Pollinator conservation requires a stronger and broader application of the precautionary principle
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonCurrent Opinion in Insect Science. 2021, 46, 95-105. 10.1016/j.cois.2021.04.005
The accumulating scientific evidence on global insect and pollinator decline is fuelling calls for pollinator conservation policies. A broad range of regulating and incentivising policies is undoubtedly needed to address the diverse threats to pollinator abundance and diversity, but implementing policies and regulations is beset by socio-political challenges. Lessons could be learned from the past and current applications of concepts central to biodiversity conservation. Given the uncertainties and data gaps, the concept of the Precautionary Principle (PP) is particularly important. The PP means that when it is scientifically plausible that human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm: uncertainty should not be an excuse to delay action. This paper reviews the role of the PP in pollinator conservation. The current research front is fragmented: the PP is briefly mentioned as relevant in literature on biodiversity conservation because of the scientific uncertainties regarding insect decline and their diverse drivers. A separate strand of literature contains studies on specific cases where the PP has played a role in the regulation of specific threats to pollinators: systemic insecticides and global trade in bees. Although limited to two significant threats to pollinator abundance and diversity, these studies provide important lessons on the challenges of implementing precautionary pollinator conservation policies and underline socio-political aspects of the ‘human-dimensions’ of pollinator conservation. Specifically, they highlight that ambiguity is a greater challenge than scientific uncertainty, which may be heightened when policies are intended to regulate specific economic sectors. We suggest that more attention should be paid to the discrepancy between the PP as formally included in policies or regulations and its inadequate implementation (too little too late) in a context of scientific uncertainty and societal conflict.