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June 24, 2010

IWC 2010: Day 4 Dispatch

Deal not taken, aboriginals taken hostage, NGOs take the stage

Humane Society International

  • The public wants to save whales. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

by Rebecca Regnery and Bernard Unti

With the most important discussions having been held behind closed doors this week, the story behind the demise of the IWC compromise package will require some time to reconstruct. Rumors began swirling before Chairman Anthony Liverpool announced the failure to achieve consensus on its adoption, and they continue to surface. But today also generated its own controversies, as the IWC took up the issue of aboriginal subsistence whaling quotas for the indigenous people of Greenland and Alaska. The afternoon concluded with a series of speeches by non-governmental organizations that angered a defensive Norwegian delegation when it found itself in the cross-hairs at IWC for the first time this year.

Conflicting interests

Why did the negotiations on the future of the IWC fail?

The answer lies in the self-interest of many parties.

Iceland doesn’t want any impediments to its export of whale products. Australia wants to see an end to whaling in the Antarctic sanctuary and is opposed to lifting the moratorium on commercial whaling. Latin American countries that benefit from whale watching and other ecotourism activities want to create more sanctuaries where whaling is not permitted for any reason. Japan is not inclined to stop whaling in the Antarctic. South Korea wants fair access to whaling quotas for countries that have abided by the commercial whaling ban. The United States wants the IWC to set whaling quotas instead of having the whaling countries set them unilaterally, and to secure a subsistence whaling quota for the indigenous Alaskans. These strong and varied positions all worked hand in hand to make the achievement of consensus impossible.

Aboriginal subsistence whaling

With the negotiations over commercial whaling at an impasse, Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) and the United States advanced proposals on subsistence whaling. Greenland wants an increase in its quotas. The United States wants to secure its Alaska quota to prevent other countries from continuing to use the state’sindigenous peoples and their whaling as a bargaining chip.

The pro-whaling countries are supportive of Greenland’s proposal, but it has failed in the past to get the votes needed for adoption, in part due to questions about whether or not it meets the Commission’s requirements for a "subsistence need." A new investigation by WDCS shows meat from past hunts being sold commercially in supermarkets throughout the island.

Meanwhile, the United States is, as always, determined to lock in a quota for the indigenous whalers in Alaska. Japan and its allies continue to use this quota to get the upper hand in negotiations. In the past, they have used this tactic to back the U.S. into a corner in order to get support for a new category of coastal commercial whaling, which they have proposed repeatedly.

Some countries, including Japan and Iceland, argued that the U.S. should not be allowed to advance its aboriginal proposal this year. In the end, after contentious exchanges on the floor, the Chair allowed the U.S. to present the proposal but has not yet approved discussion of it.

NGOs speak; controversy ensues

In a repeat of the precedent set at last year’s meeting, the Chair allowed some time at the end of the day for NGO presentations. A total of eight non-governmental organizations representing various sides of the issue were granted approximately 30 minutes total to address the member countries. The conservation NGOs spoke out forcefully on issues that the government officials had been loathe to address at IWC 62, including recent vote buying accusations, public opposition to whaling in countries that currently hunt whales such as Norway and Japan, and the continuing exclusion of non-governmental organizations from full participation in the proceedings.

IWC 62 wraps up on Friday, and just about anything could happen, with the compromise proposal still alive as a technical matter, the Alaska and Greenland packages awaiting action, and the IWC trapped in well-established patterns of conflict, disagreement, and dysfunction. The more things change, it seems, the more they remain the same.

Rebecca Regnery is deputy director of wildlife for HSI. Bernard Unti, Ph.D, is senior policy adviser and special assistant to the CEO/President of The Humane Society of the United States, and a Humane Society International delegate to the IWC.

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