News & updates

IWC Reform is Long Overdue

Share on twitter
Share this

We have a major challenge ahead of us here in Brazil. Does the IWC possess the courage and capability to reform itself? Or will it evade its responsibilities once again? Previous attempts to normalize its processes have failed, leaving the IWC unrecognizable from the institution created seventy years ago. Now we have a proposal before us from Japan that offers us a way out of the impasse, if only we can muster the will to reform the IWC decision-making process.

IWMC has long warned that the IWC has made itself irrelevant and is living on borrowed time. Japan’s proposal is bold because it cedes significant additional power to the anti-whaling majority and to the committee system that serves it. This should give anti-whaling hawks pause for thought.  

If we adopt Japan’s proposal, a simple majority would decide important matters. Japan’s reforms would also open the door to limited commercial whaling. But this could only happen in a highly-controlled and sustainable manner. If we have the commonsense to take this considered step, anti-whaling countries would not have to “lift” the moratorium. Instead they could save face and still wave the banner for “saving” the whale. While Japan could wave the banner for saving the IWC. The only available alternative to this win-win scenario seems to be for the IWC to limp on in a dysfunctional and discredited manner until it finally collapses.

This is not to diminish the difficult decisions facing member states at IWC 67. But the debate about whaling is really a subset of the broader debate about cultural values, animal welfare, global food production and how – or whether – to feed the poor. Every nation has a different relationship to its land and marine environment. Nations also possess diverse cultural traditions and histories, which shape how they exploit their raw material resources and source their protein to feed their people. In other words, nature’s bounty is as diverse as human tradition and cultures. We all relate in our own ways to forests, crops, fish, seals, birds, cattle or whales.

A nation or religion that chooses not to hunt or eat a species of animal is doing so from a position of self-determination. But when one nation denies another that right merely for reasons of politics, taste and sentiment that is nothing other than intolerant cultural imperialism. Why should one group of nations have the right to tell another whether to sustainably harvest and trade marine or other natural resources? With power comes responsibility.  The IWC needs to be a more effective and fair organization that respects competing cultures. It is time for it to show true leadership.

At IWC 67 the animal rights lobby will argue that all whales must remain off-limits. Brazil and its allies will argue that whales need more protections, magically supplied by the creation of a vast and unneeded South Atlantic Sanctuary. Interestingly, the average age of people in Brazil is just 31 years. Most Brazilians were not even born when the IWC imposed its moratorium on commercial whaling 36 years ago. Yet a moratorium is not meant to be a life-long sentence, but a temporary suspension.

IWC 67 could finally open the way for a consensus to emerge. One based on tolerance for the livilihoods and lifestyles of others. One that also gives full respect to the scientific evidence.

Emotional, indignant and negative soundbites should no longer be allowed to determine IWC policies and to dismiss sensible solutions to difficult problems. Delegates should embrace the creative opportunity provided by Japan at IWC 67.

Related content

IWMC Feature

Conservation Influencers

Conservation Influencers is a searchable directory of the animal activist, environmental and ecological lobby. It examines the history, mission, methodology and reputation of NGOs to assess their impact on the global conservation cause.

Wildlife Conservation Society

In 1906, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) put an African man on display in Bronx Zoo’s Monkey House. In 1918, one of WCS’s founding fathers, Madison Grant, published Passing of the Great Race, which Adolf Hitler referred to as his ‘Bible’. Another leading creator and early leader of WCS, Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr, was also a founder of the American Eugenics Society. His son headed WCS from 1940 to 1968, overseeing a series of major initiatives in Africa. There, WCS became one of the architects of the prohibition movement, which put wildlife for consumptive use and vast regions of land out of bounds to humanity. In 2020, WCS distanced itself in public from the racist views of Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr. But it has yet to issue a critical account of the legacy of Fairfield Osborn Jr, even though he led WCS into the modern era while sharing similar politically-inspired ecological goals to his father and Grant. WCS devotes considerable financial resources to influencing outcomes at CITES. WCS’s CEO reportedly earns USD$1,320,978.

Read more...