‘Eco-wakening’ Grips the Globe: Dramatic Rise in Numbers of People Concerned about Nature Loss

Posted on 18 May 2021
Research shows undeniable shift in behaviour in response to planetary crisis.

Eco-wakening’ Grips the Globe: Dramatic Rise in Numbers of People Concerned about Nature Loss


  • Hundreds of millions across the globe show their rising concern about nature
  • Research shows undeniable shift in behaviour in response to planetary crisis
  • Most dramatic growth in concern in emerging and developing economies
  • Time is running short, and action to prevent fatal nature loss is urgently needed

19 May 2021 - New global research [1] conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and commissioned by WWF shows that public interest in, and concern for nature has risen markedly (16%) in the past five years and continues to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic. The figures come ahead of International Day for Biodiversity being held on 22nd May by the UN to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.


People all over the world, particularly in emerging markets, are increasingly aware of the planetary crisis; and this is affecting their behaviour in a rapidly growing global mood that WWF has dubbed an eco-wakening’. In a clear validation of a growing trend, concerned individuals and consumers are acting on their concerns and demanding action over nature loss and biodiversity in an assortment of ways.  


The report entitled “An Eco-wakening: Measuring Global Awareness, Engagement and Action for Nature shows the rise of digital activism. There has been a 65% increase in the number of Twitter [2] mentions, amplifying concern for nature worldwide. Mentions of nature and biodiversity on the social media platform have increased from 30 million to 50 million in the last four years. A variety of influencers such as spiritual leaders, politicians, and major news organisations and celebrities have used their voice on behalf of nature, including Pope Francis, the BBC, and The New York Times; with social media posts reaching a combined audience of almost 1bn people worldwide.


The research also reveals that consumers are voting with their Google clicks. Popularity of nature-related searches [3] driven primarily by Asia and Latin America in countries such as Indonesia (53%) and India (190%)[4] show a growing trend. Additionally, increasingly large numbers of people see nature loss as a serious global problem [5]. The highest concern (96%) was shown by respondents located in Latin America. This shift in public sentiment reflects a hard reality, as people in emerging markets are most likely to experience the devastating impact of nature-loss.


Building on an era of protests and petitions, more consumers all over the world are now changing their behaviour. For example, people are amending their purchasing habits in line with their values. The analysis found a staggering 71% rise in popularity of searches for sustainable goods since 2016[6] in high-income countries such as the UK, the US, Germany, Australia and Canada. However, the trend goes beyond these economies - in fact, it has also accelerated in developing and emerging ones such as Indonesia (24%) and Ecuador (120%). This pressure is forcing corporations to respond, particularly in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical, fashion and food sectors.


Since 2016, over 159 million signatures for biodiversity related campaigns have been collected [7]. Protests around the world are growing in their strength and frequency, coming together in an increasingly interconnected nature preservation movement to demand radical action from policy-makers on behalf of the planet and for future generations.


The situation in the Danube-Carpathian region, also known as the Green Heart of Europe, is no different. Awareness and engagement on environmental issues has shown a marked increase. Thousands of citizens signed the petition to keep the Water Framework Directive strong, and thousands more were out on the streets in Bulgaria to save Pirin National Park from unsustainable development. Crowdfunding campaigns to remove dams in Slovakia and Ukraine were first tried with great success last year, and 51,000 people just signed a petition in Slovakia that finally successfully banned wolf hunting.


A Eurobarometer Survey on “Attitudes of Europeans Towards Biodiversity” from 2018 shows that citizens of Bulgaria (34%), Romania (39%), Hungary (45%) and Slovakia (33%) increasingly  consider that economic developments which cause damage to nature in protected areas “should be prohibited.”[8]  Moreover, young people in CEE are becoming more active. Since 2014, the proportion of young people who have volunteered in the last 12 months has increased in BG (+12%), RO (+10%).[9]



But, despite the extraordinary speed of its destruction, and even though its loss represents a huge threat to the global economy and our health, nature is rarely at the top of the global agenda: ‘The results of this research are crystal clear: concern over the impact we are having on the natural world is growing rapidly and particularly in emerging markets, where people are feeling more acutely the impacts of deforestation, unsustainable fishing, species extinction and the decline of eco-systems’, - Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International


He continues: ‘The science and the economics are clear. The public sentiment is now clear. And - the solutions are clear too. Society is supporting a transformation of our economic and development model towards one that finally values nature as our moral duty to all life on Earth, and for the crucial services it provides to our economy, wellbeing, health and security. This is a truly historic “eco-wakening” and the chance to rebalance our relationship with the planet.’


Loss of nature is increasing our vulnerability to pandemics, undermining efforts to tackle the climate crisis, and threatening livelihoods. Leaders are scheduled to make critical decisions later this year [10] on climate and the environment. Together, they represent a momentous opportunity to reverse biodiversity loss and secure a nature-positive world this decade, in support of climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals.


For more information on the eco-wakening trend, to share your experiences, and get involved to safeguard nature and set it on a path to recovery by 2030 go to http://panda.org/eco-wakening.


For further information:

Irene Lucius

Regional Conservation Director,

WWF Central and Eastern Europe

ilucius@wwfcee.org, Tel: +43 1 52 45 470 70


Full report here.


Notes to editors:

[1] Research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and commissioned by WWF, measures engagement, awareness and action for nature in 27 languages, across 54 countries globally, covering 80% of the world’s population, over five years (2016 - 2020). Analysis using Google Trends shows a 16% increase in the popularity of Google searches, with most growth in Asia and Latin America.


[2] Analysis of global Twitter mentions of nature and biodiversity terms using Meltwater, with the following having the highest amount of traction #wildlife (2M) #earthday (2M) #nature (1M) and #biodiversity (1M).


[3] EIU analysis using Google Trends comparing the popularity of the top five most popular nature-loss and biodiversity terms across 54 countries, using both English and the dominant local language. Google Trends data was collected for each week from January 2016 - October 2020. Search terms included: wildlife, biodiversity, wildfires, deforestation and endangered species. The number of Twitter mentions relating to nature and biodiversity increased the most for countries in Asia (38%), and Latin America (136%) between 2016-2019.


[4] Internet access has increased dramatically, raising awareness around nature and increased connectivity only spreads the message further.  In Indonesia the number of internet users grew by 23% from 2016 to 2018. In India the number of internet users grew by 22%. It is not possible to weight the search statistics because of the method used to calculate the number of searches.


[5] - Globescan survey Healthy and Sustainable Living Study, almost 20,000 people across 27 countries, 2020. Other global results include:  89% of respondents identified loss of animal and plant species as a very serious global problem, 85% identified shortages of fresh water as a very serious global problem, 90% of respondents identified single use plastic as a very serious global, 92% identified natural resource depletion as a very serious global problem, and the need to consume less to preserve the environment for future generations saw the biggest increase by 7% to 73% alone over a year between 2019 - 2020.


[6] EIU analysis using Google Trends data on the popularity of searches for environmentally friendly products across  all 54 countries in the study, using English language only. Individual country search trends were evaluated using local-language search terms as well as English. Search terms included: Biodiversity, Sustainable, Ecological, Biodegradable, Environmentally. Google Trends data was collected for each week from January 2016 - October 2020.  Additional research shows that in a recent online survey of 6,000+ people world-wide, 50% of survey respondents said they switched products or services because a company violated their values. The number one reason cited for the switch was to support products or services that ‘protect the environment’. Source: Hotwire Survey, 2019.


[7] Analysis using Avaaz campaign data.


[8]  https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/external/special-eurobarometer-481


[9] less so in HU(+1%), SK(-3%). Flash Eurobarometer 455 and Flash Eurobarometer 478


[10] The Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity is scheduled to take place 11-24 October 2021. Countries are due to adopt a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.  WWF is urging countries to secure a ‘Paris-style’ biodiversity agreement that tackles both the direct and indirect drivers of nature loss. The Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is scheduled to take place 1-12 November 2021. Countries are urged to secure a step change in climate ambition, including through increasing the contribution of nature based solutions in their national climate plans.


Young people in Romania and Bulgaria identified social injustice, corruption and poverty as issues causing most concern.

Young people in Romania and Bulgaria identified social injustice, corruption and poverty as issues causing most concern.

© Keith Arnold