The blocking minority

IWC 2014_banner_P1000980

IWC 2014 Day Four

Several pertinent comments were made during the rush to complete the agenda of IWC 65 before delegates headed for the exit. My favourite is one Antigua and Barbuda’s Commissioner Daven Joseph made after Japan once again failed to obtain a “small type coastal whaling” quota. Bluntly stating there was no way a South Atlantic Sanctuary for whales would ever happen unless concessions were made, he said “We have a blocking minority”. It was a revealing moment, putting into explicit words what we’ve known for a long time, that Japan’s allies at the IWC, who for the most part are small developing nations, systematically vote as a bloc and deliberately foil the work of many nations that have only the best interests of whales and our planet’s oceans at heart. It explained perfectly why the IWC’s work has been hampered in so many ways for so many years. I also liked Australia’s comment during the wrap up session in which the wording of the summary document was approved: “I wonder why there’s no mention of the outcome of the vote on the Monaco resolution?”. It turned out not to be quite true, but the fact was that this significant step forward for the IWC was buried in fine print and difficult to discern. It will be interesting to find out whether the Chair’s promise to note Australia’s comment and request will influence the layout of the final document. Australia wanted the highlights to be clear, with bullet points, and considered Monaco’s resolution to be one of them. The Chair, despite her (for the most part) even-handed performance during the meeting is solidly on the whalers’ side. Having cut verbose Commissioner Joseph off a couple of times during the meeting, she contributed a pretty good line herself in the closing moments when she joked: “My colleague from Antigua and Barbuda may not want to talk to me after the meeting”.

Levity at the end of a predominantly dark week aside, the last day of this 65th meeting of the IWC did have outcomes that brought some grains of hope to whales. Despite the failure once again of the Buenos Aires Group (Latin American nations) to achieve their dream of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, they edged ever closer to their goal, this time with 69% support. That’s close enough to ¾ to warrant another couple of years’ work in the Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee aimed at reinforcing the real benefits to science, education and economy that will flow to coastal communities in South America and Africa from a Sanctuary designation. The case was eloquently stated, almost as an aside, by a video presentation from Ecuador following the afternoon coffee ’n cake break. We were treated to scenes from a small Pacific coastal community that has been transformed from poverty into economic sustainability by the presence of humpback whales. The humpbacks return to local waters annually and have inspired a thriving whale watching industry. The people love whales, they can’t stand the thought of killing them, and the more than 100,000 visitors who come each year have real money to spend. It’s a win-win-win situation that could be duplicated again and again, including in the poor and developing nations that currently support Japan’s intransigence. The world has moved on since the days before the Moratorium, as New Zealand and Australia are fond of pointing out. People love whales; so get with the programme.

In some ways, what is happening at the IWC parallels what is happening in the outside world regarding the Climate Crisis. There are those who understand perfectly what is happening to our planet’s climate and how to deal with it; and there are the Deniers.   Japan’s bloc is in much the same position as Canada and Australia’s prime ministers. With their head in the sand attitude, the blocking minority are letting the world pass them by. Unfortunately, in the meantime they are wasting real opportunities and causing real harm.

Certainly a highlight of the last day, and quite possibly the highlight of the meeting, was the passage of New Zealand’s resolution on special permit (“scientific”) whaling. The text had been debated and negotiated for days, apparently with some willingness to compromise on both sides, but in the end remained pretty much where it began. When the vote came, it garnered 64% support, far more than was needed to pass, and the NO votes included several countries who thought the resolution didn’t go far enough. It will now be the job of the Scientific Committee to put in place a system for authorising permits for lethal (“scientific”) whaling that meets the bar set by the International Court of Justice. Japan has one last kick at this can before new rules are set, in that it will host a meeting early in the new year, i.e. before the next meeting of the Scientific Committee, to draft it’s new Antarctic “research” plan. If Japan fails to come up with a plan that satisfies the ICJ decision, it will lose the Antarctic big time. It’s really quite a gamble, but given that we are meeting next door to a casino, perhaps not all that surprising.

Two more encouraging notes, both thanks to Chile. “Civil Society” will play a bigger role in future meetings, bringing the IWC in line with other international organizations like CITES, where NGOs participate more, contribute significantly, and are respected. The Scientific Committee will also get a nudge in the direction of allocating more of its resources to conservation.

By the end of this last day of IWC 65, pretty much everyone had fallen under the benign spell of Slovenia’s lovely Adriatic coast, and there were smiles all round. Japan, which had lost on just about every front it fought on, walked off with the prize of Vice Chair, which will bring it to the head of the table four years from now. Only Iceland seemed intent on clinging to the gloom.


by Paul Spong

Portoroz, Slovenia,

September 18, 2014

Listen now

Stream our live hydrophone audio