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Business and industry need to join civil society and governments to improve the condition of wetlands

Published on:
  • Accountability
  • Peatland conservation and restoration
  • Private sector performance

Business and industry need to act if we are to reverse the loss and degradation of wetlands globally. This is why we work with not only governments and civil society but also with companies, in particular, those whose operations affect wetlands.


Recent media has questioned why some conservation groups, including Wetlands International, work with companies whose core business ultimately undermines greater conservation and climate efforts. We welcome the issues that have been raised. They represent the dilemmas that affect each and every one of us — as society, as organisations and as individuals.

One question raised, in particular, related to our work with Shell. Wetlands International worked in a partnership with Shell from 2008–2017 on co-created projects to conserve wetlands affected by operations of the oil company. This work was consistent with objectives and ways of working laid out in an agreement signed at CEO level and governed by a joint steering group. The arrangement ensured the independence of Wetlands International in our positioning and communications, including the opportunity to question and criticise Shell.

We fundamentally do not agree with Shell’s fossil fuel business model, nor aim to promote it in the context of environmental, ecological or social work. The rationale underpinning this partnership was pragmatic: Shell operates in wetlands across the globe since this is where oil and gas stores develop. We worked with Shell to focus on where we could make the most important differences to the way that it operated in wetlands. This resulted in us working alongside Shell companies in a number of places, including the Arctic, the Canadian Tar Sands, Brunei peat swamp forests and Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes. A shared objective was also to influence the energy sector with improved policies and practices in relation to wetlands.

We are proud of what we achieved. Through these projects, over an eight-year period, around five million euro was invested directly into actual wetland conservation and restoration, preventing, at a project level, further biodiversity loss and fragmentation of habitat, reducing the risk of fire and noise pollution, avoiding impact on sensitive areas and critical habitat. The outcomes, however, fell short of our original ambition.

Wetlands International, in discussion with Shell, decided to end this partnership in 2017. We agreed to complete  work we had begun in Brunei and Oman and these projects continue in 2019. Wetlands International’s decision to end the partnership was a conscious one, based on a number of learnings from periodic evaluations. Essentially, our ambition to have more impact on the ground, with and throughout the company and sector was no longer given enough commitment and traction in Shell itself.

Jane Madgwick, Chief Executive Officer of Wetlands International says, “We are wholly committed to the safeguarding and restoring of wetlands for people and nature. Business and industry need to actively participate if we are to turn around the prognosis of ecosystems as a contribution to achieve sustainable development and limit the impacts of climate change. This is particularly true for wetlands which are, in many ways, on the frontline.”

“As a science-based, global NGO, we are well-positioned to engage companies, alongside governments and civil society to achieve this. We welcome engagement with those companies with whom we can find a common cause in this direction. We will collaborate as a frank and critical friend, maintaining our independence and sharing our expertise and experience.”