Protecting the environment with intelligence

Blogging live from the IWC: July 11-15, 2011

EIA Campaigners will be blogging on a daily basis from the IWC.

Day 4 – Thursday 14th July – The Last Day

 

UK commissioner speaks to the transparency proposal. Credit EIA.

UK commissioner speaks to the transparency proposal.

After the great result on the UK governance proposal, we sped through some other business last night – agreeing important items such as the Audited Accounts, the budget and other financial and administrative business.

The report of the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub Committee report was agreed with very little controversy, other than an exchange of views between India and the Russian Federation, after India called for aboriginal subsistence quotas to be reduced in the future. Next year will not be so easy as the catch limits for these hunts will be due for renewal. A resolution was adopted by consensus agreeing to a work plan to prepare for next year’s discussions on these catch limits.

Next up was the eternally controversial request by Japan for an IWC endorsed quota for four of its coastal communities. Japan has made this request every year since the moratorium on commercial whaling was implemented 25 years ago. Whilst Japan had a placeholder on the agenda for a proposal relating to this matter, it stated that it decided in the interest of cooperation not to make this request.

NGOs at work at the IWC. Credit EIA.

NGOs at work at the IWC. Credit EIA.

Discussions on the Future of the IWC have dominated the IWC for the past 3 years, including several intersessional meetings. Last year discussions were abandoned and a year’s pause was promised for reflection. This year a Resolution was tabled by the US and New Zealand calling for further cooperative work. After some disagreement on proposed revisions to the resolution, it was withdrawn with a ‘sort of’ agreement to work cooperatively together in future. It is very clear to EIA what the future of the IWC is – focusing maximum effort and resources on effectively addressing the myriad of threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises including climate change, pollution, ship strikes, entanglement and marine debris.

The day concluded with a most enjoyable reception hosted by a coalition of NGOs. Delegates had time to relax, enjoy some delicious food, and friendly chat. A good end to a hard day.

Thursday dawned as the final day of this annual meeting. It started with discussion of a resolution on safety at sea, proposed by Japan (in response to Sea Shepherd’s campaign in the Southern Ocean). Having withdrawn the coastal whaling quota, this was Japan’s key issue, and despite the fact that the IWC is not the correct forum to discuss safety at sea issues, delegates agreed the Resolution in the continuing spirit of compromise and consensus. Unfortunately, that spirit didn’t last.

Japan walks out. Credit EIA

Japan walks out.

For ten years Latin American countries have been calling for the IWC to agree a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic to contribute to greater protection of depleted whale populations, investment in scientific research, and creation of local cetacean watching opportunities with the associated economic benefits. One NGO from each side of the debate was permitted to make a presentation on the subject – some small compensation for the proposal on NGO participation having been removed from yesterday’s agreement.

Whilst the majority of IWC contracting governments supported the proposed sanctuary Iceland, Saint Kitts and Cameroun said they would block a consensus. With regret, Brazil decided to call for a vote, however Japan then stated that they and all ‘sustainable use’ countries would leave the room so there would be no quorum (a quorum is the minimum number of members who must be present for decisions to be made – IWC rules state that “Attendance by a majority of the members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum”). Japan stated that their understanding was that with 89 members, 45 should form a quorum. He further stated “..this is not a hostile action, we only do this to avoid voting”. Although many countries urged Japan and others not to take such drastic steps, after the Chair of the Commission asked for a vote to take place, Japan, Iceland, Norway and all other pro-whaling countries left the room.

Pro-whaling countries stage walk out to block whale sanctuary. Credit EIA.

Pro-whaling countries stage walk out to block whale sanctuary.

That was at 12:00 and at 8.30pm, some eight & a half hours later, Commissioners finally dragged themselves back to the plenary room, having agreed a short text which explained what had happened (in very diplomatic words which made Japan, Iceland and their allies look much more reasonable than they actually were). The text essentially agreed to form an intersessional group to look further into the rules of procedure, and to leave the sanctuary agenda item open with its discussion to be the first substantive item at the beginning of IWC64. In effect, Japan, Iceland and others successfully blocked the democratic right of the Latin Americans to have their sanctuary proposal voted on.

The chair then asked for adoption of the Conservation Committee report, Conservation Management Plans, Whale watching, Environment and Health Issues, Small cetaceans and other items under the Scientific Committee report with no discussion (and no NGO interventions). A frankly depressing end to a meeting that had started so well.

The only highlight was the announcement by the Secretary that a group of NGOs had contributed more than £10,000 to the small cetacean fund and this was followed up by generous contributions by Italy and France.

It was then agreed that the tricky issue electing a Chair and Vice-Chair would be done by post, and a short presentation was given by Panama, who will host IWC64. The finale of the meeting was a standing ovation to Fiona and Bernard from the IWC Secretariat. They are both taking retirement after more than two decades each of loyal, hard working and cheerful service to the IWC. They will be greatly missed. The IWC Secretariat work tirelessly all year to ensure our meetings run smoothly and always have a smile for everyone. Our best wishes to Fiona and Bernard and thanks to all the staff for everything they do for the organisation.

Vicky - probably everyone's favourite delegate... Credit EIA

Vicky - probably everyone's favourite delegate... Credit EIA

It’s hard not to feel discouraged that so much of the time, money and effort that we put into whale and dolphin conservation can be so easily sabotaged by the underhand tactics of just a few countries. But while the conservation work might not have had the discussion at IWC63 that it deserved, the work will still go on and we will be ready next year to insist that whale conservation is discussed as a priority issue at the start of the meeting. And we were also pleased that our report had encouraged a number of countries to forcefully criticise Iceland’s whaling and whale trade at the IWC meeting – something that is long overdue.

***

Day 3 – Wednesday 13th July

Despite having just two days of the meeting left yet three days of work to do, discussions on the UK’s governance proposal lasted the whole day.

Each proposed change was picked apart, particularly by Iceland, St Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. One of the key points of contention was the proposal that payments of membership contributions must be by bank transfer only and not by cash. This simple, best practice payment rule would go a long way to counter the accusations of corruption which have dominated the IWC in recent years.

Frustration ruled and by lunchtime it was agreed that a small group of the most vocal speakers of the day, plus the UK, would meet to hammer out an agreement. Three hours later, the meeting resumed and a revised document was presented to the meeting.

Clare Perry at the IWC. Credit EIA

Clare Perry at the IWC. Credit EIA

Finally, agreement was reached and the revised proposal was adopted by consensus. Some compromises had been made and, notably, the attempt to improve IWC observer participation through the Rules was withdrawn early on in the meeting. But it was still a hugely important move forward for the IWC and something that even at the start of the day seemed unlikely to be resolved.

One of the key changes for us is that, at last, the Scientific Committee report will be made available on the IWC’s website within 14 days of the conclusion of the Scientific Committee meeting. Up until now, we have not been allowed to see the report until 10am on the first day of the Commission meeting. At this point, most of the Resolutions and other decision texts are already in play, we are run off our feet trying to talk to delegates and circulate our reports and it’s impossible to read and absorb a report which is usually around 100 pages long.

Despite the pain, the IWC has made a good decision with this package of changes to the Rules of Procedure. EIA pays tribute to the UK delegation and, in particular, to Jolyon Thompson who stewarded the proposal through with eloquence and determination.

At 6.50pm in the evening of day three we started to get on with the substantive issues to be discussed, quickly finishing the Finance and Admin report and starting to look at aboriginal subsistence whaling, which is ongoing as I write … it will be a long night.

 ***

Day 2 – Tuesday 12th July

On Tuesday, the IWC discussed ‘financial and administrative matters’, which was actually a lot more interesting than you might think, and certainly crucial to the way the IWC carries out its work.

The biggest proposal on the table at this year’s meeting is one from the UK to improve the governance and effectiveness of operations of the IWC. Part of the proposal aims to bring in measures which can help eliminate the corruption that has allegedly been rife within the organisation and was highlighted by a Sunday Times exposé last year – for example, countries would no longer be able to pay their contributions in cash but would have to pay via “bank transfer from an account belonging to the Contracting Government or to a state institution of that Government”.

IWC held in Jersey this year. Credit EIAIn addition, this proposal would ensure key documents such as the Scientific Committee report are available to observers, and that decisions are swiftly translated and available in the other two working languages of the Commission (French and Spanish).

The most controversial aspect of the UK proposal, however, was to do with the participation of observers (including NGOs such as EIA) in the IWC. For years, observers have had no speaking rights at the IWC, even though the Rules of Procedure actually allow us to speak. In recent years, there has been some attempt to improve this situation, with NGOs given a half-hour to present a limited number of views, usually at the end of the meeting when all the decisions have been taken. As you can imagine, with many conservation NGOs attending the IWC it has been a taxing and time-consuming task just to agree which NGOs can speak and on which issues. This initiative from the UK would bring the IWC up to some really basic standards which are already common practice in many multilateral environmental agreements.

UK Minister Richard Beynon was on hand to appeal to IWC member governments to adopt the proposals, which are not anti- or pro-whaling but a bare minimum required to show the world that the IWC continues to be a functional and effective body. In order to bring Denmark (part of the European Union, but basically representing the whaling interests of the Faroes & Greenland), the UK dropped the section on observer participation so the proposal could be presented by the EU group as a whole.

Photo of yesterday when the EU were trying to deal with St Kitts and Nevis / Russian Federation disruption of the discussion of their proposal. Credit Milko Schvartzman

Photo of yesterday when the EU were trying to deal with St Kitts and Nevis / Russian Federation disruption of the discussion of their proposal. Credit Milko Schvartzman

Despite these efforts to compromise, Saint Kitts & Nevis, the Russian Federation and other pro-whaling delegations successfully disrupted proceedings, which forced a private meeting of Commissioners to be held near the end of the day. The meeting then closed, with the promise of a revised proposal, from the UK, to be discussed first thing on Wednesday morning.

 ***

Day 1 – Monday 11th July

EIA is at the International Whaling Commission’s Annual Meeting taking place in Jersey this week. We were here all last week attending working group meetings (which discuss some of the substantive detail of many issues relating to whales) but now it is time for the decisions and politics.

Two really good things happened today – and I can honestly say I can’t recall that happening on the first day of an IWC meeting for many years. First, South African Commissioner Herman Oosthuizen agreed to chair the meeting. We were left without a Chair or Vice-Chair for the Commission at the end of last year’s meeting, and clearly this is a huge problem if the IWC is to continue developing its key role in the global management and conservation of whales and other cetaceans. Herman is greatly respected, has wide experience of the IWC and is open to fair and constructive participation by NGOs, unlike some delegates here who would rather conduct their business behind closed doors.

Minke Whale. © Joanne Weston | Dreamstime.com

Minke Whale. © Joanne Weston | Dreamstime.com

The second surprise was when we came to discussion of the Scientific Committee’s deliberations on the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) catch limits for North Atlantic fin whale. Now the Scientific Committee has not actually been asked to calculate catch limits because, as we all know, there is a ban on commercial whaling. However, since Iceland is pursuing unilateral rogue whaling of fin and minke whales, the Scientific Committee has been looking at which variants of the RMP would be appropriate to be able to provide advice on the sustainability of catches. Since 2010, the Scientific Committee has been clear in its advice that a catch of 46 fin whales is the currently acceptable catch limit – compare this to Iceland’s 2009 and 2010 catches of fin whales, which were 125 and 148 fin whales respectively. Despite this, last year no countries drew attention to the fact that Iceland’s catch was clearly unsustainable because all countries (other than Iceland) were attempting to avoid controversial issues in the hope that the IWC could agree a compromise whaling deal which would somehow satisfy both anti- and pro-whaling countries.

With the compromise whaling proposal dead in the water, it was refreshing to hear a number of countries speak eloquently in support of precautionary science in the conservation of whales. Monaco kicked off the debate by drawing attention to the fact that Iceland’s catches of fin whales are much higher than sustainable limits, and was supported by the UK, New Zealand, Mexico, US and Australia. The New Zealand Commissioner called Iceland’s whaling as risky, inappropriate and unlawful.

Renegade Whaling. Image Credit Jonas FreydalEIA came to the IWC with a new report on Iceland’s whaling and trade in whale products, determined to ensure that the IWC member countries recognise and respond to Iceland’s whaling, so this was a great start to the meeting and we’ll continue to lobby countries to pressure Iceland.

Other issues covered included a UK proposal to progress work on welfare and ethics. It was disappointing that Norway refused to participate but the work will go forward nonetheless and the UK will be working hard to try to persuade Norway and other whaling nations to contribute in the future.

The meeting started with a welcoming address from the Government of Jersey and it is a pleasure to stay on this beautiful island (even though we are basically sitting in a cave most of the time). Somehow Jersey’s eccentricities well suit the slightly eccentric IWC that continues to protect hundreds of thousands of great whales with the international ban on commercial whaling.

Twenty-five years after its implementation, the ongoing ban on whaling is still vital to the conservation of whales and we will continue to work hard every year to ensure it is maintained and to improve the effectiveness of the IWC.

Clare Perry

Clare Perry

Senior Campaigner

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for your report…and all you do on behalf of cetaceans! Chisa

  2. Clare says:

    Thanks Chisa – hope to see you at the IWC one of these days!

  3. Colin Guest says:

    Many thanks for your report, which for a change looks to be promising. It is good to see that England is now started to be constructive re the whaling issue. Keep up the good work.

    Colin

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