Twenty-five years ago it was becoming clear that the WWF’s traditional ‘muddy boots’ field project approach was important to win some conservation battles, but it was never going to win the wider environmental war. Tackling the causes of environmental loss and not just the symptoms was the new mantra.That meant identifying laws to safeguard the environment – laws that, in many cases, simply didn’t exist at the time. It was against this backdrop that the WWF European Policy Office (EPO) was born in 1989.
The European Community had just received new powers over the environment through the 1986 Single European Act. No longer did you need to struggle to justify why you needed a particular environmental law. Suddenly, there was a rationale to act and tackle the problem at source.
WWF didn’t waste any time getting organised across Europe. It wasn’t enough simply to be present in Brussels – then as now Member States were making the ultimate decisions. From the EPO office in Brussels and through links with our national offices, WWF pushed hard for new environmental legislation. We started with the Habitats Directive (passed in 1992), which led eventually to the formation of a network of protected areas in Europe, known as Natura 2000, covering 18% of European land mass.
WWF’s policy work didn’t stop there. We turned our efforts towards integrating environmental considerations into other policy areas. For example we targeted the Common Agricultural funds, arguing that farming subsidies should be switched towards environmental and rural development measures and away from food production alone. We spoke-up for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. And as the climate change crisis deepened over the past two decades, WWF has become deeply involved in the future direction of energy policy and the need to break-free of our dependence on fossil fuels.
A quarter of a century later, new challenges are emerging. But their complexity requires more than the integration of environmental considerations into other policy areas.
Mobilising the public and other advocates to call for stronger environmental laws through targeted campaigning is one such challenge. That is why the examples in this annual review of effective WWF campaigning are so inspiring for the future of our work in Europe.
Director, WWF European Policy Office