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Best Practices voor een duurzame toekomst
17 oktober 2008

Partnership IUCN and Royal Dutch Shell seen as greenwashing

In October 2007, IUCN signed an agreement with oil giant Royal Dutch Shell with the aim of enhancing the companys biodiversity conservation performance and strengthening IUCNs capacity to influence large corporations into a greater environmental commitment. Similar partnerships were signed with Holcim, the leading global supplier of cement, and Total, the French oil giant. In the pipeline is an agreement with Rio Tinto, the worlds largest coal extractor. IUCN is the worlds oldest and largest global environmental network. It is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.

The partnership with Dutch company Shell was highly controversial from the beginning. A coalition of NGOs including Friends of the Earth International, the Netherlands Society for Nature and Environment, the Sierra Club and Dutch-based environmental and development service BothENDS opposed it. According to these NGOs, Shells operations have huge negative social and environmental impacts. Moreover Shell has a highly controversial reputation in dealing with communities affected by oil exploitation, for example in the Niger delta, where Shell continues flaring gas, despite several promises to phase out the process. Shell also rejected plans of the European Union to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by European companies, is increasingly its investments in highly-polluting oil sands in Canada and is planning oil explorations in the Arctic.

According to Terraviva, the daily newspaper of the World Conservation Congress, the IUCN secretariat has emphasised the likely high costs of terminating the contract, rather than defending its hypothetical influence upon Shells behaviour. "The core funding (of some 1.2 million US dollars) would be lost", an internal IUCN paper says, and should Shell take legal action. "The financial consequences (for IUCN) are unforeseeable."

Although the motion of the critical NGOs was rejected, Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth is a happy man. "Our work stirred up a huge debate. The motion was the talk of the town. Almost all the NGOs and quite a number of governments agreed that the process for establishing the agreement between Shell and IUCN was flawed. But what was even more important is that there was broad opposition towards the naive approach of the IUCN secretariat with respect to business. NGOs dont buy the greenwash that is taking place in the IUCN and want the organisation to take a more critical approach."

The motion to terminate the agreement had the support of almost 60 percent of the total votes (167 out of 285). But IUCN has a voting system that requires a majority from both NGOs and governments. NGOs voted massively (more than 70 percent) in favour of the motion, including WWF and Birdlife. Seventy-five percent of the states voted against it, although 15 countries supported the motion.

In one years time the agreement between Shell and IUCN will be evaluated. De Clerck: "We can take that opportunity to mobilise again and make sure that our point, that this agreement is not going to improve Shell but rather allows them to greenwash its image, will result in cancellation of the agreement."

P+ webtip: IUCN