Wednesday, 22 October 2014

UN in your language

More Than Honey – the plight of the honey bee

Bees
Albert Einstein once said: “If bees ever die out, mankind will have only four years left to live”.

This week, the United Nations released a report “Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators”, saying that the potentially disastrous decline in bees, a vital pollinating element in food production for the growing global population, is likely to continue unless humans profoundly change their ways, from the use of insecticides to air pollution. Declines in managed bee colonies date back to the mid-1960s in Europe but have accelerated since 1998, especially in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.

“The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century,” UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner said. “Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to 7 billion people.”

On Friday 15 March 2013, the European Commission will vote on the proposed Europe-wide suspension of three pesticides linked to serious harm in bees. According to a poll, almost three-quarters of the UK public backs the ban, but unfortunately the UK is not currently expected to support the measure, leaving it little chance of being passed. At present the opposition of the UK, Germany and Spain probably outweighs the support of France, the Netherlands and Poland, although campaigners hope to change the minds of ministers in the final days before the vote. The chemical manufacturers claim that a suspension would reduce food production, while conservationists say these claims are unsubstantiated and even greater harm results from the loss of bees and the vital pollination service they provide.

About three-quarters of global food crops rely on bees and other insects to fertilise their flowers, with the result that the decline of honeybee colonies due to disease, habitat loss and pesticide harm has prompted serious concern. A series of high-profile scientific studies in the last year has increasingly linked neonicotinoids to harmful effects in bees, including huge losses in the number of queens produced, and big increases in "disappeared" bees – those that fail to return from food foraging trips.

The EC proposal is to ban the use of three neonicotinoids from use on corn, oil seed rape, sunflowers and other flowering crops across the continent for two years. Tonio Borg, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, said it is time for "swift and decisive action" and that the proposal is "ambitious but proportionate". The proposal came within weeks of scientists at the European Food Safety Authority, together with experts from across Europe, concluding that the use of these pesticides on flowering crops posed an unacceptable risk to bees. Lord Deben, one of Paterson’s Conservative predecessors, said: "If ever there were an issue where the precautionary principle ought to guide our actions, it is in the use of neonicotinoids. Bees are too important to our crops to continue to take this risk.”

On Sunday 17 March 2013 - 15:00, Bozar Cinema in Brussels, in partnership with UNRIC, will be screening the Belgian premiere of “More than honey”.  This film tells the provocative yet touching tale of what may happen to mankind all over the world if all honeybees were to disappear. The film will be followed by a debate with Markus Imhoof (the director), Michel Degaillier (representative of the cabinet of Secretary of State Melchior Wathelet) and Bernard Delforge of SRABE. The panel debate will be moderated by Chris Vanden Bilcke, head of the UNEP Liaison Office to the EU in Brussels.