Addressing the Pollinator Shortage

By Clara Martín Fernández

The decline in bee and other natural pollinator populations has been well documented; many of them being threatened with extinction. Causes include climate and habitat change, pesticide and herbicide use, and many other factors that place global food production in jeopardy and make feeding the planet more challenging.

In Europe, around four in five crop and wild-flowering plant species depend, at least to some extent, on animal pollination. The advantages of pollinators to the economy are especially evident in the realm of food production since animal pollination contributes to the EU's agricultural output an estimated €5 billion per year at least. Most of the essential benefits of pollinators, however, remain unquantified, such as their contribution to food security and the maintenance of ecosystem health and resilience through the pollination of wild plants.1

Where Are the Pollinators?

Europe and the world are confronted with a dramatic loss of wild pollinators. The population of around one in three bee, butterfly, and hoverfly species is declining. Moreover, one in ten bee and butterfly species, and one in three hoverfly species, are threatened with extinction.2

Europe has a duty of care as a higher proportion of threatened wild bee species are endemic to either Europe (20.4%, 400 species) or the EU 27 (14.6%, 277 species). This highlights the responsibility that European countries have to protect the global populations of these species. Almost 30% of all the species threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable) at the European level are endemic to Europe.3

According to existing scientific understanding, it appears that no singular factor is solely responsible for the decline in pollinator populations. The report on pollinators published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) names land-use change, intensive agricultural management and pesticide use, environmental pollution, invasive alien species, pathogens, and climate change as the main threats to pollinators. These often work in combination resulting in combined effects that exert strong pressure on pollinators.

"Europe and the world are confronted with a dramatic loss of wild pollinators. The population of around one in three bee, butterfly and hoverfly species is declining. Moreover, one in ten bee and butterfly species, and one in three hoverfly species, are threatened with extinction.2"

European Initiative on Pollinators

The EU has already one of the strictest regulatory systems in the world concerning the approval of pesticides and other agrochemicals. In 2018, the EU adopted its first EU Pollinators Initiative, which put in place specific policy tools to address pollinator decline, mobilized cross-sectoral action, and made significant progress in monitoring pollinators. This initiative has complemented existing measures beneficial to pollinators under several EU policies, in particular the Birds and Habitats Directives, EU legislation on pesticides, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), cohesion policy, and research and innovation policy.

The EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 and the EU Pollinators Initiative set the commitment to reverse the decline in wild pollinators by 2030. EU actions on pollinators aim to:

  • Improve knowledge of pollinator decline, its causes and consequences
  • Improve pollinator conservation and address the causes of their decline
  • Mobilize society and promote strategic planning and cooperation at all levels

In June 2022, the Commission adopted a proposal for a regulation on nature restoration, which includes a mandatory objective for Member States to reverse the decline of pollinators by 2030. Member States would also be required to establish strong monitoring schemes to gather information on the quantity and diversity of pollinator species, as well as to assess trends in pollinator populations.

The combined impact of the proposed Nature Restoration Law and the new action framework introduced by the EU Pollinators Initiative represents a significant shift in pollinator conservation efforts on the European level. It can be seen as a transformative agreement that aims to safeguard European pollinators.

International Efforts

During the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, in December 2022, significant global initiatives were undertaken to tackle the biodiversity crisis. However, it is crucial that these global efforts are complemented by ambitious actions at the EU level to safeguard and restore biodiversity. Pollinators play a vital role in this ecosystem and should be considered an essential component of any comprehensive conservation strategy.

Among the 2030 Global Targets of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, Target 11 calls for restoring, maintaining, and enhancing nature's contribution to people, including ecosystem function and services, amongst which animal pollination is mentioned specifically. The proposed actions outlined in the revised EU Pollinators Initiative play a pivotal role in the EU efforts to accomplish this target specifically in relation to pollination.

In 2000, the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity took a significant step by initiating the International Pollinators Initiative. This global effort aimed to promote the conservation and sustainable utilization of pollinators. In 2018, the EU joined a collaborative group known as the “Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators”, that was launched in 2016. Since then, the European Commission has actively supported the objectives of this international coalition by facilitating the exchange of knowledge and experience regarding the implementation of EU actions on pollinators with other countries.

Protecting Pollinators in Our Cities

More and more cities are proposing sustainable initiatives to protect pollinators. In 2019, the Dutch city of Utrecht started to install green roofs at bus stops in order to increase the population of bees and other pollinators and improve air quality. This initiative has also been implemented in other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark.

The “bee highway” project in Oslo (Norway) was initiated in 2015 and has been an ongoing effort since then, showcasing the city’s dedication to environmental conservation. This initiative involves the creation of green corridors throughout the city, connecting different areas with specific, bee-friendly vegetation. These corridors are designed to provide a continuous and healthy habitat for bees and other pollinators. Native flowers are planted and harmful pesticides are avoided along these stretches, thus promoting biodiversity and the conservation of pollinators in an urban environment.

Other initiatives include direct citizen participation, such as the European Citizens’ Initiative “Save Bees and Farmers”. This alliance is a growing network of currently over 140 environmental NGOs, farmer and beekeeper organizations, charitable foundations and scientific institutions distributed throughout the European Union, working together to reconcile agriculture, health, and biodiversity.


Safeguarding pollinators is not just an environmental imperative; it is a crucial commitment to the sustainability of our ecosystems and global food production. As cities implement innovative initiatives like bee highways, and individuals embrace bee-friendly practices, there is hope for the restoration of pollinator populations. By recognizing the vital role pollinators play in our interconnected web of life, we pave the way for a healthier planet and a more secure future for both nature and humanity. The responsibility to protect these essential creatures rests upon us, urging collective action to ensure a thriving and resilient environment for generations to come.


1. Questions and Answers on A New Deal for Pollinators,

2. European Commission - Energy, Climate Change and Environment: Pollinators,,at%2Dlarge%20and%20promoting%20collaboration

3. European Research Executive Agency,

Bees in a honeycomb