UN Body Calls for Global Action to Protect Pollinators

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By Eric J. Lyman

Feb. 26 — A changing climate, increased use of pesticides and changes in land use are major factors contributing to precipitously falling populations of bees and other pollinator species, according to a Feb. 26 United Nations-sponsored report.

The first-ever global assessment of pollinators said that pollinator species—which include bees, wasps and many kinds of ants, flies, butterflies, moths and other insects, as well as some species of birds and bats—are being “driven toward extinction,” threatening millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in food each year.

The “Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production” report, which will be released to the public Feb. 29, is the fruit of two years of research from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, known as IPBES.

The report lists multiple factors threatening the future of pollinator species, including a changing climate, the increased use of pesticides that harm pollinator populations, the proliferation of genetically modified crops that reduce the spread of weed species that provide nourishment to many pollinator species, and changes to farming techniques that harm the habitat of the species.

‘Under Serious Threat.'

“Wild pollinators in many parts of the world, especially bees and butterflies, are under serious threat,” IPBES Vice Chairman Robert Watson said Feb. 26 during a briefing from Kuala Lumpur.

According to the report, there are more than 20,000 species of wild bees alone, and many other species, which contribute to pollination, and each has different environmental sensibilities.

The report estimates that as much as $577 billion in annual food production depends directly or indirectly on contributions from pollinator species. Nearly 90 percent of all flowering plants, for example, depend on pollinators for their well-being. Pollinators are critical to everything from coffee and chocolate to most kinds of fruit, biofuels, cotton and many pharmaceuticals.

“Pollinators are important contributors to world food production and nutritional security,” University of Sao Paulo professor Vera Lucia Imperatriz-Fonseca, co-chairwoman of the assessment report, said in the briefing. “Their health is directly linked to well-being of human kind.”

Action Steps

The report called for governments to take several steps to help safeguard the future of pollinator species, including:

  • decreasing exposure of pollinators to pesticides by reducing their usage, seeking alternative forms of pest control, and adopting a range of specific application practices, including technologies to reduce pesticide drift;
  • maintaining or creating greater diversity of pollinator habitats in agricultural and urban landscapes;
  • promoting traditional practices that manage habitat patchiness, crop rotation and coproduction between science and indigenous local knowledge;
  • supporting education and exchange of knowledge among farmers, scientists, industry and communities; and
  • improving managed bee husbandry for pathogen control, coupled with better regulation of trade and use of commercial pollinators.

    The report also said managed populations of pollinators are not a solution, since high crop yields depend on a mix of both wild and managed species.

    IPBES was created in 2012 with 124 member countries. The organization's findings are not binding on its members, but are designed to “provide policy makers with scientifically credible and independent information with which to make informed decisions about how to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

    IPBES operates under the auspices of the UN Environment Program, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Development Program, and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Rome at correspondents@bna.com

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

    For More Information

    The report will be available Feb. 29 at http://www.ipbes.net/work-programme/pollination.