TCS Daily

Green Multiple Personality Disorder?

By Alan Oxley - September 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Has the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) finally acquired the mainstream respectability it craves? It has produced a new report "The Green Buck -- using economic tools to deliver conservation goals -- a WWF field guide;" which is posted on a new website: This all looks very mainstream. But, unfortunately, that is all it is. Just a new look.

From the beginning, WWF has tried to position itself as mainstream. Its founding President was Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. The Duke of Edinburgh is Emeritus President. The Queen of Jordan is a Trustee. There is crossover among its senior personnel with Board memberships of well known international companies.

WWF even has a "partnership" with the World Bank and WWF staff like to refer to themselves as the "suits" (as opposed to the board short and dreadlock fraternity) of the environmental movement. It relishes shots by radical environmental groups that it has sold out and is a global corporation just like IBM and BP.

WWF's dirty little secret is that it has done more than any other organization to demonize the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since the WTO was formed in 1994, WWF has promoted, more effectively than any other group, the idea that the WTO threatens sustainable development and prevents protection of the environment. This is now gospel for anti-globalization NGOs.

WWF fosters networks to promote this (for example the Centres for International Environmental Law), and provides the intellectual ammunition to other groups -- Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and numerous other environmental bodies -- so they might also fold an anti-free trade ideology into their polemics about the environment.

WWF has conscripted the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) to this position and now has environmental officials worldwide including Dr. Klaus Topfler, the Director of UNEP, singing this tune. WWF International now boasts at least 10 professionals working full time on trade policy issues. They have more trade policy specialist than most poor countries.

Yet trade policy still is not core business for WWF. That is conservation, and it is now reasonably big business. In 2004, the global WWF Network raised over $470 million, and the budget for WWF International was a mere $80 million.

Furthermore, attacking the WTO is a fringe activity. Most governments and most international companies support the WTO. Most of the royals, business leaders and companies whose association WWF evidently covets would not accept the proposition that the WTO is a hostile or harmful institution. One would think positioning like this jeopardizes the strategy of securing global respectability.

But it obviously doesn't bother WWF. Or maybe it's just that they can get away with it. Here's an example: Rio Tinto Corporation (an Australian based mineral company) supports WWF environmental programs. Yet at the UN Johannesburg Development Summit in 2002, WWF formed the "Eco-equity Coalition" with Greenpeace, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and two other umbrella groups of development NGOs, and erected an enormous metal robot outside the conference room to epitomize the threat of big business to the environment. Rio Tinto's name was emblazoned on the side.

"The Green Buck" reads well. While there is a preference to advocate public rather than private mechanisms to protect the environment, it is not presented as basic ideology; whereas NGOs like Consumers International and Doctors Without Borders are fervently anti-private sector. It even cross references to a study commissioned by IUCN back in 1988 (funded by USAid) which is a proper accounting of the use of economic and market mechanisms as environmental tools. This is curious, if not fateful.

The 1988 study reminds us of some important WWF history. It includes a case study showing how big game hunting was being used to successfully protect Zimbabwe's elephants. It created incentive for locals to keep ivory poachers away and generated income (from sale of ivory and fees for hunting licences) for local people and conservation programs.

This issue split WWF. Some supported the Zimbabwe model; others said WWF could not condone the shooting of elephants. There was probably some element of financial calculation here: the elephant was a valuable and charismatic symbol for raising money and condoning hunting put that at risk. At that time, WWF turned away from advocating use of market mechanisms to protect the environment and started to advocate trade sanctions instead.

So what of the "Green Buck" and why the resurrection of a 17 year old report? Is this an effort to show reasonableness on economic policy, some more mainstreaming? This new reasonableness about economics is not reflected elsewhere. Other parts of the WWF website are still loaded with trenchant anti-WTO material.

Or does WWF simply suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder? When the WWF arm in Thailand recently launched a distinctly un "suit"-like attack on Thailand's power industry over climate change using extremism more common to Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, WWF officials in Australia explained it was not a general WWF position, just that of the Thai arm.

Perhaps WWF suffers a more normal human trait than personality disorder. My mother used to call it being "two faced." Perhaps WWF's domain name should be, rather than


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