Carter Roberts, the chief executive officer of the World Wildlife Fund, a conservation organization, spoke on Tuesday about governance issues in ecological conservation as part of a series of policy talks at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Roberts — an alumnus of Harvard Business School who has served as the CEO of the WWF since July 2005 — lectured before an audience of about 60 students and faculty members, presenting images and discussing topics ranging from the role of indigenous peoples in conservation to political disagreements about protecting lands.
Roberts said the increasing scale of globalization along with the decentralization of groups involved in conservation efforts complicates the process of protecting vulnerable land areas.
“You have to work every level, developing strategies from the local to the global,” he said.
Christopher Meaney FES ’06, who attended the talk, said he was skeptical of Roberts’ claim that organizational decentralization is damaging since his position with the WWF would suggest a possible bias.
To streamline conservation development, Roberts said, conservationists must follow four principles.
He said they ought to give governance the same priority as conservation itself, while recognizing that conservation bears disproportionate costs and benefits — at times hurting indigenous groups living in protected regions. In addition, he said, conservation groups should include a mix of people educated in the biological sciences and the social sciences, and should involve cooperation with other groups interested in issues such as human rights and governance.
“We need to take a belt-and-suspenders approach,” Roberts said. “With more diverse stakeholders, [conservation work] is more likely to stick.”
But Larissa Yocom FES ’06 said she is concerned that the WWF might not be fully effective in protection efforts in areas where government control is disorganized or weak or where local support is lacking.
“I’d be worried that if there is no governance where they are working, how can they make a deal stick?” she said.
Roberts said another challenge for his organization involves a mixed support structure, calling a distinction between those “worried about the fuzzy animals” and those with a more realistic and broad view of conservation issues.
Roberts compared conservation work in three case studies, detailing projects in the Republic of the Congo, the Amazon Basin and the Peruvian Amazon. He said the approach taken by Prince Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh — the chair of the WWF in the United Kingdom — in the African region represented “the old-fashioned way,” in which conservation depends on governments as a source of skills and money. On the other hand, Roberts said, the method used in the Peruvian Amazon — which involves compromises that benefit the indigenous peoples — will likely set new precedents.
“Let’s take what we did in Peru and make that the new standard,” he said.
Roberts previously served as vice president of The Nature Conservancy, working substantially in Central America, and held both management and marketing positions with several global companies before turning to conservation.