Darkness and light

It may turn out that the decision of Chairman Livingstone to take the meeting behind closed doors for 2 days of “negotiations” was a strategic error.  The (mostly) men who emerge at coffee breaks from the room they are closeted in are invariably clad in dark clothes, far too dark for this friendly climate, and do not look happy.  At lunchtime, a burst of light emerged in the form of Australia’s Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who informed a press conference convened by WSPA and other NGOs “The Chair’s proposal is no longer alive”.   Australia’s opposition to any deal that does not include a rapid phase down to zero of “scientific” or any other kind of whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is well known, but it was easy to conclude from Minister Garrett’s words that Australia is not alone. Whether other nations share Australia’s vision of a future for the IWC that focuses more on whales than whaling may be known by the end of this week, but meanwhile the anxious NGO mob milling around on the outside has cause for hope.  If the “deal” is dead, it seems unlikely to be resurrected in any similar form soon, though face saving discussions may continue.  The way “forward” will then consist of 2 possibilities: either the IWC will split up and vanish, or it will evolve.  My bet is on the latter, i.e. that the truly important work the Commission is doing in (non-lethal) science, and in addressing urgent conservation issues such as ship strikes, ocean noise and climate change, will continue and become more and more the focus of the Commission’s work.  There is hope indeed, for whales and the world’s oceans, in Australia’s vision, and I have no doubt that its vision is widely shared.

Interestingly, the absence of news to report on from the Plenary, made the periphery of the meeting attractive enough to the substantial media contingent still present, to focus intense attention on what might otherwise have been smaller stories.  In mid afternoon, when the Plenary would normally have been in session, commanding most of the media attention, Avaaz.org presented it’s now 1,000,000 plus petition against renewed commercial whaling to Minister Peter Garrett, who accepted it on behalf of the uncounted citizens of the world who care about whales.  The petition took just 5 weeks to reach the million mark, and is still growing rapidly, a fact that left a clear impression on the media swarm that surrounded the event.   Garrett himself also left a clear impression, speaking with clarity and energy about the issues facing whales and the IWC.  Ultimately, he had to cut the questioning short and headed off to his next meeting with a covey of cameras following him.

A short time later, another well-attended press conference occurred, in which Greenpeace Japan’s Junichi Sato spoke about the corruption involved in Japan’s high seas whaling, and the trial in which he is accused of theft of whale meat (after handing whale meat stolen by whalers to police).  Despite the likelihood that he will be sentenced to 18 months in prison, Junichi was calm and steadfast, even presenting an optimistic view of Japan’s future.  He was joined by another Greenpeacer who defended the organisation’s decision to join Pew and WWF in their attempt to steer the IWC in a direction which would see limited commercial whaling resume in return for greater control under the IWC.  Many here, including most if not all of the pro-whale NGOs are puzzled, even angered by Greenpeace’s stance, given the organisation’s long history of opposition to commercial whaling.

Buzzing about in the background, among both media and NGOs are the stories of bribery by Japan – votes in exchange for aid, cash, and girls – that have received widespread attention in world media, and cannot help but be impacting the mood of the discussions taking place behind those closed and guarded doors.  A brief press statement from the Secretariat this morning described the discussions as useful, respectful and cordial – hard to believe, but in the unreality zone we are in at this meeting, perhaps it’s true.

Fortunately, Chairman Livingstone, in handing out his instructions before the Plenary broke up on Monday, asked each of the “negotiating” groups to appoint a rapporteur.   Tomorrow, we may know more about what really happened in that dark and dismal room.

Posted by Paul Spong

Links to other stories:

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jun2010/2010-06-21-01.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/science_and_environment/10362015.stm

http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0622/How-Japan-can-save-face-and-whales

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jugR9VnzDIA

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jyGXoKzZgWDD3YCQM-DDrM2njZOwD9GGG7GO2

The stalling ground

Day one of this year’s IWC meeting lasted a scant 2 hours, including the opening entertainment and a long coffee break – at least, the part of it that was open to media and NGOs.  The rest of the day was spent behind closed doors, in private discussions intended to bring the parties to a point where they agreed enough about fundamental issues to risk coming back into open session again.  Not only are today’s meetings private, tomorrow’s will be too.  The next time the plenary meets will be on Wednesday morning.  By then, if the chairman gets his way, the die will have been cast.

There is an unreal air about the proceedings here in Agadir.  Everything of substance is happening behind closed doors, with very little by way of news coming out.  Most of those on the outside have nothing to do except chat, interview each other and take long lunches.  One might think there was nothing going on, and some attendees are more than a little miffed at coming all this way to occupy an expensive seat they barely had time to occupy before being told to leave.  Some of the NGOs felt so short changed at being hustled out of the room they felt like staging a sit in, which after the fact seemed like a good idea, as it would have been the media hit of the day.

As things turned out, about the only things for the media to grasp onto were a joint statement by Pew, WWF and Greenpeace, expressing support for a deal that ended whaling in the Antarctic, among other bottom line demands (Greenpeace was the news) and a tiny demo that happened briefly this morning, before the opening.  A small group of protesters held signs at the entrance to the venue, declaring Japan’s “research” whaling fake, pleading for the lives of babies in Australia’s whale nursery, now threatened by oil & gas development, and demanding an end to the slaughter of whales and dolphins.   A Sea Shepherd banner served as a reminder of an absent protester.   Japanese delegates hurried past while their Canadian compatriot paused briefly to offer abuse.  There were no arrests, and the demo soon ended peacefully.   Dozens of police and military guarded the site, and paddy wagons patrolled back and forth.  The demo soon over, it was on to business as usual, except that this morning really wasn’t usual.

The Chairman, Antigua & Barbuda’s Commissioner Anthony Livingstone, provided the audience with a lengthy explanation of the process that has been underway, intermittently for the past 2 years, and intensively for the past 2 weeks.  He called on everyone to work hard and come up with a deal. Then he closed the session and the room was cleared.  It’s unclear why Chairman Livingstone thinks that 2 more days of discussions behind closed doors, with even more parties involved than hitherto, might produce the outcome he seeks, but he’s going for it.  Given the flak he’s having to take over Japan paying his hotel bill, possibly he feels more comfortable in a private room.

Tomorrow, the rumour mill will be at work.  We may even hear something like news.

Posted by Paul Spong

Some links to current stories:

http://new​s.bbc.co.u​k/2/hi/sci​ence_and_e​nvironment​/10369771.​stm

http://www​.nzherald.​co.nz/nz/n​ews/articl​e.cfm?c_id​=1&obj​ectid=1065​3607

http://new​s.bbc.co.u​k/2/hi/sci​ence_and_e​nvironment​/10369771.​stm

http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Asia/Story/STIStory_543562.html

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/whaling-talks-move-into-hiding-20100621-ysin.html

Once more unto the breach

There’s a déjà vu quality to the scene that surrounds the days before the opening of this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).   It happens to be in Agadir, Morocco, and like other venues of late, a casino is next door, so a rolling of the dice analogy comes easily to mind.  Both “sides” are intensely involved in pre-meeting discussions and negotiations, from which media witnesses have been entirely excluded.   NGOs have been invited to some of the sessions, and at times a few have even been allowed to voice brief opinions, but little in the way of clarity about what is really happening has emerged.  The “deal” which would see the renewal of legally sanctioned commercial whaling and effectively end the moratorium, that took effect in 1986, is apparently still very much in play. Leading the effort to achieve the whaling equivalent of “peace in our time” are New Zealand and the USA.  Both are surprising participants, given that Candidate for President Obama made an unqualified promise to strengthen the moratorium on commercial whaling, and that New Zealand has long been in the forefront of efforts to bring an end to the dark days of the whaling era.

As a New Zealander who has spend much of his life abroad, I have never been more proud of my home country than in meetings of the IWC, when New Zealand’s impassioned defence of whales, and opposition to their wanton slaughter, was a lynchpin of the hope that people around the world held for their future – that whales will soon see a day in which they no longer face the threat of bloody death at the hands of men who see them only as objects to destroy, render and sell.  I recall the entire New Zealand delegation standing to deliver a vigorous Haka as part of their plea, and the words used by the New Zealand Commissioner in commenting on the IWC’s search for direction: “What the IWC needs is a moral compass”.  It never occurred to me that New Zealand would desert this high ground on the field that is no less than a battle for life on our planet.  But it has.

In becoming active partners in a process that will shred the environmental movement’s crowning accomplishment, New Zealand and the USA have redrawn the line between defenders and exploiters of whales.  Sadly, both nations now stand on the side of the whalers, apparently even agreeing to the slaughter of whales for profit within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.  Yes, as the proponents of the deal claim, the draft agreement does reduce the number of whales that will be slaughtered over the next 10 years, but the key element and the one that Japan wants so badly, is that the killing will be legal.  Japan’s whalers will no longer have to hide their ugly business behind “research” placards and propaganda; they will no longer be pirates on the high seas.

In the background, research into the development of new products made from whales, including medicines, cosmetics, and feed for farmed fish goes on quietly, with dozens of new patents granted or being applied for.  See the truly grim picture of this future for whales at: http://www.wdcs.org.uk/story_details.php?select=249

How can it be, one might ask, that Japan’s utterly irresponsible behaviour merits such a reward?  Giving it the prize it has sought for so long is akin to a school bully being awarded a badge of merit, out of fear, a senseless act fraught with unknown consequences.  What might that bully become?

As a New Zealander, I hang my head in shame, as must many of my country folk, and I am quite sure that many Americans feel ashamed of their leadership too.  Collectively experiencing a sense of betrayal, we now rely on the hope that Australia and other staunch defenders of whales will rally enough support for the cause of justice in our world’s oceans, to turn back the tide.  In Agadir, Morocco, on the shores of a sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean, once again, the battle is about to be joined.

“Save the whales, save the earth” is an old slogan, but it has never had more meaning than today.

We stand on the brink of a precipice.  Do we fall, or step back?

By Paul Spong

June 20 2010

Some links to additional information, news stories, videos, and suggestions for action:

http://www.youtube.com/user/SecondNatureStudios#p/u/2/OHn02AB5p2k (Australia/New Zealand PSA)

http://www.savethewhalesnow.com/index.php (USA PSA)

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10652814

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/06/15/ahead-of-critical-meeting-on-whaling-japan-accused-of-buying-votes/ (Japan’s vote buying exposed)

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2010/06/20106147137200555.html

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jyGXoKzZgWDD3YCQM-DDrM2njZOwD9GF522G0

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/asia_pacific/10358046.stm (Japanese whistleblower story)

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/17/2930032.htm (bribery denial story)

http://www.ifaw.org/ifaw_eastern_africa/join_campaigns/protecting_whales_around_the_world/at_risk_the_worlds_forum_for_whales/international_whaling_commission_(iwc)/shortcut_of_japan’s_whale_vote_buying_undermining_the_iwc.php

​http://avaaz.org/en/whales_last_push/?cl=617931639&v=6635 (Avaaz petition has more than 900,000 names)

http://www.animalcampaigns.com/index.php/29/Marine-Conservation/wdcs-stop-whaling-petition.html (WDCS petition)

http://www.wdcs.org/stop/killing_trade/index.php (WDCS campaign)