“I aim to make our planet a better place – I cannot think of a better job”

Dr Adil Najam discusses his new role as president of the Worldwide Fund for Nature

“I aim to make our planet a better place – I cannot think of a better job”

In an interview with The News on Sunday, Dr Adil Najam, the recently appointed president of the Worldwide Fund for Nature – a Sitara-i-Imtiaz recipient for his contribution and public service in the field of environment, development and public policy – discussed his new role and hopes for the planet. Excerpts:


he News on Sunday (TNS): What are your expectations from your new role?

Dr Adil Najam (AN): I hope to do justice to the responsibility placed on my shoulders. I’m proud to be following in the footsteps of Syed Babar Ali, a real icon and my mentor. I’m humbled. The president is the manifestation and the representative of the entire WWF network. We are a family; family means something to all of us. At the WWF, we call ourselves the panda family.

Everyone associated with the WWF, in any capacity, is there because they are passionate. There are six million members; a hundred countries where the WWF is working; and offices in more than 40 countries, including Pakistan.

To be the president of such an organisation is awe-inducing. I have to carry forward the passion of six million people.

As president, you are a symbol of the organisation’s commitment and everyone’s passion to bring about harmony between people and nature. What we all want is a better planet. I have stepped into the office with fear, hope and ambition – all for the planet; and humility for myself.

TNS: How do you see your past work impacting your current role?

AN: My current role is no different from my previous experience. I understand that it seems so, but it isn’t. I have done one thing all my life, just in different ways. It has been a blessing.

It has always been about understanding the world we’re bestowed with and realising what one can do to make it better.

As a lecturer, you make your contribution by raising awareness and a knowledge base among younger generations. As a policy advocate and researcher, you do so by helping and convincing policymakers to make better decisions. That’s what this job is.

I aim to make our planet a better place; I cannot think of a better job.

You’re doing the same job as a teacher; an advocate; a policy researcher; and president of the WWF. There is no difference. All of it has to do with understanding, knowledge and science; dissemination of information and ideas; teaching and advocacy. Ultimately, it is about your actions. You must make the best of the opportunities you get, and I have been blessed so far.

TNS: As someone belonging to Pakistan, a developing, South Asian country, how do you plan to take on the cause of conserving nature worldwide and raise the Global South’s voice on an international platform?

AN: Through my words and actions, I want to demonstrate that we’re all citizens of the same planet and part of the same species. Within that, there are divisions. Nature is what’s common; and our relationship with nature is what’s common; but how that relationship manifests is different in different parts of the world.

If you are a poor farmer from southern Punjab or Sindh and the flood has hit you, that human-nature relationship is different from the one, let’s say, of someone living in Boston. The critical point to note here and understand is that we all, in different parts of the world, have a relationship with nature. It depends on how we deal with nature and how nature deals with us.

We have one planet; and it is a planet for all people and all things existing in nature. My goal is to create an understanding of the planet as a whole and not as divided between sites; realising that the developing and the developed need to come together because we have a shared responsibility and a shared goal.

TNS: Climate change has highlighted many inequalities, and many would argue that the Global South is marginalised, especially in terms of the impact of climate change. Are we dealing with climate colonialism here? Should the Global North take greater responsibility for climate action?

AN: Climate justice is a significant issue. It is not necessarily a Global South vs Global North issue. In fact, it is more of a rich vs poor issue within countries. We need to learn how to cohabit on one planet. We can either focus on this they vs us problem or come together with an understanding that we have different needs and priorities and different ways of responding to nature.

In some ways, we are in a race between human wisdom and human knowledge. I have no doubt that we have the knowledge to solve these problems, the technology to protect biodiversity and not let it vanish, and to fight climate change. However, I don’t know if we have the wisdom to do it. 

Climate change is a common problem. We must fight it together, as it affects all. We do not have to fight one another to figure out the problem; we have to fight the problem. This means that the South has to do its part, and the North has to play its role. We have to take responsibility for our own emissions. Wherever we are, and we are seeing the impact of climate change, but I am personally not contributing to emissions, I still have a part to play in building resilience and a growth path. We must focus on vulnerable communities and their relationship with nature everywhere and bring harmony to this relationship.

The South has its challenges, but the aim is to come together. We have contributed differently, and we are being impacted differently. If I can mitigate the challenges, then it is my responsibility towards my fellow humans to do just that and make the planet more liveable.

TNS: After three long decades, the COP27 Loss and Damage Fund was approved. But we are facing a major challenge in the form of carbon emissions. What can the WWF do to help governments make policies to reduce carbon emissions?

AN: Yes, this has been the WWF’s focus since the 1990s. All of us have to focus on the emissions question. We don’t have a good record. The fact that it’s been 27 years and we have not been able to make a meaningful change is what we need to focus on. High emitters – companies, countries – need to reconsider that we need policies that help, push and nudge people to change their carbon emissions profile.

The good news is we have solutions and technologies to help us achieve just that.

When considering climate, especially for countries like Pakistan, we have to think beyond emissions. We have to think about impact. On the one hand, we must work to reduce emissions; on the other, we must be prepared to deal with their impacts.

Having lived through the floods, we have to realise that carbon emissions are a concern, but others need equal attention. So the question is, are we investing towards building the resilience of people who have contributed the least to climate change?

Building resilience means that the flood doesn’t affect the communities. Their homes do not crumble. Resilience also means that flooding doesn’t occur. Carbon emissions are a concern, but we must also consider other human problems.

TNS: Considering the challenges we are facing related to biodiversity, do you think Pakistan will be able to build enough resilience to protect not only humans but also wildlife from the impacts of climate change?

AN: I hope we do, but it will not be easy; not for us, not for anyone. We don’t have an alternative. We won’t be doing it only for wildlife or biodiversity. We’ll be doing it for ourselves. It is quite saddening, but this is where our relationship with nature comes into play.

We, as a species, have become so powerful and arrogant that we can annihilate nature. We can now drop an entire forest in a go. Unfortunately, we have not been wise in the use of our power. Our power has become a danger to our own existence.

This is why we cannot focus on managing carbon emissions alone. We have to think of the health of the entire planet. It is true that we are a super-species, but the realisation here is that if we don’t take care of other life, our own will be in danger; and they won’t be able to take care of us. All species depend on each other’s survival. These other ecosystems have allowed us to become this super-species.

It is our responsibility because we have to view nature as one, the idea of harmony.

Am I an optimist to hope that the realisation will come? Perhaps. But I also don’t have an option. It is an existential concern. In some ways, nature or the planet are not in trouble; we are.

The planet was here before us; and it will go on after us. The wonderful life we have, are we going to destroy it for ourselves and future generations?

This is why thinking in terms of nature, what is the role of biodiversity, of water, of air is the beauty of the WWF mission. We allow ourselves to think in terms of nature.

In some ways, we are in a race between human wisdom and human knowledge. I have no doubt that we have the knowledge to solve these problems; the technology to protect biodiversity and not let it vanish; and to fight climate change. However, I don’t know if we have the wisdom to do it.

The challenge before us is not a challenge of science and knowledge but of wisdom. I’m not certain if we, as a species, are at a place where we’ll make the wise decision; that is the challenge I have as a teacher, a researcher and a panda.

The interviewer is an anchor and correspondent at PTV World. She takes a keen interest in national security, international security affairs and human rights. She can be reached via Twitter: @TayyabaNKhan

“I aim to make our planet a better place – I cannot think of a better job”