Pilcher claims all opposition has “come out of ignorance and being misled by Greenpeace and others rather than being against the IUCN’s involvement.” But Indian scientists and conservationists remain united in opposition both to the port and to the IUCN’s role. In 2008 several of Pilcher’s India-based colleagues and other IUCN member groups wrote to IUCN director general Julia Marton-Lefèvre, arguing that the union’s involvement casts “aspersions on the credibility and neutrality” of the IUCN. The letter stated that the port company “is using this purported support of the IUCN to claim that environmental impacts have been adequately addressed and mitigated.” The regional chair of the marine turtle specialty group, Kartik Shanker, has resigned over the situation. “Almost unanimously,” he says, all the specialty group members in India “have opposed the involvement of the IUCN in this project.”
The Dhamra port is just one of the IUCN’s corporate controversies. Another arose in 2007, when Marton-Lefèvre signed a partnership agreement with Royal Dutch Shell “to enhance the biodiversity conservation performance by Shell” and “to strengthen IUCN’s capacity for leadership in business and biodiversity,” as the agreement puts it. That deal has led to internal dissension, with one of the IUCN’s commission chairs, M. Taghi Farvar, insisting that it should not partner with industries causing wide-scale environmental damage, particularly in light of the IUCN’s mandate for reversing global warming. The controversy led to a motion at the World Conservation Congress last October to cancel the contract. That motion narrowly failed, after Marton-Lefèvre argued that legal action by Shell was possible.
The IUCN’s dealings with the business world is not likely to slow down, but if the union wants to soothe internal strife, conflicts of interest must be eliminated, and transparency is key, Farvar insists. Tata and Shell can exert undue pressure on the IUCN, because what are financial peanuts to megacorporations are substantial funds to nonprofits. Other groups have managed the balancing act to some degree, such as scientists conducting clinical trials on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. While members continue to debate how the IUCN should navigate these rocky waters, all hope that endangered species and biodiversity will not pay the price.
Note: This article was originally posted with the title, "Environmental Payoff".