WWF has travelled too far from its original aim, to protect endangered species.
What a strange body the WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund, now the Worldwide Fund for Nature) has become these days. It is the largest, richest and most influential environmental lobbying organisation in the world. Originally set up in 1961 by Julian Huxley, Prince Philip, Prince Bernhard and others, for the admirable purpose of campaigning to save species endangered by human activity, it has morphed in the last 20 years into something very different, more akin to a multinational corporation.
The WWF empire now derives a very hefty chunk of its income from partnerships with governments, or the EU, or actual multinationals, such as Coca-Cola and Sky, which like to use its iconic panda logo (originally designed by the naturalist Peter Scott) to give an “eco-caring” gloss to their commercial activities. The chief reason why it has so greatly increased its wealth and influence is that it has joined other lobby groups, such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, in pushing to the top of its agenda that most fashionable and lucrative of environmental causes, the “battle to halt climate change”.
But this has led WWF into some rather odd little tangles, such as those which have recently emerged over its activities in Tanzania. Much of its work there is carried out under a UN climate change policy known as REDD+ (“reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation”), which is part of the UN’s £17 billion Fast Start programme. Britain, giving £1.5 billion, is that programme’s second largest contributor after Japan.
Last November, Prince Charles, as president of WWF UK, flew to Tanzania to hand out “Living Planet” awards to five “community leaders” involved in WWF projects around the delta of the Rufiji River, which holds the world’s largest mangrove forest. Part of their intention has been to halt further damage to the forest by local farmers, who have been clearing it to grow rice and coconuts. This is because the mangroves store unusual amounts of “carbon” (CO2), viewed as the major contributor to global warming. (Another WWF project in the delta is to find a way of measuring just how great a threat release of that CO2 might be.)
Shortly before the Prince’s arrival, it was revealed that thousands of villagers had been evicted from the forest, their huts in the paddy fields torched and their coconut palms felled. This was carried out by the Tanzanian government’s Forestry and Beekeeping Division, with which WWF has been working. But Stephen Makiri, the head of WWF Tanzania, was quick to insist that WWF had never advocated expelling communities from the delta, and that “the evictions were carried out by government agencies”.