Interview of Véronique Andrieux, General Director of WWF France

Sécheresse en Ethiopie après 3 saisons des pluies manquées. ©EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Alain Boinet: We are happy to welcome Véronique Andrieux, the general director of WWF France. The WWF or WorldWide Fund for nature is an international non-governmental organisation created in 1961 working for the protection of the environment and sustainable development. To start of the interview, can you tell us the main priorities of WWF?

Véronique Andrieux: Our mission is threefold. The first is to warn about the climate and biodiversity crisis with the help of experts and through particularly salient reports, notably the “Living Planet” report. The second area is the protection and restoration of the living world, ecosystems and those who depend on them, particularly wildlife, but also local communities with sustainable management of natural resources.  These are field projects, whether in Metropolitan France, in the overseas departments or in what are known as biodiversity hot spots such as the Congo Basin, the Mekong River, or Indonesia, Brazil and Madagascar.  Finally, the third axis is transformation: acting on systemic transformations that are the structural causes of ecosystem losses and erosion of life. In this area, we work with the government, local authorities to change public policies, but also with companies and other private actors in the financial sector to transform their business plans.

AB: You previously held various position in humanitarian and development organisation. In what ways, based on your experience, do you see links between humanitarian, environmental and developmental work?

V.A.: I have been doing this work for about twenty-five years and witnessed the impacts of climate change on local people, especially when I went to the field. For example, in the Andes, more than 20 years ago, we were already seeing climate disruption on ocean currents and what it meant for the rainy season and crops. In Yemen and the Sahel, climate change is causing more frequent and longer droughts and a constant rise in temperatures which make some areas uninhabitable and/or can be a factor in tensions and conflicts for natural resources. Another example is the extractive industries, in Latin America which pollute the soil and water through their massive use of chemicals. In French Guyana, water pollution with mercury (banned by the Minalata Convention) leads to diseases in local communities.  These are just few examples of unsustainable resource management that shows that putting the environment at the centre of human development programmes, and vice-versa, is the only suitable solution.

That is why, the triple-nexus climate-biodiversity-human development is at the heart of our actions at WWF, through adaptation and mitigation measures such as nature-based solution (protect ecosystems to address climate change, food insecurity, water supply…). In the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis and its devastating effects on human development and accelerating inequalities, it is essential to break out of silos and fragmented approaches. This dichotomy between development and environment cannot hold, since the environment is the essential foundation for human development. Studies show that 80% of the SDGs are threatened by the climate crisis.

A.B.:  As you mentioned climate change, what action is WWF taking to tackle it? Are we in an emergency?

V.A.: Totally! We used to tell ourselves that issues linked to climate change and the deterioration of biodiversity were elsewhere: the situation in the Amazon is terrible but it is far from us, extreme temperatures in Pakistan and the Sahel, the rise of waters in various region is terrible, but again, it is far from us. Today, we can no longer ignore the problem or push it away, the climate issue is now and here! This is a slow onset crisis.

At the moment, in France, we are experiencing violent wildfires, heat waves, hail, and drought which clearly show that are in an emergency situation. For this reason, we not only need to reduce the factors that could cause those crises, but also act on adapting and preventing those situations. In some cases, the agenda is set around the loss and damage as our adaptation capabilities are limited and it becomes to late to save the situation.

At WWF, we propose solutions at the systemic and sectoral levels. There is a major problem of climate and biodiversity coherence in public policies. For example, France funds more subsidies for fossil fuels than for renewable energies. Continuing to direct public money towards climate-damaging subsidies rather than towards sustainable economic activities locks us into a carbon-based model and diverts resources that are essential for the transition. There is therefore a need to act on these systemic issues. WWF has proposed a “climate and biodiversity pass”, which would screen public policies and state budgets to ensure their compatibility with France’s and the European Union’s climate and biodiversity commitments. In addition, we propose sectoral measures for France in the areas of transport, agriculture, housing and energy. It is the entire software and matrix of production and consumption that must be radically and profoundly revised.

Sécheresse en Ethiopie a cause du phénomène El Nino. ©EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A.B.:  The war in Ukraine completely shook the energy sector (hydrocarbons, gas) with the reopening of coal-fired power stations and with the revival of nuclear power as the only stable alternative. How do you analyse this situation and how to tackle it?

V.A.: For us, Ukraine has accelerated certain issues and could be a window of opportunity for certain fundamental transformations both in terms of energy and the food system.

As far as energy is concerned, and beyond the emergency measures that are absolutely necessary, it will be necessary to focus on the threefold approach: renewable energies, energy efficiency and sobriety. The government is working on an energy sobriety action plan. This is a good thing, as we will have to consume less (and not just this winter, but over the long term). At the same time, one of the major levers of energy efficiency should be tackled: a broad plan for the energy renovation of buildings (complete renovation of 700,000 homes/year in France). We must not forget that more than 12 million French people are in a situation of energy insecurity and that it is necessary to support them. In terms of renewable energies, France is the only European member state not to meet its commitments (19% vs. 23% target in 2020). In the framework of RePowerEU (the European Commission’s plan to make the European Union independent of Russian fossil fuels), some projects that are currently on hold could be unblocked. However, care must be taken not to forget the biodiversity and social criteria. For example, wind turbines should not be placed in Natura 2000 areas or in bird nesting or migration areas.

Regarding the food system, the main driver is to review our diet and reduce the consumption of animal proteins. We eat twice as much animal protein as recommended by the health authorities. We recommend replacing it with more vegetable proteins. 2/3 of the cereals consumed in Europe go into livestock feed and only 17% for human consumption; 60% of the land is used for animal feed production (with a low efficiency or conversion factor for some sectors). The hierarchy of land use must be reviewed and priority given to food production for the population.

We are faced with a contradiction when the European Union claims to be a food-producing power when in reality it has relocated a significant part of its ecological footprint to third countries and is the second largest importer of deforestation behind China. Products resulting from deforestation or the conversion of ecosystems are found in our food (indirectly, when the meat we eat has been fed with Brazilian soya from deforestation, for example) and in agrofuels. This is why WWF is pushing for binding legislation to ban the marketing of products derived from deforestation or ecosystem conversion in Europe.

A.B.: Another area on which the WWF is very committed is that of the protection of rivers. Faced with the consequences of climate change and the increase in water pollution due in particular to demographics but also to the development of lifestyles, what initiatives are you taking?

V.A.: On this question, we work on two complementary approaches: biodiversity and ecological footprint.  On the biodiversity side, WWF created different initiatives such as “Free Flowing Rivers” for the renaturiation of risers and the dismantling of infrastructures including micro and small dams that ultimately provide very little energy, fragment rivers and prevent species from migrating. There is also work to restore wetlands, which act as a buffer areas in the event of flooding, thus protecting local communities. In France, WWF is working in Camargue and the Brenne region for years now.

As far as the ecological footprint is concerned, our societies have an extremely intensive agricultural model that consumes freshwater (agriculture uses 70% of the world’s available freshwater, mainly for irrigation). This is why, in view of the successive years of drought and the historic drought in France this year, it is crucial to move towards a much less water-intensive and therefore more sustainable agricultural model. Today, much of the water is used to irrigate cereals, the vast majority of which will be used to feed livestock, while populations and biodiversity are short of water. The position of livestock feed in land and water use will have to be reviewed, and priority given to uses and production for human populations.

Aide humanitaire de l’Union Européenne en Amérique Centrale suite au inondations dues aux ouragans ETA and IOTA. © Alianza por la Solidaridad, 2020 (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A.B.: The Ukrainian war could lead to, using Antonio Guterres’s words, a “hurricane of hunger”. Isn’t it urgent, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, to set up a global plan?

V.A.: I don’t think there is one action that will solve the problem but rather a range of actions. Emergency measures such as those carried out by the WFP are crucial. In the medium/long term, we need to act on diets by reducing our consumption of animal proteins, reduce food waste, stop deforestation practices, return to more resilient endemic crops, and develop agroecology (increase the organic area, less pesticides and nitrogen fertilisers, crop diversification, etc.). With our monoculture system, we have destroyed the diversification of plants that exists in the world and that is absolutely necessary for agricultural resilience and sovereignty. The aim is therefore to reduce the dependence of African and Middle Eastern countries on Europe and to create a foundation of resilience in these countries. Rather than importing wheat, promote local and sustainable production of cassava, sorghum and millet flour – endemic crops, adapted to the environment and more resilient to water stress – as several African countries are already doing in response to the crisis. Investing in this sovereignty also means restoring the millions of hectares of degraded land.

A.B.: The Earth now has eight billion human beings and by 2050 the African population will have grown from 1.1 billion to 2.1 billion. How can we meet these demographic needs, dare we speak of a demographic explosion that could have an impact on the world situation, while acknowledging that the continent requires phenomenal development needs?

V.A.: This issue touches on the inequalities that arise from this climate crisis. Today, Africa is the continent that emits the least greenhouse gases and that suffers the greatest effects (along with parts of Asia) of climate change. We can therefore see inequalities between the different regions of the world on this subject. But beyond the inequalities between regions of the world, there is also the question of inequalities between types of population. If we take for example the global elites, on a planetary scale that is, their consumption patterns on 1% of the population represents 20% of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. On the other hand, if we take 50% of the poorest population, they are only responsible for 16% of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. So it is not just a demographic issue, it is above all a question of consumption patterns that must be rebalanced. There is a clear correlation between the level of wealth and the level of emissions. The question then is how can we ensure that the global elites make their lifestyles more sober? From my point of view, it’s more a question of how to ensure that these global elites, wherever they are, have a more responsible way of living and consuming, and that their roles and responsibilities at the societal level are also highlighted. And so in reality it’s not the population increase in Africa that is going to increase greenhouse gas emissions on its own. Studies show that the millions of people who have been lifted out of extreme poverty in recent decades have had little impact on the increase in GHG emissions (around 1%). A final question is how to make a strong Human Development Index compatible with a low carbon footprint, as is the case in Africa. I think that the richest countries have a responsibility to reduce the pressures they have on biodiversity hotspots and on the relocation of production. They must establish technology transfers in poor countries to avoid using fossil fuels when renewable energies are already available. There is also accountability to be made on financial actors, for the green taxonomy (the European Union’s classification of economic activities that are sustainable and compatible with the ecological transition) to be more respected and probably increased in a few years. Public and private financial institutions must also align their investment portfolios with the green taxonomy.

Finally, there is a need to address the issue of economic indicators: focusing on GDP as the largely dominant metric perpetuates the blind spot of nature’s value, leading to the ecological crisis we find ourselves in. It is essential to complement the inadequacy of GDP and other economic growth indicators with an ecological footprint indicator, such as the Day of Overshoot, which measures the carbon footprint, forests, agriculture, fisheries, etc. of human activity in global hectares.

Discussion entre Stephanie Mehta, Peter Sands, Bill Gates, Francis de Souza, Helen E. Clark, Paul Kagame à Davos en mai 2022. @Paul Kagame (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A.B.: You have previously held several leadership positions in both humanitarian and environmental organisation. What key lessons and advice on governance and strategy can you draw from your experience?

V.A.: I would say that there is above all a direction to follow, and that we must not disperse ourselves. We must not lose the soul of the field and I personally think that one of the big risks of the different NGOs is bureaucratisation. When procedures multiply and become more sophisticated, this can become a brake on action on the ground, the localisation of aid and innovation.

I think it is important to preserve our DNA as a civil society, as activists, as social and environmental justice activists. We have the legitimacy of years of quality work in the most complex fields, tangible achievements and results, solid technical expertise, and action in the general interest. Our strength lies in our science-based and evidence-based knowledge over time. Focus on the quality of our programmes, to achieve impact and make a difference. We must rely on diversity, a plurality of views and backgrounds, agility, risk-taking and innovation to better navigate the more volatile, disruptive and uncertain contexts that now constitute our daily lives.

Finally, we need to facilitate the emergence of new types of leadership, based on values such as courage, care, self-awareness, humility, inclusion and power-sharing — in my view, more in tune with the aspirations of our sector and our time.

Alain Boinet: To end this interview, would you like to add anything?

Véronique Andrieux: We are becoming aware that the era of the “open bar” of natural resources is over. We will have to adapt very quickly to the era of scarcity, which is galloping in and becoming the new normal. Sobriety applies to energy, but also to water, forests, fisheries, and natural resources as a whole. This is the meaning of the Day of Exceeding which this year arrived on July 28th for the world and on May 5th for France. By increasing the ecological deficit every year for the past 50 years, we are putting ourselves in danger. It is urgent to integrate ecological footprint markers into the management of the country, the economy and agriculture.


Further resources:

Webite WWF France 


Biographie de Véronique Andrieux

Véronique Andrieux is a specialist in international development.
She holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from ESADE in Barcelona and postgraduate degrees in Development from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and in Public Policy from the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. She was Regional Director for South America and the Caribbean and West Africa at Oxfam. Previously she was Senior Adviser on Development Policy at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was also Senior Adviser at the Club de Madrid. She has had field responsibilities in Latin America, West and Central Africa and the Mediterranean. She has led several evaluation and planning processes and represented the Spanish government in various multilateral working groups on official development assistance. She then joined Action Against Hunger in 2016 as Executive Director. She has written various publications on international development, including: “Better Aid: A necessary condition for development”, “Contributions for a European Development Policy under the Spanish EU Presidency” and “Policy Coherence: an urgent agenda for Development”. Véronique has been Director General of WWF France since August 2019. The World Wide Fund for Nature, the world’s leading environmental protection organisation, has been working for 50 years to preserve natural environments and the most threatened animal and plant species, by striving to mobilise all stakeholders in society.


What future for large rivers?

Ship entering the Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. @Camille Moreinc/La Gallery

An interview with Marie-Cécile Grisard « Living with Rivers »

Alain Boinet: You are launching with IAGF the « Living with rivers » campaign, could you present this initiative.

Marie-Cécile Grisard: Launched on 20 June, Living with Rivers is the first public and international mobilisation entirely dedicated to rivers. This first edition will focus on three major rivers: the Rhône, the Saint Lawrence and the Senegal River. The aim is to listen to the voices of those who know or work with them on a daily basis : experts, artists, infrastructure managers or waterway users, sportsmen and women… and above all, local residents. By crossing approaches, and linking knowledge and emotion, we want people to “listen to the voices of rivers”, these living entities that have so much to tell us about our past, our present and our future. It is essential that our societies change their view of rivers and, at the very least, that they take a better look at the rivers that flow through their cities and territories, which are too often ignored or misunderstood!

Living with Rivers also aims to highlight concrete solutions for the preservation of rivers and making people understand that everyone has a role to play. All these testimonies will reveal the strategic role of river ecosystems in meeting global challenges: food resilience, health security, decarbonised energy, green mobility, maintaining biodiversity, etc.


Containers in Port Saint-Louis du Rhone, @Camille Moirenc/La Gallery

The IAGF, of which Erik Orsenna is President, is already five years old. What is your diagnosis of these major rivers today? What are the ills and risks that threaten them and are the problems the same for everyone or are there different situations and solutions?

Our observation is that rivers are in trouble, and this is true throughout the world. The risks are twofold. Climate change, which makes freshwater resources even more fragile; and the pressures exerted directly by man on these ecosystems, both in terms of quality and the volume of water available for all uses. How can we accept all of the benefits of a river – irrigation, transport, energy, but also other more intangible benefits such as landscapes or rituals – without destroying the source forever? How can we withdraw water without exhausting it? Water consumption increased sixfold between 1990 and 2010 and is expected to increase by a further 55% by 2050. All our work within the IAGF is to find the best balance between exploiting rivers and respecting them.

It is important to understand that the threats are not only to rivers, but to all living systems. Our health depends on the health of rivers. Water-related crises – whether due to a lack of water or too much water – will multiply with the impacts of climate change and lead to numerous associated crises: social, economic and geopolitical.

Even if there are specificities according to the rivers, this observation applies on a global scale. IAGF’s raison d’être is to build bridges between knowledge and solutions from one country to another in order to collectively manage rivers more sustainably.

What links and relationships do large rivers have with their ecosystems (springs, rivers, groundwater), their environment (waste, plastic, pollution, etc.) and with the oceans at a time when a United Nations conference is being held in Lisbon on this subject?

It is indeed crucial to have a systemic vision, from the source to the ocean, when dealing with the issue of water. For example, it is estimated that 80% of plastic pollution found in the sea comes from rivers. This is why, for example, IAGF launched, with the Tara Ocean Foundation and the manager of the Rhône River, CNR, the “Plastic-free river, protected ocean” charter for mayors . The solution to plastic is found on land, at the source of pollution!

Another example concerns cities, where it is necessary to better integrate the water cycle into development projects. Architects, urban planners and engineers must rely on solutions offered by nature in the city to invent a more resilient city, which uses the functions of infiltration, evapotranspiration, storage, retention and runoff of water and which returns water to the soil. We need to better accept and use water as a resource, not as a hazard or waste. Living with it rather than trying to control it: this should be the motto of urban policies on water and river management.

What is the role of rivers in the great water cycle and how important is it?

Rivers play a crucial role in the great water cycle. They contribute to its stability in a global way and we must be vigilant to the acceleration of this cycle on a global scale. We are seeing extreme weather phenomena increase in intensity and frequency and we are not at all prepared for this! Look at the dramatic consequences of the floods in Germany and Belgium last year. Or the hardening of positions on resource sharing between countries, as with the Grand Renaissance dam in Ethiopia, or between stakeholders, as on the subject of basins in France. It is urgent to act so that water remains an ally and a source of cooperation!

Montréal Port , @Camille Moirenc/La Gallery (2019)

What are the synergies of IAGF and your campaign with other water actors, such as the FWP in France and around the world?

Our messages only make sense if they are integrated into the discourse carried out in France and internationally by integrated networks of actors, for greater efficiency. Rivers are an important part of the hydrosphere, so we need to know how to carry out joint projects with other freshwater and saltwater stakeholders to find sustainable solutions. In the same way, we are always keen to bring all the stakeholders to the table for concerted solutions.

This approach of dialogue and openness is of course reflected in the Living with Rivers mobilisation: its organising committee is large and the partners numerous. Our idea is to federate energies, to enhance local initiatives and not to replace them. We are stronger together!

What form will this campaign take, what is its agenda and its culmination?

Living with Rivers began in a digital format, with original content posted on the social networks Instagram and Twitter, and the publication of testimonials and stories on our website. Our first objective is to create a community that has a common interest in rivers, whether emotional or professional, and to bring in others who are less familiar with the subject. To do this, there is nothing like being surprised and immersed in the cultures and stories of the people who live the river as closely as possible!

We will also relay the events of all our partners this summer on the international scene, around the Senegal River (Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, Senegal), the St. Lawrence (United States, Canada) and the Rhône (Switzerland, France). This effervescence of views and ideas will culminate in the closing event Living with Rivers at the Musée des Confluences in Lyon on 27 October. This interactive evening, which will be broadcast in France and abroad, will bring together all those involved in the defence of rivers and will make a universal plea for their protection. This evening will also be part of the programming of the museum’s new exhibition, “Nous, les fleuves”, of which IAGF is a partner.

Mauritanian children bathing between Dagana and Podor @Camille Moirenc/La Gallery (2018)

How would you like to conclude this interview?

Join this worldwide mobilisation around rivers! We are curious to know your relationship with the river and count on your commitment to their future, and therefore also ours! #livingwithrivers

PS/ Your donation (make a donation) allows us to publish and develop Humanitarian Challenges, a free and independent website. Thank you for your support.  

Who is Marie-Cécile Grisard? 

“Since 2018, Marie-Cécile Grisard has been leading the activities of ‘Initiatives pour l’Avenir des Grands Fleuves’ (IAGF), an association with an international dimension that carries the voice of rivers to safeguard and enhance them in the transition to a more sustainable world. Before specialising in the field of water, she worked in the renewable energy sector. With a dual education in political sciences and communication, she has always worked for the general interest.



Instagram : The Instagram account Living with Rivers