Five years ago, in an article headlined, “Time for Big Green to Go Fossil Free”, Naomi Klein exposed the big US-based NGOs that were investing in the fossil fuel industry. WWF was one of the NGOs that Klein found was investing in fossil fuels.
Ian Morrison, a spokesperson for WWF, told Klein that, “We don’t have direct investments, so we do not hold shares of any companies directly. Our investments are primarily through diversified funds.”
When asked whether WWF was considering divesting from fossil fuel investments, Morrison replied that, “We are interested in the issue you’ve raised and are actively engaged in our own internal discussions in this area.”
Now an investigation by NBC News reveals that in 2008 WWF invested more than US$2 million with a private equity firm called Denham Capital.
A glance at Denham Capital’s website leaves absolutely no doubt about where its money goes: oil and gas, mining, and international energy projects.
NBC’s investigative journalists didn’t find out about WWF’s fossil fuel investments by asking WWF. They found the information in the Paradise Papers – more than 13 million documents about offshore investing leaked to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. NBC News found museums, charities, and universities were among other nonprofits that have also invested in funds involved in fossil fuels.
WWF will avoid new investments in fossil fuels
WWF wouldn’t talk to NBC News on camera. A WWF representative told NBC News over the phone that WWF started divesting its oil and gas investments five years ago. And that Denham Capital funds some renewable projects.
WWF said that the money it gets from donors does not go into long-term investments such as the Denham Capital fund. WWF’s agreement with the Denham Capital fund runs until 2020, meaning that WWF could lose money if it divests its money before then.
WWF said that it is moving towards investments in sustainable and renewable energy. And WWF told NBC News it will avoid any new investments in funds that invest in fossil fuels.
WWF is, of course, well aware of the problems with fossil fuels. On its website, WWF points out the dangers:
Many of the planet’s most diverse and ecologically important areas — including the Arctic and Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin — also happen to hold large underground deposits of oil and gas. Extracting these oil and gas deposits can result in lasting damage to the environment. Specifically, oil and gas exploration and development causes disruption of migratory pathways, degradation of important animal habitats, and oil spills — which can be devastating to the animals and humans who depend on these ecosystems.
WWF’s green fig leaf for fossil fuels
But how on earth did WWF consider it to be acceptable to invest in a fossil fuel fund like Denham Capital in the first place?
The explanation is what Naomi Klein calls a “very deep denialism” in Big Green groups like WWF. In a 2013 interview she said that the Big Green denialism is more damaging than climate deniers.
Klein explained further:
“It’s not, ‘sue the bastards;’ it’s, ‘work through corporate partnerships with the bastards.’ There is no enemy anymore.
Sure enough, as with just about everything that WWF works on, WWF doesn’t actually oppose drilling for oil and gas. Instead WWF wants something called “responsible development”:
WWF advocates for responsible development in areas where oil and gas may occur. If development does transpire, WWF wants to ensure it is done as safely and responsibly as possible. Development must avoid areas considered especially sensitive. In some areas, like the Arctic, it is our one chance to do it right.
“Responsible development of oil and gas” is another in a long list of WWFisms. Others include: “sustainable forest management”, “sustainable palm oil”, “sustainable beef”, “responsible soy”, “sustainable sugar”, “sustainable seafood”, “sustainable Coca-Cola”, “sustainable business”, and so on.
By promoting these mythical, industry-friendly terms, WWF allows the most egregious polluting industries to continue polluting.
WWF is so little concerned about what its corporate friends are doing to the planet that it even invested in coal and tar sands. A 2014 CNBC article reports that “Through Deutsche Bank, WWF swapped its coal and tar sands-related stocks for returns from the S&P 500 index.”
But if WWF were an organisation that actually cared about the environment, surely it would never have gone anywhere near coal and tar sands-related stocks in the first place.
PHOTO Credit: “WTF” Paris 2016 by Denis Bocquet.