Mongabay Features

‘Everything on this planet is connected’: Q&A with WWF’s Marco Lambertini

As the world works to emerge from the devastation and hardship brought by the pandemic, there has been much talk about the recovery being an opportunity to drive transformative change toward a more sustainable, equitable society that recognizes that human well-being is underpinned by a healthy planet. Much of the focus on this concept has been on cutting carbon emissions from transportation and energy production. There’s been less emphasis on protecting and restoring nature. But there’s a growing movement to push governments, corporations and other entities to frame goals around the idea of becoming “Nature Positive,” which goes well beyond achieving carbon neutrality. Nature Positive aims to protect and restore critical habitats, stave off species extinction, and maintain healthy and productive ecosystems.

The Nature Positive movement counts several of the world’s most prominent environmental NGOs among its charter supporters, including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), or the World Wildlife Fund as it is known in Canada and the United States.

That WWF is playing a central role in promoting Nature Positive shouldn’t be surprising given its stated mission to protect the natural environment and shift humanity toward a more sustainable future, as well as its considerable clout: With an operational presence in nearly 100 countries via program offices and affiliates, 5 million supporters and 30 million social media followers, and an $800 million annual operating budget globally, WWF is a behemoth when it comes to influencing environmental policy at a variety of levels, from national governments to corporate boardrooms to international development institutions.

Sumatran elephants in Sumatra. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler

Marco Lambertini, the director-general of WWF International, the Switzerland-based secretariat that coordinates WWF’s network of offices around the world, says that like climate change mitigation, the world has a short time frame for taking effective action on biodiversity conservation.

“Science has been telling us for decades that our activities are destroying nature at a rate far faster than it can replenish itself. Yet, we have failed again and again to change course,” Lambertini told Mongabay. “Tackling nature loss requires us to fundamentally transform our productive sectors, but to do that we need a clear time-bound goal that drives ambition and that governments, businesses and consumers can all contribute to achieving and be held accountable to.

“The most expensive thing we can do in recovery from COVID-19 is go back to business as usual. Increasing public and private investment in nature-based solutions which help mitigate climate change and reduce nature loss is critical. Climate and nature positive goals need to be at the center of how decisions are made by businesses and policymakers.”

But “business as usual” could also be applied to the practice of conservation. Since WWF’s founding in 1961, the conservation sector itself has had to reckon with calls for change, which has especially accelerated in the past 20 years as pushback against old approaches, including legacies of colonialism and forcing local peoples from the lands they’ve traditionally stewarded, has grown. For WWF, these issues hit close to home: in 2019 Buzzfeed published a series of stories on longstanding allegations of abusive practices by rangers and park guards trained by, or associated with, WWF.

“Every crisis hides an opportunity for change — if one is willing to learn and act,” Lambertini said. “Human rights abuses are never acceptable under any circumstances and this is why WWF commissioned local investigations and a comprehensive independent review to assess our approach to ensuring human rights standards are upheld by the governments whose rangers we support, and assess how we can better embed them in nature conservation.”

Lambertini discussed these issues and more during a February 2021 interview with Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler.


By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.