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The World Wildlife Fund is a global conservation network with offices in more than one hundred countries around the world. Scientists, such as Sir Julian Huxley, and political leaders, such as the Duke of Edinburgh, started WWF in Switzerland in 1961. The organization’s initial goal was to raise money for conservation. WWF developed slowly for the first two decades. Then, in the 1980s, it grew to become the world’s largest private international conservation organization. While many offices were initially started in industrialized states, branches are now located in places such as Bhutan, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Central America. The organization’s environment work is not just focused on policy change; WWF runs more than 1,000 field projects annually around the globe.
WWF has identified 200 ecoregions deemed the most critical for conservation, called the Global 200. WWF is an example of international environmental cooperation, but there have been instances of internal conflict within the network. As a result, in 1986, WWF-International changed its name to the World Wide Fund for Nature. The U.S. and Canadian branches continued with the original name. However, all branches continue to use the acronym WWF and the panda symbol, which can contribute to confusion over which branch is behind specific activities. Although many environmental priorities are shared by the larger network there are strategic differences among the offices.
WWF’s transnational network involves many important partnerships. WWF and the World Conservation Union cooperate on several campaigns, including efforts to improve co-management with indigenous and traditional peoples in protected areas. Both groups also support an organization called TRAFFIC (Trade Record Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce) that monitors illegal wildlife trade.
Since 1998 the WWF has shared a forest campaign with the World Bank. The Alliance for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Use employs a marketoriented approach that focuses on the promotion of internationally certified sustainable forest extraction. Both groups also seek to remove perverse incentives leading to ecological degradation that frequently exist in policies, institutions, and markets. They highlight poverty reduction as a major environmental concern. They propose solutions based on positive incentives, created through market mechanisms, to support conservation, and finance sustainable local resource extraction. Following this paradigm, WWF has shifted from a nearly exclusive focus on protected areas to eco-friendly production.
WWF’s conservation approaches are popular with bilateral and multilateral aid agencies and the private sector. While two decades ago private foundations and individuals provided the majority of funding for WWF, a growing portion of funds currently originate from private firms.
A major focus area for the World Wildlife Fund is sustainable forest management. In the 1980s WWF was a major advocate of Integrated Conservation with Development Programs, which aimed to better involve local populations in protected area initiatives. WWF helped to initiate the Forest Stewardship Council in the early 1990s and has been a key player in the transition from conventional to certified forestry. One of the greatest challenges for forest certification is strengthening consumer demand, so the WWF started the Global Forest Trade Network (GFTN). GFTN is an independent network, made up of more than 500 companies, including some of the biggest lumber suppliers, forest owners, furniture makers, architects, construction companies, retailers, and investors. Campaigns such as this fit with WWF’s focus on sustainable consumption, an strategy that has received criticism from environmental groups that promote less market-oriented approaches to conservation and development.
- Mac Chapin, “A Challenge to Conservationists,” World Watch (November/December 2004);
- Fred Pearce, “A Greyer Shade of Green,” New Scientist (June 21, 2003);
- Paul Wapner, “World Wildlife Fund and Political Localism,” Environmental Activism and World Civic Politics (1996, State University of New York Press);
- WWF Global Network, www.wwf.org.