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Public awareness of biodiversity in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-164-en
Also known as: SEBI 026
Created 17 Sep 2019 Published 20 Dec 2019 Last modified 20 Dec 2019
5 min read
Recognition and understanding of the term 'biodiversity' has increased in the European Union. 71 % of interviewed EU citizens have heard of biodiversity and over 41 % of these know what it means. At least eight out of ten Europeans consider the various effects of biodiversity loss to be serious for humans and for nature and agree that it is important to halt its loss. The biggest perceived threats to biodiversity are pollution of air, soil and water, man-made disasters and climate change. Just under a third of respondents are aware of the Natura 2000 network, including 19 % who say they have heard about it but do not know what it is. However, the overwhelming majority agree that nature protection areas are very important in protecting endangered animals and plants or safeguarding nature's role in providing food, clean air and water. Most Europeans are not willing to trade damage or destruction of protected areas for economic development.

Key messages

Recognition and understanding of the term 'biodiversity' has increased in the European Union. 71 % of interviewed EU citizens have heard of biodiversity and over 41 % of these know what it means.

At least eight out of ten Europeans consider the various effects of biodiversity loss to be serious for humans and for nature and agree that it is important to halt its loss. The biggest perceived threats to biodiversity are pollution of air, soil and water, man-made disasters and climate change.

Just under a third of respondents are aware of the Natura 2000 network, including 19 % who say they have heard about it but do not know what it is. However, the overwhelming majority agree that nature protection areas are very important in protecting endangered animals and plants or safeguarding nature's role in providing food, clean air and water.

Most Europeans are not willing to trade damage or destruction of protected areas for economic development.

What is the level of public awareness of biodiversity in Europe?

Familiarity with the term biodiversity

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Awareness of the Natura 2000 network

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The results of the latest Special Eurobarometer survey, conducted in December 2018 and published in May 2019, show an increased recognition and awareness of the term 'biodiversity' (71 %) since 2015, while almost half of the respondents (41 %) know what 'biodiversity' means (11 percentage points more than in 2015) (Figure 1). Comprehension of the term is highest in Sweden, followed by Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Croatia, France and Portugal, and it is lowest in Latvia, Slovakia and Poland. 

This increased awareness may be a result of European Commission efforts to further communicate the concept of biodiversity since the 2015 Eurobarometer and may explain the decrease in the number of respondents calling for the EU to better inform citizens about the importance of biodiversity.    

Respondents say that pollution (67 %) and man-made disasters (63 %) are the biggest threats to biodiversity, followed by climate change (58 %). Half of the respondents (50 %) say biodiversity is ‘very much’ threatened by intensive farming, intensive forestry and overfishing. Slightly lower proportions see the conversion of natural areas to other land uses (47 %) and the modification or fragmentation of natural areas by transport, water and energy infrastructure projects (43 %) as major threats. Around a third of respondents (32 %) consider biodiversity to be ‘very much’ threatened by non-native invasive plants or animals. The level of perceived threat to biodiversity from each of these 7 categories has increased since 2015, with climate change increasing most (7 percentage points). However, intensive farming, intensive forestry and over-fishing — key drivers of biodiversity loss — are increasingly, but not yet fully, recognised as major threats to biodiversity.

Europeans view halting biodiversity loss as part of a key responsibility to look after nature (96 %), essential to tackling climate change (95 %) and important for human health and well-being (93 %). Increasingly citizens ‘totally agree’ that halting biodiversity loss is important for long-term economic development (62 %) and the production of goods, such as food, materials and medicines (61 %). Awareness of the term ‘biodiversity’ influenced respondents’ answers, with those aware of the term more likely to ‘totally agree’ to these statements compared with those who had not heard of the term. For example, 75 % of those who had heard of biodiversity ‘totally agree’ that ‘looking after nature is essential in tackling climate change’, compared with 61% of those who had not heard of the term.   

The key areas identified by respondents for EU action to protect biodiversity were restoring nature and biodiversity (48 %) and better informing citizens about the importance of biodiversity (48 %). Expanding the area where nature is protected (43 %) along with strengthening (41 %) and improving implementation (40 %) of existing nature and biodiversity protection rules were also selected by respondents as key actions for the EU. In the survey published in 2019, more than a third of respondents say that the EU should ‘allocate more financial resources to nature protection’ (38 %) and ‘make sure that subsidies to agriculture and fisheries do not harm biodiversity’ (36 %), while just under a third (31 %) say it is important ‘to promote research on the impact of biodiversity loss’. Around one in four (26 %) think it is important for the EU to ‘create innovative forms of financing for nature conservation’.

Ensuring that biodiversity concerns are taken into account when planning new infrastructure investments is also high on citizens’ lists of priority actions for the EU (41 %).  This corresponds with the finding that most Europeans are not willing to trade damage or destruction to nature in protected areas for economic development. Only 6 % of respondents regard this as acceptable because they think economic development should take precedence. In contrast, 45 % of respondents agree that such developments should be prohibited and 45 % agree that development is only acceptable in cases where there is major public interest and if damage to nature is compensated. 

The survey also reveals that more information on what the EU is doing to protect biodiversity is needed: 70 % of Europeans have not heard of the Natura 2000 network (Figure 2), compared with 73 % in 2015. Around two-thirds of those who have heard about it, do not know what it is, the same proportion as in 2015. However, awareness of Natura 2000 varies considerably by country, ranging from 76 % in Bulgaria and Finland to 4 % in the United Kingdom. However as in 2015, respondents regard nature protection areas such as Natura 2000 to be key for the protection of endangered animals and plants (96 %) and to prevent the destruction of valuable nature areas on land and at sea (95 %). Safeguarding nature’s role in providing food, clean air and water is also regarded as key (94 %). The majority of respondents also state that promoting nature friendly land use (93 %), increasing the quality of life of local people (89 %) and stimulating local socio-economic development (83 %) are further important roles for nature protection areas. The proportions that say the various aspects are ‘very important’ are similar to those observed in the 2015 survey.

NOTES

The findings from the Flash Eurobarometer surveys carried out in 2007, 2010 and 2013  are not directly comparable with those from 2015 and 2018 due to the change of surveying mode - see indicator specifications for more details.

Detailed analysis of the survey results from 2007, 2010 and 2013 is presented in the previous versions of the indicator: http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/public-awareness/public-awareness-assessment-published-may-1

REFERENCES

EC, 2015, Special Eurobarometer N° 436: Attitudes of Europeans towards biodiversity. Survey conducted by TNS Opinion & Social at the request of the Directorate-General for Environment and co-ordinated by the Directorate-General for Communication (http://ec.europa.eu/COMMFrontOffice/PublicOpinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/68148).

EC, 2019, Special Eurobarometer N° 481: Attitudes of Europeans towards biodiversity. Survey conducted by Kantar Belgium at the request of the European Commission, Directorate-General for Environment Survey co-ordinated by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Communication, Media Monitoring and Eurobarometer Unit (http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/survey/getsurveydetail/instruments/special/surveyky/2194).

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator is based on the Eurobarometer survey on biodiversity, a quantitative questionnaire-based survey, which also captures qualitative information, involving focus groups.

Units

The units used in this indicator are the percentage of survey respondents.


Policy context and targets

Context description

Public opinion is a vital factor in influencing politicians and decision makers. It provides a barometer for public support and interest, and motivates individuals at all levels to lead and take more action. The purpose of this indicator on public opinion is, therefore, to gauge the attitude of the general public in relation to issues such as:

  • biodiversity and the importance of preserving it;
  • the seriousness and impact of biodiversity loss;
  • the biggest threats to biodiversity;
  • what the EU should do to prevent the loss of biodiversity;
  • the role of the Natura 2000 network; and
  • personal efforts to protect nature and biodiversity etc.

Relation of the indicator to the focal area

Public opinion is an indication of attitudes towards biodiversity per se and attitudes towards actions taken by politicians and public bodies for the protection and management (financial and fiscal, public statements, etc.) of biodiversity.

Targets

This indicator provides a general contribution to the EU 2020 headline biodiversity target.

Related policy documents

  • EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
    in the Communication: Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (COM(2011) 244) the European Commission has adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. There are six main targets, and 20 actions to help Europe reach its goal. The six targets cover: - Full implementation of EU nature legislation to protect biodiversity - Better protection for ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure - More sustainable agriculture and forestry - Better management of fish stocks - Tighter controls on invasive alien species - A bigger EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

The Flash Eurobarometer survey is part of a trend survey. Previous surveys were published in 2007 and 2010 (Flash Eurobarometer No 219 and 290), while the 2013 survey (Flash Eurobarometer 379), with 25 537 respondents, presented comparative data between the three surveys. For the 2007 and 2013 surveys, respondents from different social and demographic groups were interviewed via telephone in their mother tongue on behalf of the European Commission's DG Environment. Since 2015 (Special Eurobarometer 436), interviews have been conducted face-to-face. The most recent survey was published in 2019 (Special Eurobarometer 481), with 27 643 respondents interviewed between 4 and 20 December 2018.

Interviewees aged 15 years and over, were selected from residents of each EU Member State. The basic sample design applied in all EU Member States is multi-stage, random (probability). In each country, a number of sampling points was drawn, the probabilities of which were proportional to population size (for a total coverage of the country) and to population density. In order to do this, the sampling points were drawn systematically from each of the 'administrative regional units', after stratification by individual unit and type of area. They thus represent the whole territory of the countries surveyed according to EUROSTAT NUTS II (or equivalent) and according to the distribution of the resident population of the respective nationalities in terms of metropolitan, urban and rural areas. In each of the selected sampling points, a starting address was drawn at random. Further addresses (every Nth address) were selected by standard 'random route' procedures, from the initial address. In each household, the respondent was drawn at random (following the 'closest birthday rule'). All interviews were conducted face-to-face in people's homes and in the appropriate national language. As far as the data capture is concerned, CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interview) was used in those countries where this technique was available.

For each country, a comparison between the sample and the universe was carried out. The universe description was derived from Eurostat population data or from national statistics offices. For all countries surveyed, a national weighting procedure, using marginal and intercellular weighting, was carried out based on this universe description. In all countries, gender, age, region and size of locality were introduced in the iteration procedure. For international weighting (i.e. EU averages), Kantar Public applied the official population figures as provided by EUROSTAT or national statistics offices (Kantar Public, 2019).

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified.

Methodology references

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Survey results are estimates, the accuracy of which depends on the sample size and the observed percentage. With samples of about 1 000 interviews, the real percentages vary within the confidence limits, which are included in the annex to the Kantar Report (Kantar Public, 2019).

Data sets uncertainty

Flash Eurobarometer surveys from 2007, 2010 and 2013 were carried out by telephone. However, because of the complexity of the topic and the length of the questionnaire, the 2015 and 2019 Special Eurobarometer surveys were conducted face-to-face. The findings from the surveys carried out in 2007, 2010 and 2013 are not directly comparable with those from 2015 and 2019 because of the change in surveying method. The 2015 survey sets the baseline for comparison and the establishment of trends with the results of the 2019 Special Eurobarometer survey and future surveys.

Rationale uncertainty

MAIN DISADVANTAGES OF THE INDICATOR

  • It is dependent on the questions asked in the survey and on differing levels of interpretation/response by the public based on socio-economic/cultural factors.

Data sources

Metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
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DPSIR: Response
Typology: Policy-effectiveness indicator (Type D)
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 026
Temporal coverage:

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 3 years

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala
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