As the International Whaling Commission (IWC)'s annual meeting begins in Morocco, there has been a flurry of media coverage over a possible 'deal' or 'compromise'. Often the details, and sometimes the central points, can get lost as things are translated, edited, reworked and re-edited for the media, so I wanted to take the opportunity here to spell out just what Greenpeace's position is.
This meeting is causing a stir because there is the possibility of some sort of deal to address the future of the IWC. Reform has been a long time coming, and everyone agrees that the IWC needs an overhaul. The current deadlock means that the Commission is effectively stymied from taking on the serious conservation work that is so desperately needed. And, of course, we have the deplorable situation of a global ban on commercial whaling being flouted by Japan, Norway and Iceland.
It's fair to say different parties will be hoping for different things from a future IWC.
Greenpeace has been a staunch opponent of commercial whaling for three decades, our activists risking their own safety at sea to protect individual whales. Even today we have activists in Japan who are facing the prospect of 18 month jail terms for daring to expose corruption within the whaling industry.
Ironically, as the Sunday Times recently uncovered, the corruption surrounding the whaling industry stretches around the globe. And it certainly isn't Greenpeace activists who should be forced to answer for their behaviour in court.
But Greenpeace is, and remains, opposed to commercial whaling. It has always led to the overexploitation of whale populations, and has driven many species to the very brink of extinction. The moratorium on killing whales for profit has been a huge conservation success, one which Greenpeace fought long and hard for, and one that we must, at all costs, defend. Yet despite this ban, commercial whaling still happens through the back door - via objections, loopholes, and reservations. That is not acceptable.
Any progressive deal that comes forward from the IWC for pro-conservation countries like the UK must respect the current ban, bring all whaling under IWC control, and stop the most reprehensible elements immediately.
Greenpeace, along with WWF and Pew, have identified six key elements:
- End whaling in the Southern Ocean – 80% of the world's great whales live or feed in the Southern Ocean, and this ocean has seen the most devastation of whales historically by factory whaling. The Southern Ocean is supposed to be an internationally-recognised whale sanctuary, yet Japan still operates 'scientific' whaling here.
- End commercial trade in whale meat and whale products – ending international trade is a vital component in curtailing current whaling, and limiting growth in the future. It's already essential for Iceland's hunting of fin whales. By respecting current agreements like CITES , and ensuring no international trade, we can eliminate a key driver in the future expansion of commercial whaling.
- Eliminate all unilateral quotas – at the moment Japan, Norway and Iceland just make up their own quotas. No one agrees them. They are based on no internationally-agrees scientific assessments and do not have any legitimacy from the IWC.
- End the hunting of endangered species and threatened populations – this is, as they say, a no brainer. Endangered species like fin whales, and endangered populations should simply not be hunted. Yet currently the international community stands by powerless whilst this happens.
- End all 'objections' and 'reservations' – Iceland and Norway's commercial whaling takes place because they choose not to recognise the moratorium. Japan meanwhile choose not to recognise the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. This is like us deciding which taxes we would pay or which laws we will obey! It must first be compulsory for all whaling to be brought under the control of the IWC so that the IWC can then control it.
- Ensure any interim quotas are based on internationally-agreed scientific assessments – if there are interim quotas to be granted, they must be limited to countries already whaling so as to avoid any future expansion, and can only be granted based on internationally-agreed scientific recommendations.
All of this, as far as we are concerned, needs to be part of a plan to end commercial whaling in its entirety. In other words, it's about taking back control of the whaling that is currently happening, then respecting and enforcing the moratorium on commercial whaling.
But the caveat is, there is no deal, proposal, or compromise effectively on the table. A suggested deal floated a couple of months back was an unacceptable compromise, but also the start of a conversation. The six elements are not a proposal either, just key factors that must be present before any proposal can be considered progressive.
The current process is an opportunity for the conservation-minded countries to seize the initiative and move forward to protect whales. Any deal that is done will be agreed by the countries party to the IWC, and you can be assured that Greenpeace is urging them to take the strongest action possible, and end commercial whaling for good.