IWC 60 day two: a closed shop – June 24th 2008

The morning session of today’s IWC meeting in Santiago lasted all of 33 minutes. It was a perfect indicator of how things are going here. During that brief time, the Chair finished dealing with the most important item on this meeting’ s agenda – the future of the IWC. A document, circulated by hand to delegations only (not observers) as the session opened, spelled out the process for moving “forward” on a consensual basis. The ingredients include: setting up a small working group, holding preliminary discussions between members via email and conference call, holding a preliminary meeting prior to an intercessional meeting of the Commission, and excluding observers. At least half of the half hour it took to deal with this agenda item was devoted to appreciative and congratulatory remarks directed to Chairman Hogarth, the architect of the scheme. On the basis of his success in suppressing rancour, he is apparently being viewed by many participants as the saviour of the IWC. To others on the sidelines, he is regarded more as someone adept at keeping everything in the closet.

During the afternoon, to be fair (after a 21/2 hour lunch break) several hours were devoted to business in the open, i.e. not behind closed doors. The contrast between business in the open and business in the blind was at once dramatic and interesting – the room woke up and we heard real stories. The afternoon session dealt partly with whale watching and clearly revealed the extent to which it has grown as both an economic and cultural force around the world. Country after country extolled the virtues of whale watching. Local economies are being rescued and boosted. There can be no question that the future of human exploitation of whales lies in keeping them alive, but Iceland could not refrain from arguing that whale watching and whale killing can exist side by side, no problem. Japan’s enigmatic comment “sometimes the world changes when you change your perspective just a little bit” may have been intended as supporting double dipping, but came off as hinting that anything may be possible in a brave new world where everyone gets along. We can only hope.

Perhaps we’ll see tomorrow where things are headed, but at the end of day two, after a half hour plea by Greenland for approval of its wish to start killing humpbacks, we were left with the very real possibility that the tidy consensus of this meeting may soon fall apart. Denmark (& Greenland) insist that 10 humpbacks need to be killed annually to help satisfy Greenland’s aboriginal subsistence needs. But apparently, after the host nation reception last night, the EU delegations met and decided to oppose Greenland’s request. The EU reversal of its previous position was no doubt the result of a flood of protest calls and messages that occurred during the past 24 hours. Possibly sensing a coming breakdown in his harmony plan, Chairman Hogarth stalled settling the humpback matter today. Tomorrow, we will see. If Denmark insists on taking Greenland’s humpback request to a vote, Brazil and others will almost certainly insist on tabling the proposed South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary proposal again, and that will mean another vote. After that, all bets will be off.

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