EU measures have been largely ineffective in preventing the decline of wild pollinators, according to a new review from the European Court of Auditors (ECA).
The report, which was published on Wednesday (9 July), gives a detailed insight into the Commission’s approach to protecting wild pollinators and is designed to contribute to legislative updates on biodiversity, agriculture, and pesticides planned for 2021-2022.
Wild pollinators, including bees, wasps, hoverflies, butterflies, moths, and beetles, are key for food security, contributing directly to around one-third of global food production.
However, in recent decades, wild pollinators have declined both in abundance and in diversity, which the report attributes to increasing threats related to human activity, including climate change and pesticide use.
The European Commission established a framework of measures in response to this, largely based on its 2018 Pollinators Initiative (PI) and its biodiversity strategy.
However, these measures were not found to have had much effect, with Samo Jereb, the member of the ECA responsible for the report, commenting that “the EU initiatives taken so far to protect wild pollinators have unfortunately been too weak to bear fruit.”
The auditors identified gaps in the key EU policies addressing the main threats to wild pollinators, concluding that the PI does not provide the tools and mechanisms to address them.
Legislation currently in force relies on risk assessments which are still based on “outdated and poorly aligned” guidance, the report found, highlighting that key EU policies, including the Common Agricultural Policy, do not include specific requirements for the protection of wild pollinators.
In a press conference discussing the conclusions of the report, Jereb also pointed out that there is a lack of resources and lack of power over the direction of policy, highlighting the fact that there are currently only two people across DG SANTE and ENVI as one potential explanation behind the underwhelming impact of the initiative.
The report is also particularly critical of the fact that the EU plant protection products (PPPs) regulation allows member states to bypass the standard procedure and continue granting emergency authorisations for banned PPPs proven to be harmful to pollinators.
However, the report points out that, between 2013 and 2019, 206 emergency authorisations were granted for the use of three neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianid), even though their application has been restricted since 2013 and outlawed for outdoor use since 2018. It also found that the number of exceptions provided grew constantly until 2017.
The auditors were also critical of the authorisation procedure, saying that many member states did not include the required information on research activities and monitoring projects.
The top reason cited by member states for these exceptions was a “lack of alternatives” to deal with disease pressures in their country, the auditors said, although the report also highlighted that integrated pest management tools were being insufficiently utilised across the EU.
Among other recommendations, the auditors advocated for the European Commission to assess the need for specific measures for wild pollinators in 2021 follow-up action and improve the protection of wild pollinators in the pesticide risk-assessment process.
Commenting on the report, Dr. Bérénice Dupeux, senior policy officer for agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau, told EURACTIV that this if the Commission is serious about the EU Green Deal, they “must amend the CAP to integrate environmental concerns, such as the Pollinator initiative, and introduce legally binding Green Deal targets.”
A spokesperson for the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) told EURACTIV that they support the ECA’s recommendations and “remain supportive of an improved process that will cover wild pollinators,” highlighting that the industry is generating data on wild pollinators.
“We acknowledge that pesticides can have an impact but there are many other stressors affecting pollinator health like habitat loss, climate change, invasive species or disease (to name a few) and for which tangible EU-level measures are often missing,” they added.
Edited by Samuel Stolton