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Conservation in Africa is at a crossroads. Across the continent people are waking up to an unprecedented decline in nature. Scientists warn that one million species, out of an estimated 8 million worldwide, face extinction, many within decades. This is putting the future of the planet and everyone on it at risk. Do ordinary people worldwide care? The answer is a resounding: Yes! Do ordinary people in Africa care? To an extraordinary extent. As biodiversity declines, momentum for Africa’s “Eco-Wakening” is growing. Call it conservation, call it self-preservation, call it common sense. It is here and here to stay.
Given the scale of the problem, it would be easy to assume that ordinary people are turning away, not only believing that biodiversity loss is not a priority, but also that nothing can be done to correct course.
But this could not be further from the truth! New research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) commissioned by WWF tells us that momentum for nature is building, and continuing to grow even as nature depletes all around us. Not only are hundreds of millions of people around the world concerned about nature, there has been an undeniable shift in behaviour in response to the planetary crisis. The findings from the report, which was launched on 18th May, show that more people than ever before: use social media to educate and organize on behalf of nature; factor sustainability into their purchasing decisions; and pressure decision-makers by signing petitions and taking to the streets in protest. Concern about nature loss has moved, indisputably, beyond activist circles and into the mainstream. In addition, there has been a sharp rise in digital activism and more specifically a 65% increase in Twitter conversations about nature-loss, playing a critical role in raising awareness about the environmental challenges we are facing.
Across Africa, momentum is rising too!. Concern about the loss of animal and plant species has grown by nearly double digits over the past five years, people are increasingly showcasing their support for nature through social media. The number of nature-loss and biodiversity related Tweets grew by 168%; and online news articles about biodiversity and nature loss grew by only 2% between 2016 and 2020. . The percentage of Globescan survey respondents who agreed with the statement “We need to preserve the environment for future generations” increased most in Nigeria (58% to 69%), Kenya (64% to 71%) and South Africa (65% to 75%) . These discussions are propelled by the likes of regional and international political figures, celebrities and religious leaders such as the African Union, The African Development Bank leadership and major news organisations such as the The Africa Report, AllAfrica.com ad many others
The analysis for Sub-Saharan Africa focused on ten countries: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Findings show concern about the loss of animal and plant species growing by nearly double digits over the past five years.
The percentage of the population using the internet is now at 25% on average; Angola – 14%, the Democratic Republic of the Congo – 9%, Cameroon – 23%, Ghana – 39%, Kenya – 18%, Madagascar – 10%, Nigeria – 42%, South Africa – 56%, Tanzania – 25% and Uganda – 24%; and Number of social media users: 135m..and growing
Key decision-makers are following suit. In an address at the end of the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2021, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta stated that “The environment holds and can provide solutions to most of the challenges we face as humanity.”
In February 2021, the UK Supreme Court ruled that oil-polluted Nigerian communities can sue Royal Dutch Shell in English courts. The decision is a victory for the Bille community and the Ogale people of Ogoniland and is the latest development in a long-running battle to gain recompense for “decades of pollution”, which they say has severely affected the lives and health of 40,000 people, as well as the local environment. Royal Dutch Shell said it was disappointed by the ruling. The company did not dispute that pollution had been caused but claimed that it is not legally responsible for its Nigerian subsidiary.
Vodacom, one of the largest Mobile phone networks in South Africa, implemented water-saving strategies across its property portfolio in the wake of the country’s National Water Week campaign in 2021. Over the previous five years, the company has reduced its water consumption by 63%, while reaching out to local municipalities to help them follow suit. South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world, according to WWF.
One of the most significant examples is the surge in legislations restricting single-use plastic items, as of 2019 passed in 127 countries, following sustained global protest about the environmental harm that was being caused. Out of 54 African countries, 34 have either passed a law banning plastics and implemented it or have passed a law with the intention of implementation . Of those, 16 have totally banned plastic bags or have done so partially without yet introducing regulations to enforce the bans. Following these first successes, more than two million people are now calling for an ambitious global treaty on marine plastic pollution to address this crisis in a truly systemic way.
But If people care, why is nature still under threat?
While the research shows that awareness, engagement and action for nature are greater than ever before,
the rate of nature loss appears to be continuously accelerating. There is an obvious and large gap between people’s growing concern about nature loss and the development of ambitious policies that will stop or even reverse it - and the clock is ticking. The report cites inadequate enforcement of existing laws and regulations, cost implications and a lack of awareness as three possible barriers. A 2016 WWF survey of 570 national wildlife park rangers across 12 African countries found that 59% of respondents had insufficient equipment and 42% had insufficient training to do their jobs safely and effectively.
Today on World Environment Day, we call on world leaders, policy makers, governments, and the private sector to take this opportunity to reverse nature loss and course-correct for the sake of people and planet.
Not only is the science clear - public sentiment is clearer than ever before, and society is supporting a transformation of our economic and development model towards one that finally values nature, as is 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 by paying attention to it, we have the chance to rebalance our relationship with the planet.
Notes to editors:
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.
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).
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.
Analysis of signatures using Meltwater, a social analytics tool that captures conversations online.