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

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