Whale tail fluke, New Zealand

The International Whaling Commission throws its weight behind UN push for a global plastics treaty

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Slovenia has agreed to engage with the United Nations in pursuit of a global treaty to tackle plastic pollution.

IWC Parties on Thursday agreed a Resolution on Marine Plastic Pollution, which formally establishes its impacts on whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans) as a priority concern for the organisation.

The Resolution commended the UN Environment Assembly decision taken in March to begin negotiations on an international legally binding instrument to tackle plastic pollution.

A rare Cuvier’s beaked whale, stranded dead at Kremasti, Rhodes in April 2022, was found to have ingested about 15kg of plastics (c) ARION

Now the Secretariat of the IWC has been directed to explore options for the IWC to engage in the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee process as well as to strengthen collaboration with other relevant international organisations.

EIA Ocean Campaign Senior Adviser Clare Perry said: “With this decision, the IWC can significantly and effectively contribute to global efforts to reduce plastic pollution impacts on cetaceans, which are dying in large numbers through ingestion and entanglement due to the plastic plague.”

The IWC’s Scientific Committee has been tasked with assessing the current knowledge of the impacts of marine plastic pollution on cetaceans, with a view to providing a global risk assessment which identifies ‘hotspots’ of cetacean exposure to plastic debris.

The IWC recognised the potential significance of marine debris impacts on cetaceans almost two decades ago and a number of activities are already underway in its Scientific and Conservation committees.

Perry added: “With this Resolution, the IWC cements the critical role it can play in understanding, managing and mitigating the impacts of plastic on the world’s cetaceans.

“Adoption of this Resolution will encourage the development and support of a comprehensive work programme under the IWC, with clear and appropriately supported roles for the IWC Secretariat and the various committees and working groups.”

The Resolution was proposed by the EU and ultimately co-sponsored by the UK, US, Panama, South Korea and India. It was adopted by consensus.