UNEP Reports

Bees Under Bombardment

More than a dozen factors, ranging from decline in flowering plants and the use of memory-damaging insecticides, may be behind the emerging decline of bee colonies across the globe, claims a report published today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which brings together and analyses the latest science on collapsing bee colonies.

The study, entitled Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators, shows humans’ dependency on ecosystem services in vital sectors such as food production. The report argues that bees are early warning indicators of wider impacts on animal and plant life and that measures to boost pollinators could not only improve food security but the fate of many other economically and environmentally important plants and animals.

New kinds of fungal pathogens, which can be deadly to bees and other key pollinating insects, are now being detected worldwide, migrating from one region to another as a result of shipments linked to globalization and rapidly growing international trade. Meanwhile, an estimated 20,000 flowering plant species, upon which many bee species depend for food, could be lost over the coming decades unless conservation efforts are stepped up. Furthermore, increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, including ‘systemic insecticides’ and those used to coat seeds, has been found to be damaging or toxic to bees. Left unaddressed, climate change may also aggravate the situation by changing the flowering times of plants and shifting rainfall patterns. This may in turn affect the quality and quantity of nectar supplies.

Scientists are warning that, without profound changes to the way human beings manage the planet, decline in pollinators is likely to continue. The authors of the report call for farmers and landowners to be offered incentives to restore pollinator-friendly habitats, including key flowering plants planted next to crop-producing fields.
More care also needs to be taken in the choice, timing and application of insecticides and other chemicals. While managed hives can be moved out of harm’s way, ‘wild populations (of pollinators) are completely vulnerable’, says the report.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: ‘The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century. The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.’
He continues: ‘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 seven billion people.’

The full report, Global Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators, can be read here or downloaded at:

The report is part of the UNEP Emerging Issues series, which is available at:


UNEP is host to a wide ranging partnership-The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) -which is estimating the economics of nature and the returns to communities and countries from improved management of these assets.

For more information, please visit: www.teebweb.org

The Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication is one of the two major themes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 (UNCSD 2012) or Rio+20.
For more information on UNCSD 2012, please visit:www.uncsd2012.org
UNEP Green Economy Initiative:www.unep.org/greeneconomy