What price for a bee ?

When it comes to protecting the environment or mitigating climate change, public decision-making is not easy.

But it always comes down to carrying out a cost-benefit analysis. And since costs often precede benefits, it also involves discounting each of them fairly. It is one of the roles of environmental economists to shed light on the conditions for this analysis.

The French Minister of Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili said yesterday on CNews “to fully assume” the temporary reintroduction in France of neonicotinoids to save the conventional beet industry, reintroduction to which the National Assembly has given the green light.

The Minister sums up the question to that of knowing “whether or not we want to continue to manufacture sugar in mainland France”. We are talking about a turnover of around 4 billion euros and more than 40,000 jobs, which is no small feat.

Yet this is only one side of the equation for the policymaker to resolve.

And coming from a French government very vocal on the ecological question and which is preparing to host the World Conservation Congress from January 7 to 15 in Marseille, to sum up the question this way is – to put it with all the courtesy that is required – a little limited.

Because, in principle, it is necessary to assess the damage that such a decision can cause.

It is undisputedly known that these neonicotinoids persist in the environment and permeate untreated crops, many years after being banned. They remain there at levels that remain dangerous for bees and wild pollinators – sometimes at concentrations several dozen times higher than those of treated crops.

However, these bees and pollinators offer us essential services “pro bono”. In this regard, we must reread the introductory statement to the report on the integration of nature into the investment decision submitted by Axa and WWF to the G7 environment ministers, in Metz, in May 2019.

Thomas Buberl, Chief Executive Officer of Axa, takes as an example this service provided free of charge by nature. According to him, its substitute, artificial pollination would cost around 153 billion euros per year worldwide, generating labor and technology costs far beyond any economic viability. This report can also be downloaded from the Elysée website …

Crops that depend on pollinators are dependent on animal pollination to varying degrees. The IPBES, in its 2016 report on the subject, attributes 5-8% of current global agricultural production, representing an annual market value of $ 235-577 billion globally, to animal pollination.

This is the forgotten side of the equation.

Scientific robustness would require declining this figure at the national level. This would amount to estimating the cost of artificial pollination of French agriculture.

I will also be told that the decision will not hit all the bees.

Ok ! But at least can we expect the public decision-maker to make this calculation rather than copy-paste the position papers of this or that professional union !


Iconography: western bee, Oslo, Norway © Kris Mikael Krister


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