Friday, July 22, 2011

IWC meeting implodes, world yawns

If you couldn't tell from the excellent posts from our guest blogger Sidney Holt, the situation at the International Whaling Commission is a mess. A really big mess. But it got taken to a whole new level this year when Japan staged a walkout to prevent a vote on the proposal to create a sanctuary in the South Atlantic, which was strongly proposed by a strong bloc of Latin American countries. Without the countries that walked out, however, the meeting didn't have a quorum and couldn't hold a vote. Aren't parliamentary shenanigans fun? Ultimately this kind of behavior isn't really that surprising to those who follow this issue. It's still disheartening that countries can't even decide to protect species in their own backyard without being thwarted.

I suppose on the bright side the UK succeeded in getting its proposal to require members to pay their membership fees directly from a bank account. There have been repeated allegations that some countries pay these fees for others in exchange for votes, and the UK aimed to create a paper trail to make this more difficult. Hopefully it will cut down on corruption.

What is particularly galling is the idea that by expecting the meeting to actually function and do something, some government representatives feel that the Latin American bloc was harming "progress." As the BBC article states, despite massive efforts to reach compromise between 2008-2010, it all came to nothing at the 2010 meeting. So what are countries who want the IWC to actually start helping whales supposed to do? Wait until the pro-whaling nations finally decide enough progress has been made to hold votes on issues? Whatever the whalers and their supporters want, it's clear that they have no interest in true compromise - otherwise they would not so blatantly expect to be fully catered to without offering any concessions in return. Sometimes in international fora like the IWC, countries have complicated, long-term strategies for accomplishing their goals. From the outside it can look like inaction even though progress is being made. Based on the opinion of Dr. Holt, who represents our organization at IWC meetings, that doesn't appear to be the case. Without some big changes, it seems most likely that the IWC will be dysfunctional for a long time.

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