Marco Lambertini is the new director general of WWF International. DW spoke to him about his plans for the world’s largest independent conservation organization, active in over 100 countries.
DW: Where do you see WWF's priorities in the coming years?
Marco Lambertini: Our key role is to put nature and environment at the centre of the political agenda, globally. They are too often considered as “stand alone." We support the idea that environment has to do with everything. There's not going to be an opportunity to eradicate poverty and develop sustainably if the environment is not part of the equation.
Sometimes WWF is criticized for cooperating too closely with business and industry. What do you have to say about such criticism?
I know some hardliners think like that and I respect that view. But our strategy is to engage. We are increasingly shying away from sponsorship and developing partnerships where there is a clear end result that both organizations want to achieve. I believe we have a very strong system in place to scrutinize and select organizations, companies and sectors we want to work with. When it comes to climate, energy, fresh water and to commodities like fish and timber, we want to engage with the leaders in the sector. This is the strategy we have adopted for a long time, and we see some major results, such as certification schemes like the marine stewardship council and forest stewardship council. On the ground we are delivering better conservation of the forests, and social development at the community level in many regions around the world.
One controversial sector WWF is involved in is palm oil. How are you dealing with the issues that come with the extraction of this resource?
Palm oil is an important commodity which has played a major role in developing the economies of key countries in the world. It has also been a sector with a very high footprint, particularly due to removing natural forest, and in some circumstances contributing to major CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. It's also very complex in terms of the supply chain. We've been increasingly engaging with leaders in the sector to try to develop standards on how we can make sure that palm oil is delivered sustainably, and traceable, so we know which palm oil can be trusted in terms of environmental impact. We are increasingly looking at how to offset, and how to compensate through restoration and reforestation for damage done in the past. It's a sector we cannot ignore. It's not enough just to step back and blame it.
What are the conservation issues you see as being the most challenging?
Energy, water, food and fibres – we're talking about all the key activities that are sustaining economic development, locally and globally. We have to make sure for the sake of their own sustainability that all these production activities are complying with environmental standards. If not, the businesses themselves will collapse. There is a major growth of awareness in the private sector that environmental protection and health are the foundation of the economy. There is no future for a prosperous planet, with 9 billion people by 2050, without a healthy environment.
What role does climate change play?
Climate change unfortunately has the potential to impact everything. The point we are making is that climate change is more and more about equitability, because the ones that will be first and most severely affected are the developing countries, the poor communities. We are supporting the latest IPCC recommendations to stay within the two degree global warming target. We are also supporting the 1.5°C target, because beyond that, the evidence is that we are going to lose most of the Arctic ecosystem, and most of the coral reefs in the world.
We know we have 20 to 30 years to fix the climate problem. We are emitting too much, and we have to cut. The only way we can do that is to increase efficiency, but particularly to redirect production of energy through renewables. That requires a global effort to redirect the one to two trillion dollars in subsidies that the fossil fuel sector is receiving towards renewables.
In spite of major reports on extreme weather and melting polar ice, there is no huge public interest in pushing politicians to reduce emissions. What can be done about that?
We've never been more aware of the problems and we have never had more knowledge of potential solutions. The question is how to translate this awareness into action. But this is increasingly happening. Take the recent movement to divest from fossil fuel companies. Many organizations and banks are beginning to move away under pressure from the public. That has millions of followers, and they're growing, in the emerging economies, too.
I see an exciting growth in civil society attention. The reason is people are beginning to feel the impact of environmental degradation on their skin: the heat, the water, the storms, weather events, droughts, and other disasters, which are no longer that natural but are actually very much related to climate change. I feel very positive about the possibility to re-ignite a new global movement, and I think WWF is in a fantastic position to do that. Not alone, but together with other NGOs, together with the private sector, potentially, and in partnership with civil society.
Marco Lambertini has been director general of the World Wide Fund for Nature since May 1, 2014. Before that, he was the chief executive of another NGO, BirdLife International. The Italian native has 25 years of leadership experience in the field of conservation.