Anyone familiar with the complex make-up and procedures of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will understand how frustrating and difficult it can be to achieve results at the forum.
The Commission, made up of 89 member countries, brings together the two very opposing sides of the pro and anti-whaling debate, along with many NGO observers, so it is understandable that wrangling and deadlock often stand in the way of decision-making.
This year’s 63rd annual meeting of the IWC in Jersey last week had its fair share of wrangling, particularly on the final day (Thursday) when a proposal tabled by Brazil and Argentina for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary prompted a mid-morning walkout by Japan, Iceland, Norway and other pro-whaling countries.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other organisations working to protect whales from commercial whaling were therefore very encouraged by a good result for whales the previous day.
A UK proposal aimed at cleaning up the IWC was adopted by consensus. IFAW had backed this paper as a vital measure to secure the IWC’s future credibility and effectiveness and believes the final resolution is a step in the right direction for the forum, despite some of its initial proposals being dropped to achieve vital backing from all member countries.
In recent years the IWC has been stung by widely reported accusations of corruption. In light of this, the UK submitted proposals aimed at reducing secrecy in the IWC, outlawing last minute cash payment of dues and ensuring improved governance and proper and timely reporting of Commission decisions within 14 days of meetings having taken place.
While the rule changes are modest and could have gone further, IFAW welcomes them as initial steps in the right direction for the IWC, particularly with regard to the banning of cash payments. Despite opposition to this measure, the UK delegation determinedly pushed the proposal until it gained consensus and IFAW believes this helped achieve progress for the IWC and will hopefully achieve progress for whales in the future by restoring the IWC’s credibility and preventing corruption.
There was a certain irony, then, that just a day after the IWC voted for transparency, the forum spent much of the next day meeting in secret as commissioners fought to find a way forward following the earlier walkout.
It was only after many hours of private negotiation that delegations eventually returned to the meeting room late in the evening to hear a report of the day’s proceedings which had brought earlier progress at the meeting to an abrupt halt. The decision was made to leave the sanctuary proposal open on the agenda for next year. The meeting then closed for another year, and with so much time lost for negotiation on the sanctuary proposal, delegates had run out of time to deal with the rest of the agenda, meaning there was no discussion or debate on many other conservation proposals.
In addition to whaling, whales face a daily struggle against many other threats including man-made ocean noise, entanglements in fishing gear and marine debris, ship strikes, pollution and climate change.
With many threats such as these facing whales, it is a tragedy that whaling continues. IFAW opposes whaling because it is cruel and unnecessary. There is no humane way to kill a whale and with little appetite for whale meat these days, meat from slaughtered whales frequently lies unused in frozen storage. IFAW promotes responsible whale watching as a humane and sustainable alternative to the cruelty of whaling.
IFAW hopes that adoption of the UK proposal on transparency and effectiveness at this year’s IWC meeting will help steer the IWC in a direction where it can become a proper conservation body and ultimately provide greater protection for our planet’s whales.