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It would be nice to be able to report that negotiations are moving forward apace but, unfortunately, they’re not.

This morning, we sat through another lengthy discussion about the proposals put forward by the North America countries and Micronesia to phase out HFCs. While supportive delegations such as the EU agreed with the US that a phase-out is a moral imperative and argued that it would help drive technical innovation, China and India spent the entire session playing semantic ping-pong.

This is what a 'side event' can look like (c) EIA

Arguments of varying degrees of sophistication were trotted out to demonstrate that the Montreal Protocol is not the forum to deal with an HFC phase-out, because there is no legal footing for it to do so (a claim heavily contested by many Parties here); because it would undermine the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol (!), or because not enough scientific research has been carried out into alternatives to HFCs (it’s worth noting that both China and India blocked subsequent attempts to remedy this).

What it all boils down to is protection of vested interests – both China and India are defending the commercial interests of their domestic F-gas industries (which, lest it be forgotten, have already earned hundreds of millions of euros for HFC-23 offsets under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism – and, to a certain extent, political grandstanding and positioning for the global climate talks. It’s very frustrating to sit here and listen to the debate go around and around in circles when an HFC phase-out is clearly the most immediate and cost-effective prospect for combating climate change in the short-term.

Mealtimes here are very perfunctory – in fact, we haven’t sat down to a hot meal since Sunday – all the more so as food and drink are strictly forbidden in the meeting rooms (a rule enforced by zealous security guards on every corner). So, after a five-minute refuelling stop, we headed to a ‘side event’ (UN jargon for a short workshop) on the European Union’s F-gas Regulation. This was organised by the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), the rather misleading name of the European Heating Cooling and Refrigeration Industry’s trade association, based in Brussels.

At the event, EPEE representatives and the refrigerant manufacturer Daikin sang the praises of the F-Gas Regulation, which essentially relies on weak controls to prevent leakage during installation, operation and disposal of equipment. Quite apart from the consideration that taking a containment and recovery approach to HFCs (rather than mandating a phase out) is simply storing up trouble for the future, it’s pretty obvious that the F-Gas Regulation in its current form is simply unworkable. The fact is that, by the industry’s own admission, the Regulation is not being taken seriously.

We expect the F-gas industry to fight tooth and nail to prevent any ambitious changes to the Regulation, which is currently under discussion. As far as we’re concerned, supporting a global phase-down of HFCs in the Montreal Protocol – which the EU is doing very forcefully here – goes hand-in-hand with a convincing domestic policy on HFCs – which the EU does not yet have.

Natasha Hurley

The meeting resumed today with the US, Canada, Mexico and Micronesia responding to a number of questions on scientific, legal, financial and technological issues raised by Parties concerning their proposals to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs.

After much debate, it was decided to resume the discussion in plenary session tomorrow and consider the establishment of an informal contact group at a later point. The proponents of the phase-out proposals expressed strong disappointment about the informal nature of the contact group – the proposal has been on the table for three years now but has been kicked into the long grass as many times. The informal nature of the contact group means its discussions will not be formally reported in the proceedings of the meeting, just one of the stalling tactics being employed by India, China and others who are opposing any HFC measures under the Montreal Protocol.

The OEWG in session on Monday (c) EIADuring lunch, Greenpeace held a side-event to present a new paper on the benefits of basing policies on a 20-year global warming potential (GWP) measure, rather than the current standard of 100-year GWP. GWP measures the potency of a greenhouse gas over a specific period of time, relative to CO2, which has a GWP of one. So, for example, the GWP of HFC-134a (the most commonly used HFC) is 1,430 – so it is 1,430 times more potent than CO2. The GWP measure is independent of atmospheric concentration – so we’re not saying that HFC-134a is currently causing 1,430 times more global warming than CO2, but it would if it was present in the atmosphere at the same concentration.

The timescale, however, is important because while CO2 has an atmospheric lifetime of several centuries, most HFCs remain in the atmosphere for just 10-20 years. The average lifetime of the HFCs in use today is 21.7 years. This means that the 100-year GWP does not fairly reflect their potency, since it is spread out over 100 years, while in actuality all the damage is done while it is present in the atmosphere, which in the case of HFC-134a is 14 years. The 20-year GWP of HFC-134a is 3,380 – more than double its 100-year GWP.

Why is this important in the context of climate change? In 2009, NASA’s eminent climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, warned that the “climate is nearing dangerous tipping points… ”. Tipping points are abrupt, non-linear, unpredictable changes – the point of no return where there will be little we can do to prevent catastrophic and irreversible climate change. We don’t know when this will happen but it could be reached within a few decades, so efforts to prevent short-term climate forcing are really important.

The best available prospect for mitigating climate change in the short-term is undoubtedly a phase-out of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. Using 20-year GWPs shows clearly the massive climate impact of HFCs, and is also highly relevant in the context of the increasing use of so-called ‘moderate’ GWP HFCs, such as HFC-32. Daikin and Panasonic are describing their new HFC-32 air conditioning technology as ‘climate-friendly’, as the GWP of HFC-32 is 675, significantly less than the most commonly used HFC. But over a 20-year period, HFC-32 has a GWP of 2,330 – how can this be climate-friendly?Clare Perry

Clare Perry

Day 1 – 1st August 2011: Probably the first thing that you might notice if you have looked at our recent reports to the Montreal Protocol (which was set up to repair the ozone hole) is that we seem to talk a lot more about climate change than ozone depletion.

This is not because the ozone hole has been fixed – quite the reverse – 2011 saw the largest ever ozone hole in the Arctic and unfortunately while the Montreal Protocol has been successful in phasing out 98% of the consumption ozone depleting substances, and atmospheric levels of key ozone depleting substances are going down, it will take until the middle of the century for the ozone layer to return to pre-1980 levels.

But CFCs and HCFCs (the main ozone depleting chemicals) are also super greenhouse gases. We say ‘super’ because they are literally thousands of times more potent global warming gases than carbon dioxide. Because of this, the Montreal Protocol has already had a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has been described as the best climate treaty to date (of course it doesn’t have much competition….).

CFCs and HCFCs are man-made chemicals used predominantly in refrigeration, air-conditioning, and as foam blowing agents, fire suppressants and aerosols. Countries converting from these chemicals have traditionally chosen hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals that do not harm the ozone layer but that are super greenhouse gases with global warming potentials (GWP) hundreds to thousand of times greater than CO2.  Developed countries that have already phased out ozone depleting substances have switched to high-GWP alternatives in around 75% of cases.

Fortunately there are substitutes available – so called natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons – which are both climate and ozone friendly. So for the last few years our focus at the Montreal Protocol has been to urge Parties to phase out existing HFCs, and ensure that the ongoing developing country phase-out of HCFCs does not result in a massive phase-in of HFCs.

Today’s meeting opened with Mr Marco Gonzalez, Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, setting out some of the highlights of the work carried out so far and the challenges ahead. There was then a presentation from the TEAP (Technical and Economic Assessment Panel) of a report which assessed the need for financing over the next three years to allow the continued phase-out of HCFCs in developing countries. A large number of questions were raised regarding the information in the TEAP report and a contact group was set up to further look at the information needed from the TEAP before the Meeting of the Parties in November when a decision on funding will have to be taken.

The second substantive item on the agenda was proposals to phase down HFCs – one by the North American countries (US, Canada and Mexico) and another by Micronesia. Slightly different versions of the proposals have been submitted previously, for the first time in 2009. John Thompson from the US introduced the North American proposal describing the growth in HFCs as “…an impending crisis”, and noted that the longer we wait to address it, the more difficult and expensive this problem will be for all countries to take on. There followed a two and half hour discussion with many countries supporting the amendment proposals and the need for a contact group to discuss the proposals further. However several countries, most strongly India, China and Brazil, maintained that discussion of HFCs should remain under the UNFCCC as HFCs are not ozone depleting substances.

India repeatedly stated that they had questions about the proposals that had not been answered – and yet they would not support the idea of going into a contact group (a discussion group outside the main plenary part of the meeting), which is the usual process of the Montreal Protocol.

The European Commission reminded Parties that the BASIC countries (Brazil, S. Africa, India and China) had concluded at a meeting in February this year that the issue of the phase down high-GWP HFCs required an in-depth examination – he hoped that could start this week.

Georgia was brief but eloquent, stating that the possibility of HFCs being regulated under the climate regime is “zero” and that the only proposed way to prevent unconstrained growth of HFCs is the Montreal Protocol.

The meeting was adjourned without closing the agenda item – its clear there will be no resolution of this at this meeting, but at least some discussion is taking place.

One of the most difficult things to deal with when working in EIA’s forest campaign is jet lag.

By the time you’ve ensured you have all your equipment, contacted your sources, confirmed meetings and booked travel plans, actually sitting on the plane with no communications for 11 hours is a bit of a break. But knowing that sleep deprivation is at the other end is something I try not to think about. There are three of us here in Thailand from EIA’s Forest Team to launch our new report “Crossroads: The Illicit Timber Trade Between Laos and Vietnam” and to follow up on our campaign in Indonesia with our partner Telepak.

The forests of Laos are in crisis. Credit EIA.

The forests of Laos are in crisis. Credit EIA.

Our press conference was held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where the findings of our undercover investigations traced the illegal trade of logs from Laos to Vietnam. A lot of work was done beforehand, arranging the undercover investigations and writing the new report, making the new film, working with our superb communications team, contacting the media and arranging for facilities, so when I was hit by the dreaded jet lag at 4am and lay there willing myself to go back to sleep, my mind was actually on this issue. The forests of Laos are in crisis. The people of Laos are ending up with a raw deal, and those with vested interests continue to make deals for huge profits. It’s wrong that a country blessed with the mighty Mekong River, beautiful forests filled with a wide biodiversity and a gentle people whose culture and livelihoods depended on their forests are under such a threat. I say depended, because if the timber industry of Vietnam continues to use the raw materials from Laos the way it is doing now, those who rely on the forest are doomed.

 Forest landscape, Attapeu, Laos. Credit EIA.

Forest landscape, Attapeu, Laos. Credit EIA.

I also find it greedy and short-sighted that a country such as Laos, which is blessed with its bountiful natural resources, is selling the energy from the Mekong River to neighbouring Thailand and its forests to the highest bidder, with nothing going back to its people.

As my jet lag continued and I saw the first light of a new day, I was also reminded of the many individuals in Laos and Vietnam who are quite simply champions. The courageous, the patriots, the ones with massive hearts and compassion for their country. Those are the people that the forest team in EIA is so lucky to work with.

So when I sat in front of the journalists and diplomats at the FCCT this morning, I was reminded that our work supports those who live in countries where having a press conference and naming names is far too dangerous for them, and coping with jet lag is nothing compared to what they are facing. But because of them, I know our campaigns will go from strength to strength.

Faith Doherty

Faith Doherty

Head of Forest Campaign

A Burning Without the Warmth of Jubilation

Ivory Burning credit Dr. Paula Kahumbu

Almost 10 years ago, EIA investigated the case of more than six tonnes of illegal ivory –­ that’s at least 600 dead elephants ­– seized en route to Japan. It became known as the Singapore Seizure and our subsequent investigations showed it had been only one of 19 which had left the shores of Africa, all heading to Asia and all using the same modus operandi.

To this day, no-one apart from a minor fixer in Singapore has ever been prosecuted, let alone convicted.

Despite a wealth of evidence ­ and the excellent work of a handful of enforcement officers from Zambia, Malawi and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF),­ this case has, along with so many other similar cases across Africa and Asia, foundered. The criminal networks continue to operate with impunity and the illegal ivory trade is thriving and growing.

On Wednesday, July 20, some of the ivory from the 2002 seizure, in the custody of LATF and held in Kenya at the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) training college in Tsavo, was burned in a public statement decrying the growing trade and  increasing numbers of elephants being poached to fuel the burgeoning demand for ivory in Asia, predominantly China. Before lighting the 335 tusks, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki told the crowd: “We wish to firmly demonstrate to the world our determination to eliminate all forms of illegal trade in ivory. Poachers and illegal traders in ivory must know that their days are numbered.”

From my point of view,­ and as one of EIA’s team working on this from the start,­ it was all a rather poignant and disappointing end to the futile demise of so many elephants. 

Poached Elephant © EIA

Disposing of the ivory in this way certainly sends out a clear message about the commitment to tackle illegal trade and ensure that this consignment of ivory never enters any market place, legal or otherwise; it also serves to underline Kenya’s stance that it will not tolerate illegal trade and poaching (although it did not go unnoticed that none of Kenya’s own stockpile made it onto the pyre).

But it is also a sad reminder that no-one was ever punished,­ bearing in mind that it was only one of many shipments that successfully penetrated the permeable borders and under-resourced enforcement agencies tasked with preventing illegal contraband. It can’t have been easy either for the individuals who risked their lives to pursue the case and bring the syndicate to light, some of whom were present for the burning. Their work was eclipsed by the headlines that followed the immediate seizure, and the apathy and filibustering which then dominated the subsequent investigations.

Four years after the seizure, I spoke with the then Director General of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) about the case and it’s status. His view was that it was ‘spilt milk’; it would seem that he was not alone. Now the Singapore Seizure has been consigned to history,­ a cold case,­ and remains the single biggest seizure of  ivory since the ban was implemented in 1989 (although, let’s face it, there have been a couple that have since come pretty close to equalling that dubious accolade). For many, this will be a line drawn, the end of an embarrassing chapter. For the individuals trying to move the case forward – the officers from ZAWA, the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Malawi, and the investigators from LATF – it must be a bitter-sweet outcome. Their efforts, which held so much promise and were a great example of agencies working together across borders to tackle illegal trade in ivory, ultimately came smack up against a brick wall. They did not fail; the system did. Corruption? Lack of resources? Political will? Inadequate penalties? I suspect we will never truly know.

On the positive side, the ZAWA officer who instigated the original investigation that led to the seizure and discovery of the  syndicate was recently appointed Director General of ZAWA. And Kenya has made an unequivocal statement about its stance, supported by the signatory countries to LATF.

At the end of the day, however, it all felt rather hollow. Lots of grand words and ambitious statements, and no celebration whatsoever of the gesture and signal being sent out to the criminal world. I wasn’t present at the last burning of ivory in Kenya, back in 1989, but I understand that the setting of flames was met with cheers, clapping and great jubilation; this burning was instead met with silence and a lot of jostling for position to get the iconic photograph or moving image.

The enforcement message somehow lost in the spin …

Mary Rice

Executive Director

Trees. Credit EIA

EIA started back in 1984

I’m not someone you’re likely to see a blog from that frequently and this is actually my first since joining EIA in November last year. I’m one of a number of behind the scenes people and my realm is fundraising. Specifically trusts and foundations, which means I get to read about pretty much everything EIA does, and is doing, often before it is published, and use that information to craft written applications to trusts asking for grants. A typical application would be to cover costs of one of EIA’s many groundbreaking investigations, and in a typical week, I’d be working on material across most of the campaign areas. One of the reasons I’ve not entered the blog writing arena before is a feeling of not having all that much to contribute to “front of house” activity, however, Sophia persuaded me by pointing out it doesn’t have to be about trusts fundraising, and it just so happens there is something I felt it was worth me writing about! So here goes….

Rogue Traders: press launch in Jakarta. Credit EIA.

As part of my role I read every report EIA produces and also keep an eye on the feedback. Clearly EIA isn’t there to be a friend to everyone: The environmental criminals, people who are out to make a fast buck at the expense of making a species extinct, won’t appreciate the publicity we give them and that is as it should be. In the course of my work I have noticed a theme of sorts that turns up quite frequently from the disgruntled being exposed or shamed by EIA’s work, and that theme is that “EIA aren’t scientists so these results have no value” An example would be some of the supermarket responses to Chilling Facts. It happens that as well as being a fundraiser I was also a fully fledged, Ph.D carrying, glasses and (sometimes) white coat wearing scientist. Until joining EIA, I had been working as a scientist since the late 90’s, so think I am qualified to comment on this, and as a newish staff member can consider myself to have a little perspective.

So….. EIA isn’t scientific? Lets explore that a bit….

Perhaps they think EIA’s campaigners aren’t as qualified as scientists? Actually, the campaigners have university backgrounds, relevant to their areas of expertise. I’m sure Debbie (Head of tiger campaign) won’t mind me mentioning she has an M.Sc in Wildlife Conservation, that’s post graduate and requiring scientific research skills. So it seems the staff are scientifically qualified, it can’t be that…

Please click on image to see a larger version

Perhaps they are thinking we aren’t publishing in science journals so its not science? Actually sometimes we do, but fair enough, its true, we usually don’t. But EIA’s publications are intended to effect change in governments and inform the public to rally support behind an issue. It would be a little foolish of EIA to put one of its hard hitting investigative reports in the “journal of plankton research”;  it wouldn’t be seen by the people who need to see it. The purpose of publication is primarily peer review, to see if other people agree with what you are saying. Speaking as someone who has been through the science journal publication process I would say that it is far easier to get a paper past the reviewers into the scientific press than to get an entire government to agree with you and change direction. This feat is exactly what EIA has achieved on many occasions: For example, Faith’s recent piece on the VPA signing with Indonesia and the amount of dedicated effort it took to get there… EIA puts the information out there, the governments who see it have their own teams of scientific advisors who will without doubt be going over EIA’s material with a fine tooth comb. You can be sure that in a world where the power of the tweet terrifies the spin doctors witless they won’t put their political reputations on the line to support our findings unless they are 100% convinced of the validity of EIA’s material. Nothing wrong with our peer review process then, sounds pretty scientifically robust to me….

Tiger skin taken on an EIA investigation. Copyright EIAPerhaps they feel that in some way the fact that EIA are Investigators, means they are unscientific? (Mike Hammer, The saint, James bond… etc etc) Well, actually, all science really means is simply to observe and categorise events. It is about the discovery of knowledge, and the answering of questions. Many scientists would and do call themselves investigators, (sometimes great investigators from a certain ego-centric glaciologist I once had as a lecturer in my undergraduate days!) The recording of a scientific experiment uses the precise same skills and methodologies of an undercover investigation. Seems we draw a parallel there too, so that can’t be the reason EIA’s opponents think us unscientific.

All we are left with is that EIA is not a science institute or a university, so how can the results be valid? They have me there. It’s true, EIA isn’t based in a sparkling research centre made out of glass and steel, it doesn’t award degrees or diplomas, but, just a moment, is that where science actually happens? Sorry to say this, but some of the time actually not…. There’s a certain Jewish German chap who people think a lot of, he was famous for mad hair and sticking his tongue out a lot at cameras. He also did a bit of science of course, rather a lot of it actually. The science he did, the discovery he is credited with, that is considered his most important, was made in the dingy attic where he lived, in his spare time in the evenings, whilst working as a humble patent clerk by day. Who am I talking about? The theory was general relativity, his name was Albert Einstein, you may have heard of him….

As it happens EIA’s offices are also in an attic, not particularly dingy perhaps, (though on the very rainy day I’m writing this, not terribly brightly lit, it’s true!). But it’s actually rather homely and is an attic none the less.

The people who try to belittle EIA’s achievements by claiming we are unscientific, couldn’t be further from the truth. We do everything a scientist does, are as qualified, and publish reports that really do change the world for the better. On top of that we do our office work in the same type of quarters as the great Albert Einstein used to craft his world changing theories, what more could you ask for? Perhaps we aren’t about to be an academic threat to folks like Stephen Hawking, but with the continued support of trusts, foundations, and not least our supporters like yourselves, we will continue to be a threat to the environmental criminals, and work to ensure that the world in which future generations learn about Einstein in their school books still contains Tigers, still have forests, and whales, and have coastlines in much the same place as they are today.

Dr Steven Abbott

Senior Fundraiser

EIA Campaigners will be blogging on a daily basis from the IWC.

Day 4 – Thursday 14th July – The Last Day

 

UK commissioner speaks to the transparency proposal. Credit EIA.

UK commissioner speaks to the transparency proposal.

After the great result on the UK governance proposal, we sped through some other business last night – agreeing important items such as the Audited Accounts, the budget and other financial and administrative business.

The report of the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub Committee report was agreed with very little controversy, other than an exchange of views between India and the Russian Federation, after India called for aboriginal subsistence quotas to be reduced in the future. Next year will not be so easy as the catch limits for these hunts will be due for renewal. A resolution was adopted by consensus agreeing to a work plan to prepare for next year’s discussions on these catch limits.

Next up was the eternally controversial request by Japan for an IWC endorsed quota for four of its coastal communities. Japan has made this request every year since the moratorium on commercial whaling was implemented 25 years ago. Whilst Japan had a placeholder on the agenda for a proposal relating to this matter, it stated that it decided in the interest of cooperation not to make this request.

NGOs at work at the IWC. Credit EIA.

NGOs at work at the IWC. Credit EIA.

Discussions on the Future of the IWC have dominated the IWC for the past 3 years, including several intersessional meetings. Last year discussions were abandoned and a year’s pause was promised for reflection. This year a Resolution was tabled by the US and New Zealand calling for further cooperative work. After some disagreement on proposed revisions to the resolution, it was withdrawn with a ‘sort of’ agreement to work cooperatively together in future. It is very clear to EIA what the future of the IWC is – focusing maximum effort and resources on effectively addressing the myriad of threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises including climate change, pollution, ship strikes, entanglement and marine debris.

The day concluded with a most enjoyable reception hosted by a coalition of NGOs. Delegates had time to relax, enjoy some delicious food, and friendly chat. A good end to a hard day.

Thursday dawned as the final day of this annual meeting. It started with discussion of a resolution on safety at sea, proposed by Japan (in response to Sea Shepherd’s campaign in the Southern Ocean). Having withdrawn the coastal whaling quota, this was Japan’s key issue, and despite the fact that the IWC is not the correct forum to discuss safety at sea issues, delegates agreed the Resolution in the continuing spirit of compromise and consensus. Unfortunately, that spirit didn’t last.

Japan walks out. Credit EIA

Japan walks out.

For ten years Latin American countries have been calling for the IWC to agree a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic to contribute to greater protection of depleted whale populations, investment in scientific research, and creation of local cetacean watching opportunities with the associated economic benefits. One NGO from each side of the debate was permitted to make a presentation on the subject – some small compensation for the proposal on NGO participation having been removed from yesterday’s agreement.

Whilst the majority of IWC contracting governments supported the proposed sanctuary Iceland, Saint Kitts and Cameroun said they would block a consensus. With regret, Brazil decided to call for a vote, however Japan then stated that they and all ‘sustainable use’ countries would leave the room so there would be no quorum (a quorum is the minimum number of members who must be present for decisions to be made – IWC rules state that “Attendance by a majority of the members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum”). Japan stated that their understanding was that with 89 members, 45 should form a quorum. He further stated “..this is not a hostile action, we only do this to avoid voting”. Although many countries urged Japan and others not to take such drastic steps, after the Chair of the Commission asked for a vote to take place, Japan, Iceland, Norway and all other pro-whaling countries left the room.

Pro-whaling countries stage walk out to block whale sanctuary. Credit EIA.

Pro-whaling countries stage walk out to block whale sanctuary.

That was at 12:00 and at 8.30pm, some eight & a half hours later, Commissioners finally dragged themselves back to the plenary room, having agreed a short text which explained what had happened (in very diplomatic words which made Japan, Iceland and their allies look much more reasonable than they actually were). The text essentially agreed to form an intersessional group to look further into the rules of procedure, and to leave the sanctuary agenda item open with its discussion to be the first substantive item at the beginning of IWC64. In effect, Japan, Iceland and others successfully blocked the democratic right of the Latin Americans to have their sanctuary proposal voted on.

The chair then asked for adoption of the Conservation Committee report, Conservation Management Plans, Whale watching, Environment and Health Issues, Small cetaceans and other items under the Scientific Committee report with no discussion (and no NGO interventions). A frankly depressing end to a meeting that had started so well.

The only highlight was the announcement by the Secretary that a group of NGOs had contributed more than £10,000 to the small cetacean fund and this was followed up by generous contributions by Italy and France.

It was then agreed that the tricky issue electing a Chair and Vice-Chair would be done by post, and a short presentation was given by Panama, who will host IWC64. The finale of the meeting was a standing ovation to Fiona and Bernard from the IWC Secretariat. They are both taking retirement after more than two decades each of loyal, hard working and cheerful service to the IWC. They will be greatly missed. The IWC Secretariat work tirelessly all year to ensure our meetings run smoothly and always have a smile for everyone. Our best wishes to Fiona and Bernard and thanks to all the staff for everything they do for the organisation.

Vicky - probably everyone's favourite delegate... Credit EIA

Vicky - probably everyone's favourite delegate... Credit EIA

It’s hard not to feel discouraged that so much of the time, money and effort that we put into whale and dolphin conservation can be so easily sabotaged by the underhand tactics of just a few countries. But while the conservation work might not have had the discussion at IWC63 that it deserved, the work will still go on and we will be ready next year to insist that whale conservation is discussed as a priority issue at the start of the meeting. And we were also pleased that our report had encouraged a number of countries to forcefully criticise Iceland’s whaling and whale trade at the IWC meeting – something that is long overdue.

***

Day 3 – Wednesday 13th July

Despite having just two days of the meeting left yet three days of work to do, discussions on the UK’s governance proposal lasted the whole day.

Each proposed change was picked apart, particularly by Iceland, St Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. One of the key points of contention was the proposal that payments of membership contributions must be by bank transfer only and not by cash. This simple, best practice payment rule would go a long way to counter the accusations of corruption which have dominated the IWC in recent years.

Frustration ruled and by lunchtime it was agreed that a small group of the most vocal speakers of the day, plus the UK, would meet to hammer out an agreement. Three hours later, the meeting resumed and a revised document was presented to the meeting.

Clare Perry at the IWC. Credit EIA

Clare Perry at the IWC. Credit EIA

Finally, agreement was reached and the revised proposal was adopted by consensus. Some compromises had been made and, notably, the attempt to improve IWC observer participation through the Rules was withdrawn early on in the meeting. But it was still a hugely important move forward for the IWC and something that even at the start of the day seemed unlikely to be resolved.

One of the key changes for us is that, at last, the Scientific Committee report will be made available on the IWC’s website within 14 days of the conclusion of the Scientific Committee meeting. Up until now, we have not been allowed to see the report until 10am on the first day of the Commission meeting. At this point, most of the Resolutions and other decision texts are already in play, we are run off our feet trying to talk to delegates and circulate our reports and it’s impossible to read and absorb a report which is usually around 100 pages long.

Despite the pain, the IWC has made a good decision with this package of changes to the Rules of Procedure. EIA pays tribute to the UK delegation and, in particular, to Jolyon Thompson who stewarded the proposal through with eloquence and determination.

At 6.50pm in the evening of day three we started to get on with the substantive issues to be discussed, quickly finishing the Finance and Admin report and starting to look at aboriginal subsistence whaling, which is ongoing as I write … it will be a long night.

 ***

Day 2 – Tuesday 12th July

On Tuesday, the IWC discussed ‘financial and administrative matters’, which was actually a lot more interesting than you might think, and certainly crucial to the way the IWC carries out its work.

The biggest proposal on the table at this year’s meeting is one from the UK to improve the governance and effectiveness of operations of the IWC. Part of the proposal aims to bring in measures which can help eliminate the corruption that has allegedly been rife within the organisation and was highlighted by a Sunday Times exposé last year – for example, countries would no longer be able to pay their contributions in cash but would have to pay via “bank transfer from an account belonging to the Contracting Government or to a state institution of that Government”.

IWC held in Jersey this year. Credit EIAIn addition, this proposal would ensure key documents such as the Scientific Committee report are available to observers, and that decisions are swiftly translated and available in the other two working languages of the Commission (French and Spanish).

The most controversial aspect of the UK proposal, however, was to do with the participation of observers (including NGOs such as EIA) in the IWC. For years, observers have had no speaking rights at the IWC, even though the Rules of Procedure actually allow us to speak. In recent years, there has been some attempt to improve this situation, with NGOs given a half-hour to present a limited number of views, usually at the end of the meeting when all the decisions have been taken. As you can imagine, with many conservation NGOs attending the IWC it has been a taxing and time-consuming task just to agree which NGOs can speak and on which issues. This initiative from the UK would bring the IWC up to some really basic standards which are already common practice in many multilateral environmental agreements.

UK Minister Richard Beynon was on hand to appeal to IWC member governments to adopt the proposals, which are not anti- or pro-whaling but a bare minimum required to show the world that the IWC continues to be a functional and effective body. In order to bring Denmark (part of the European Union, but basically representing the whaling interests of the Faroes & Greenland), the UK dropped the section on observer participation so the proposal could be presented by the EU group as a whole.

Photo of yesterday when the EU were trying to deal with St Kitts and Nevis / Russian Federation disruption of the discussion of their proposal. Credit Milko Schvartzman

Photo of yesterday when the EU were trying to deal with St Kitts and Nevis / Russian Federation disruption of the discussion of their proposal. Credit Milko Schvartzman

Despite these efforts to compromise, Saint Kitts & Nevis, the Russian Federation and other pro-whaling delegations successfully disrupted proceedings, which forced a private meeting of Commissioners to be held near the end of the day. The meeting then closed, with the promise of a revised proposal, from the UK, to be discussed first thing on Wednesday morning.

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Day 1 – Monday 11th July

EIA is at the International Whaling Commission’s Annual Meeting taking place in Jersey this week. We were here all last week attending working group meetings (which discuss some of the substantive detail of many issues relating to whales) but now it is time for the decisions and politics.

Two really good things happened today – and I can honestly say I can’t recall that happening on the first day of an IWC meeting for many years. First, South African Commissioner Herman Oosthuizen agreed to chair the meeting. We were left without a Chair or Vice-Chair for the Commission at the end of last year’s meeting, and clearly this is a huge problem if the IWC is to continue developing its key role in the global management and conservation of whales and other cetaceans. Herman is greatly respected, has wide experience of the IWC and is open to fair and constructive participation by NGOs, unlike some delegates here who would rather conduct their business behind closed doors.

Minke Whale. © Joanne Weston | Dreamstime.com

Minke Whale. © Joanne Weston | Dreamstime.com

The second surprise was when we came to discussion of the Scientific Committee’s deliberations on the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) catch limits for North Atlantic fin whale. Now the Scientific Committee has not actually been asked to calculate catch limits because, as we all know, there is a ban on commercial whaling. However, since Iceland is pursuing unilateral rogue whaling of fin and minke whales, the Scientific Committee has been looking at which variants of the RMP would be appropriate to be able to provide advice on the sustainability of catches. Since 2010, the Scientific Committee has been clear in its advice that a catch of 46 fin whales is the currently acceptable catch limit – compare this to Iceland’s 2009 and 2010 catches of fin whales, which were 125 and 148 fin whales respectively. Despite this, last year no countries drew attention to the fact that Iceland’s catch was clearly unsustainable because all countries (other than Iceland) were attempting to avoid controversial issues in the hope that the IWC could agree a compromise whaling deal which would somehow satisfy both anti- and pro-whaling countries.

With the compromise whaling proposal dead in the water, it was refreshing to hear a number of countries speak eloquently in support of precautionary science in the conservation of whales. Monaco kicked off the debate by drawing attention to the fact that Iceland’s catches of fin whales are much higher than sustainable limits, and was supported by the UK, New Zealand, Mexico, US and Australia. The New Zealand Commissioner called Iceland’s whaling as risky, inappropriate and unlawful.

Renegade Whaling. Image Credit Jonas FreydalEIA came to the IWC with a new report on Iceland’s whaling and trade in whale products, determined to ensure that the IWC member countries recognise and respond to Iceland’s whaling, so this was a great start to the meeting and we’ll continue to lobby countries to pressure Iceland.

Other issues covered included a UK proposal to progress work on welfare and ethics. It was disappointing that Norway refused to participate but the work will go forward nonetheless and the UK will be working hard to try to persuade Norway and other whaling nations to contribute in the future.

The meeting started with a welcoming address from the Government of Jersey and it is a pleasure to stay on this beautiful island (even though we are basically sitting in a cave most of the time). Somehow Jersey’s eccentricities well suit the slightly eccentric IWC that continues to protect hundreds of thousands of great whales with the international ban on commercial whaling.

Twenty-five years after its implementation, the ongoing ban on whaling is still vital to the conservation of whales and we will continue to work hard every year to ensure it is maintained and to improve the effectiveness of the IWC.

Clare Perry

Clare Perry

Senior Campaigner