VICTORY: One Small But Significant Step For Whales

A sperm whale, in the Azores. c. IFAW/Scott Portelli

After a frustrating day of delays and complaints on points of order yesterday, today’s session started with the UK delegation, minus their Minister, Richard Benyon MP, (who had to leave for other important matters) keen to get on with business and push forward their proposal for improved transparency.

The proposal, sponsored in the end by all EU member states that belong to the IWC - including Denmark, initially looked unlikely to get accepted on consensus. Although it would have been hard for any country to argue against the principle of transparency and effectiveness, the main stumbling block was the proposal for an end to last-minute cash payment of dues.

Before member countries were asked to accept the package, there was a long review of 15 points identified in the proposal as needing plenary discussion. Several states intervened on each point - all of them opposing the current wording. The UK answered each point and the meeting crawled on through a very long morning. The item everyone was waiting for, addressing cash payments, was placed near the end of the document and we all knew this would be the dealmaker or breaker.

Despite a long queue for comments from the floor, the UK remained adamant that this point was non-negotiable while St Kitts, Japan and Iceland continued to voice their concerns. By 2pm we were clearly at an impasse. At this stage, it looked impossible that the UK package could achieve consensus with an end to cash payments. The UK made it clear they would push the matter to a vote if consensus could not be achieved and seemed determined to avoid giving ground on such a key issue. As a last ditch attempt to avoid the need for a vote and reach agreement from all, the Chair called for a final private session between a small number of states, scheduled to last until 3.30pm. However, when this deadline passed, it was announced that another hour was needed. Lunch (with myriad side meetings, lobbying, rumours and general confusion) ended up carrying on until 5pm....

There was much talk about quorates, banker’s drafts, voting rights, EU consensus and a variety of IWC technicalities, but in reality, until the last moment, none of us could say for sure how things were going to go.

When the plenary session finally reopened, there was a tense atmosphere on the floor, despite the exhaustion many delegates must be feeling. The chair began by announcing he was giving the floor to New Zealand who took us through some new, final amendments to the proposal.

The bulk of the document was retained unchanged with a few small amendments. On the main point we were all waiting for – cash payments – it was announced that a slight amendment to payment regulations was being introduced but that the proposal, if adopted, would still spell an end to cash payments. An amendment was added stating that while bank transfers would be retained as the accepted form of payment, if the Commission is satisfied that there is a delay in receipt due to circumstances beyond the control of the contracting Government they can be deemed to have paid.

The amended package was then accepted by the forum on consensus! One small but significant step for whales, transparency and the conservation work of the IWC.

-- RM

For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to end commercial whaling, visit

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