NOTE: This is a guest post from Bernard Unti. Unti has served on Humane Society International’s IWC delegation since 2007. He is senior policy adviser and special assistant to the president/CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.
A diverting irony hangs over this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission’s 63rd annual meeting in Jersey (Channel Islands) on July 11-15, where delegates from some 85 nations and several dozen non-governmental organizations are meeting to deliberate on the state of the world’s whales. Like Jersey’s financial services industry, being pressed by governments throughout the world to comply with disclosure rules to prevent tax evasion by individuals, corporations, and banks, the IWC is under increasing pressure to take additional steps to ensure transparency in its own governance and operations. It is a timely geographic coincidence, with implications for the future of global whale populations.
On the agenda is a governance and transparency proposal by the United Kingdom, calling for the reform of overall processes for decision-making, observer group participation, improved integration of the IWC Scientific Committee’s work into IWC deliberations, timely publication of reports, and a straightforward funding plan to support the participation of developing countries.
In the wake of 2010′s spate of articles detailing vote buying, through foreign aid, subsidized travel, and perks for delegates, reform at the IWC is urgent.
Reform is certainly needed from the perspective of conservation, for mounting threats to the world’s cetacean populations will require the best efforts of the international community. IWC 63 will see the renewal of a longstanding proposal for the creation of a South Atlantic whale sanctuary.
The sanctuary proposal, sponsored by Brazil and Argentina, has gained strong support in the past, but failed to achieve the necessary three-quarter majority for passage, most recently in 2007. The proposed sanctuary would extend from South America’s East Coast to Africa’s West Coast, joining sanctuaries approved by the IWC in the Indian and Southern Oceans. Depending on the number of nations participating in IWC 2011, 50 to 60 countries would have to vote in favor for the sanctuary proposal to pass. Read HSI staff dispatches from IWC 63.
Whale watching is becoming ever more popular in the South Atlantic, with flourishing opportunities for ecotourism, benefits to communities, and marine research. A sanctuary in the region would go far toward the recovery and long-term viability of whale species in the southern hemisphere, where twentieth century whaling was so devastating to their populations.
In 2010, a tremendous battle ensued over a compromise package, advanced by the United States and other nations, which would have suspended the global moratorium on commercial whaling and granted legal commercial whaling quotas to Japan in its own coastal waters, in exchange for its voluntary reduction of ‘scientific’ whaling in Antarctica. That proposal came undone amidst claims that it would lead to worse outcomes for whales. In the aftermath of its rejection, the world needs to steer a better course.
This year, the focus is where it needs to be: On improved processes and procedural outcomes within the IWC itself, and on the conservation agenda for cetacean species. Whatever else happens in Jersey this year, the IWC should take these two practical steps to improve its operations and extend its conservation agenda.
Photo by Anzeletti