IWC 67 Day One
A day of delay
Nothing substantive happened on Day One of IWC 67. A feel good resolution about IWC governance was passed by consensus, causing Chairman Morishita to express pleasure at the progress that had been made at the end of the day which ended 10’ ahead of schedule. Every debate and decision on big issues was postponed until later this week. Cynics in the room suggest this is a strategy aimed at giving more time for missing votes to show up. There are around 14 members who aren’t here yet and most are normally compliant supporters of Japan. Some members on the whales’ side are also absent, but a rough count of those present suggests that Japan doesn’t have the simple majority it needs to accomplish its goals at this meeting. Today Japan explained that it has 2 objectives, one to overturn the Moratorium and legitimise commercial whaling again, the other to revise the Convention the IWC operates under and redraw the rules. I’m confident that Japan will fail on the first but not at all sure about the second, which will depend on a vote on a resolution that requires only a simple majority. So numbers are important, and this morning Japan gained 2 new votes, Liberia and Sao Tome. Both are West African countries that clearly expressed support for sustainable use of marine resources (read whales) in their opening statements. Sao Tome is particularly interesting. A neighbour of Gabon, it occupies a land area of just 1,000 square kilometres and has just 200,000 human inhabitants. Its budget is almost entirely supported by foreign aid. One might think it ripe for plucking by Japan but it has significant oil reserves in its offshore waters and looks forward to a prosperous future. The new members were warmly welcomed.
By the end of today we mostly heard what we already knew, most notably that the USA is leading the effort to have new aboriginal subsistence quotas approved with add-ons such as rolling over quotas and automatically renewing them if the Scientific Committee doesn’t object. I’m fairly sure there will be pushback to some elements of the proposal but there is a lot of sympathy in the room for the needs of people facing the prospect of their world falling apart around them through no fault of their own. I’m told that permafrost is melting so quickly in the Arctic that deep underground spaces used to store frozen whale meat and blubber are no longer viable. Communities are facing the prospect of having to buy trailer sized freezers and keeping them running 24/7. It’s hugely expensive and adds economic pressures to people who are simply trying to survive and preserve their traditional way of life. It’s a terribly sad prospect for the peoples of the Arctic who had nothing to do with the causes of the problem. That climate change is real and coming at us like an express train is not news to these people. They live it in their daily lives. That said, the proposal to bundle ASW (aboriginal subsistent whaling) quotas that will allow St. Kitts and Nevis to kill humpbacks in the atrocious manner they claim as tradition is a non-starter to many in the room, including me. We’ll know the outcome a couple of days hence.
Here’s an interesting twist to this day. There are no demonstrators here apart from a small contingent of Sea Shepherd folk who are occupying a space off the road outside the grounds of the hotel. They’re not allowed on the premises but are a cheerful lot and have been joined by Australia’s Howie Cook who always finds a way to get to these meetings, making a point I suppose that he’s not going away – same as us. Tonight was the official reception of the sponsoring government, Brazil. It was a wonderful warm affair complete with delicious food and local beer and rum along with violinists who charmed the audience. The speeches at the beginning by the Environment Minister and the Tourism Minister were warmly welcomed. At the end of his speech, the Minister of Tourism mentioned that on national television today Sea Shepherd had been quoted as saying that whale tourism was going to greatly benefit the economy of Brazil. I’m not sure I heard heads hitting the tables but I may as well have.
Tomorrow is another day.
by Paul Spong,
September 10, 2018