The Extinction Rebellion (XR) Youth Solidarity activists protested outside of the conservation charity headquarters in Woking, together with grassroots campaign, WTF WWF.
While the demonstration was just one of many rolled out for XR’s two-week protest, Impossible Rebellion, it left some people scratching their heads.
Both XR and WWF appear to be campaigning for similar environmental causes, so why did the activists target the conservationists?
Here’s what we know.
XR’s grievances against WWF
In a speech outside the headquarters – shared live on Facebook – the protesters claimed the conservation organisation had “invested the donations of their supporters into fossil fuel funds multiple times” and had reportedly “made studies for Shell” by looking into where the company can drill for oil in the global south.
WTF WWF said: “WTF WWF are occupying on behalf of indigenous Maasai communities living in Ngorongoro conservation area in Tanzania, Gbabandi, Cameroon’s Forest Indigenous Peoples’ Platform and the Sengwer indigenous people of Kenya.
“WTF WWF is demanding that WWF UK challenge the mass evictions and human rights abuses being carried out in the pursuit of conservation against these indigenous groups.”
The group, working with XR, claimed indigenous people have been displaced by WWF in favour of an “alliance” with polluting industries.
How accurate are these claims?
WWF, set up in 1961 by Prince Philip and Prince Bernhart of the Netherlands, is the world’s largest conservation charity with an international reputation.
But in the past, it has been accused of “selling its soul” to large-name corporations which then supposedly use the conservationists to “greenwash” their companies.
A controversial book called ‘Pandaleaks’ – released in 2014 – maintained that the conservation group is too close to the fossil fuel industry and money from corporations.
However, WWF rejected the claims at the time and said: “Pandaleaks in the book of a discredited German television documentary that disregarded most of the basic norms and standards of journalism. It is not factual and does not present a representative picture of WWF.”
The firm added that it was in the process of upgrading its global transparency and accountability, having exited relationship with fossil fuel companies more than a decade before.
It also claimed that the environment can only be maintained through co-operation with people in the polluting industries.
WWF has been accused by campaigner Corporate Watch of working too closely with large corporations including Coca-Cola and IKEA.
Although in 2019, WWF said only four percent of its total revenue came from large corporations.
That same year, an investigation from BuzzFeed News claimed paramilitary groups funded by WWF became engaged in serious human rights abuses against locals. The corporation defended itself, and said the report documenting these crimes was not publicised to protect the victims while the guards in question had been suspended and were on the cusp of prosecution.
What does WWF have to say to XR and WTF WWF
A WWF spokesperson replied to the allegations and XR’s campaign, claiming: “We value dialogue and collaboration on these complex issues but find the actions taken by this campaign group at our UK headquarters today disappointing.
“We share the same ambition to protect our world, tackle climate change and ensure a future where people and nature thrive.
“Communities are at the heart of our work and as a global organisation we will continue to strengthen how we embed human rights into nature conservation, everywhere we work including in the most challenging areas of the world, to safeguard communities and the nature upon which they depend.”
How much support does XR have against WWF?
Tory MP Alexander Stafford tweeted: “I used to work for WWF for years, trying to reverse the decline in nature and protect our environment, this protest by Extinction Rebellion is a disgrace.
“They do more harm than good and are little more than an extremist group that care more fo their own egos than for the planet.
“They’ve completely jumped the shark. By attacking those that work to protect the environment, half our natural decline and stop climate change, they have revealed their own nihilistic hand.”
He added: “They are little more than wannabe thugs and bullies.”
XR’s Twitter account replied: “Thanks for the feedback Alex. We’re a peaceful non-violent movement.”
The account then pointed out that the MP used to work for Shell, too, as their spat continued on Twitter.
Other Twitter users were also up in arms about XR’s decision to lobby WWF.
But some people were in favour of XR’s actions.
This isn’t the first time XR have hit out at other environmentalists
XR famously butted heads with Sir David Attenborough last year after he criticised the group’s tactics.
Attenborough told BBC Breakfast: “You have to be careful that you don’t break the law... we have to treat the people we share our community with, with respect.
“Disturbing their lives to such an extent that innocent people can’t get about their own business, is a serious thing to do and could disenchant an awful lot of people.
He added: “Of course I agree with their message, it’s a question of what is politic and sensible in persuading other people to join you?”
Some XR activists then hand-delivered a letter to Attenborough, along with the gift of an olive tree, defending their “nonviolent civil disobedience” and urging him to rethink his position.