermore, GHG emissions produced by pesticides are massively underreported for the following reasons (4).

1- CO2e emissions for a kg of pesticide is calculated in terms of active ingredients, but the formulated pesticides that are applied to the field include other chemicals that can make up 50–70% of the product (4). This creates a…