Climategate: WWF, the 'Para-Governmental Organization' at the Center of the Storm

What exactly is WWF? The mission of the self-described “conservation organization” is so nebulous that it is not even entirely clear for what words the acronym stands. Back in 1961, when WWF was founded as a private initiative, the initials stood for “World Wildlife Fund.” These are undoubtedly the words that most Americans at least still associate with them. In the meanwhile, however — since WWF began, as its online FAQ explains, “expand[ing] its work to conserve the environment as a whole (reflecting the interdependence of all living things)” — the official name of the organization has been changed to “WWF-World Wide Fund For Nature.” “More and more, however,” the FAQ entry continues tautologically, “ … WWF is known as simply ‘WWF’” — i.e., who cares what it stands for!


What we do know, however, is that WWF has in recent years been one of the principal purveyors of climate alarmism. It would seem that the organization has still further expanded its brief to cover the conservation not only of “all living things,” but even of that non-living and, frankly, purely notional thing known as “climate.” It was thus WWF that served as the cited source for the IPCC’s now famously debunked claim, according to which at current rates of “warming” the Himalayan glaciers could be expected to melt by 2035. Indeed, Donna Laframboise has turned up dozens of citations of WWF in the IPCC’s 2007 “Fourth Assessment Report,” on everything from “mudflows and avalanches” to the allegedly destructive effects of climate change on “marine fish and shellfish.” Richard North of the EUReferendum blog has uncovered yet another dodgy WWF-referenced claim on the alleged effects of climate change on the Amazonian forests.

That the IPCC’s assessment would rely so heavily on the claims of an activist organization raises obvious questions about its objectivity. But the issues raised by the IPCC’s reliance on WWF are even more troubling than might appear on first glance. For exactly what sort of activist organization is WWF? It is commonly assumed that it is a private advocacy organization funded by donations from the public: in other words, a “non-governmental organization” or “NGO.” But closer inspection of WWF’s finances reveals that the “NGO” moniker is here — as indeed in so many cases — a misnomer. It would be more accurate to describe WWF rather as a “PGO”: a para-governmental organization. In fact, WWF receives massive funding from states. Moreover, it receives massive funding not from just any states, but from precisely that federation of states that has made combating supposed “global warming” into one of its highest policy priorities, if not indeed its highest priority — namely, the European Union.


According to European Commission data, WWF was awarded nearly €9 million in EU support in 2008 alone. In 2007, the figure was over €7.5 million. Most of this support came in the form of ostensibly project-linked grants to WWF-International or its national affiliates. It is typical for the EU to provide support to so-called NGOs in the form of project grants. The largest single grant — bizarrely, for €3,499,999 — went to WWF-International in 2007. Its ostensible purpose was for a project on “Strengthening Indigenous Community Based Forest Enterprises (CBFEs) in Priority Ecoregions in Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa.”

Intriguingly, in the same year, WWF-International was awarded €128,700 out of the EU’s research budget, under the heading “RTD support for Community [i.e. EU] policies.” “RTD” stands for “Research and Technological Development.” The subject of this “research support” for EU policies is not provided in the Commission’s so-called “Financial Transparency” database. But the code number for the contract (CCR.IES.C382691.X0.2) indicates that it was connected to the EU’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) — perhaps to the latter’s Climate Change Unit.

WWF is so intimately familiar with EU money that it has even edited a “handbook” on EU environmental funding “on behalf of the Commission.” (See here for the “handbook” and here for the “on the behalf of the Commission” as found on the website of the Commission’s Directorate General for the Environment.)


Not all of the EU’s funding to WWF, moreover, is project-linked. Most significantly for present purposes, the WWF European Policy Office in Brussels receives an annual “operating grant” from the EU. As revealed in the Commission’s “Financial Transparency” database, in 2008 this contribution amounted to €642,600, representing, according to the EU’s estimate, 17.10% of the office’s total budget. In 2007, it was €632,675, representing 15.52% of the budget. In 2006, the numbers were €591,413 and 16.44%; in 2005, €768,731 and 22.48%. And so on. WWF’s Brussels Policy Office has been awarded an annual “operating grant” from the EU every year since at least 2003.

Other advocacy groups that have played high-profile roles in hyping the “threat” of climate change likewise receive operating subsidies from the EU. Thus, for example, Friends of the Earth Europe was awarded €790,020 in 2008, representing fully 52.61% of its operating budget. Friends of the Earth presents itself as — and is commonly presented as — a “grass roots” organization.

As it so happens, Stephan Singer of WWF’s European Policy Office in Brussels makes several appearances in the now infamous East Anglia “Climategate” e-mails. For instance, in an e-mail of August 6, 2003, Singer can be found touting that summer’s European heat wave as proof of “global warming” and offering money for a study on the “economic costs of these weather extremes.” “Dear all,” Singer writes to the University of East Anglia’s Mike Hulme and other recipients:


i think we all have seen (if not commented on) the devastating heat wave presently in europe — gives us a feeling on truly global warming. WWF has assured some money — a few thousand EUROS what is not much to be honest but at least a start — to ask an economist with climate policy understanding to assess in a short but fleshy paper (max 10 pages) the economic costs of these weather extremes ineurope. This can be put in context with the mitigation costs of ambitious climate policies. … In short, can you advise us on a competent author who is readily available (can be one of you, of course) …

EU funding for PGOs is by no means limited to the environmental or “climate” domains. For more on the subject, see my 2007 exposé of Reporters Without Borders here and my note on the International Federation of Human Rights here.


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