Report from the WDCS Team at IWC 64 – Monday Morning
Monday starts off as a sunny day. The heat rises off the streets and grackles forage amidst the detritus as delegates make their way slowly (in order to minimise perspiration) to the big conference halls of the IWC.
We exchange the traditional greeting with the locals:
And so forth.
Inside the halls of the El Panama conference centre, at first the doors leading to the vast main hall remain firmly closed as final tests are made on sound and light systems. Then an avalanche of delegates pours through the doors and ranges around the rooms seeking name plates and flags. At sixteen minutes past ten the meeting opens. Many NGOs are delighted to find that they have tables to lean on. Many delegates in larger country delegations are not.
Herman Oosthuizen the South African Commissioner and chair of the previous meeting calls everyone to order and welcomes several Panamanian ministers and the assembly of several hundred people (including over 90 pro-conservation NGOs).
Simon Brockington, the Executive Secretively of the Commission, resplendent in a sharp suit, then makes a welcoming speech. Sixty-nine contracting parties have arrived as of last night, he tells us, and adds that whilst everyone is aware that we deal with difficult issues here, this organisation, the IWC, has considerable strengths – the commitment of the contacting parties is amongst these. He is pleased with the increase and volume of intercessional work. This increase has been witnessed during the previous week of meetings where he was also struck by the positive atmosphere and outcomes.
What are our other strengths? He asks and then briskly answers his own question. Efforts to address ‘governance issues’ are amongst them. Being able to review one-self is a healthy thing, he stresses. The IWC also has great knowledge. We have tremendous assets in the scientific committee he adds. He wishes everyone a successful and harmonious meeting and is applauded.
The Panamanian minster of foreign affairs then addresses the meeting and welcomes everyone to the 64th meeting. Panama has recently established a corridor for the study of marine mammals and to promote whale watching. He also tells us about the Panamanian stranding programme and adds that the IWC is seeking to move forward and he hopes that we have a nice stay.
There is warm applause and we are suddenly, startlingly (and perhaps dangerously) plunged into darkness except for the festive lights of a hundred laptops and iPads. Then a video begins and we are shown some beautiful film of whales and other marine wildlife, including our old IWC friend, the whale shark.
There is applause and the lights come back on and a few delegates have changed seats.
Acting Chairman Herman asks us all to remain seated as a procession of ministers, their staff and some press leave and then we break for coffee.
During the break a small flock of NGO delegates hand out squeezable ‘stress dolphins’ to delegates. A swift coffee later and a new voice is speaking from the Chair – it is Bruno Mainini of Switzerland, who has been selected by the closed commissioners meeting yesterday to act as Chair for just this meeting. Is this acceptable? There is a pause and then applause slowly builds. He looks pleased.
Simon Brockington reports on credentials (which means who does and does not have speaking rights) Japan and New Zealand met smoothly on credential and the Czech Republic and Peru had problems but new credentials for the Czech Republic just arrived. Peru is asked if she has presented credentials and says they will follow soon. Simon also confirms that Uruguay has paid its dues and he now reads out all the countries in arrears that have their votes suspended. This list includes Greece, Hungary, Congo, Slovak Republic and many others.
Chairman Bruno then explains how he means to conduct the meeting – we want people back promptly from coffee breaks and to meet with no more than ten NGOs to discuss how they will be allowed to speak – something which has been quite controversial here.
Simon Brockington tells us we need to be ‘smart-casual’ for the Panamanian reception tonight. He then explains how the microphones work: A commissioner pressing his button will flash green and be registered to speak. A second press of the button will cancel it. ‘Press it once and wait’ he adds and chuckles.
Chairman Bruno moves to the agenda and asks if anyone has any comment.
Denmark confirms that his button works as advertised and then that Denmark is here as an EU member. Denmark generally allies itself with Cyprus (who will be summarising the position of the EU nations), except when speaking for Greenland.
There are no other comments. So we have a Chair and an adopted agenda. The first item will be sanctuaries. The issue left hanging last year when the pro-whaling block walked out.
Brazil has a flashing green light in front of him and now firmly and carefully presents the sanctuary proposal on a South Atlantic whale sanctuary. He notes that this matter was thoroughly discussed last year and there has been a small revision to it. He notes among other things that the proposal is to protect whales within ‘ecologically meaningful’ boundaries. He hopes the proposal will be adopted using rule E – preferably by consensus. There is a pause.
Japan takes the floor. He is opposed to the proposal. It is vague and lacks a vigorous approach and is a ‘shot-gun approach’ with little rational – the SAS is more prohibitive than precautionary. There is no commercial whaling in the southern Ocean so the whale resources are recovering. It is an absolutely unnecessary proposal. He hopes IWC will make calm judgement and reject proposal.
India is delighted to be in the beautiful and picturesque city of Panama, thanks the hosts and stresses his support for the sanctuary.
Colombia thanks Panama for organising the meeting and is committed to the non lethal use of whales. She supports the sanctuary.
Next St Kitts and Nevis, represented by Commissioner Daven Joseph. He sees nothing new but then proceeds to criticise it at length. The proposal could have far reaching negative consequences. It would show that a few countries could impose their narrow interests on how the high seas is managed. This is the business of the international community and not just a few states. He is also concerned about the United Nations Law of the Seas. He notes that the countries have not included their own economic zones in the sanctuary. They are protecting their own interests… yet they want to impose it on the rest of us. He is worried about marine transport.
Antigua and Barbuda is equally sanguine about the proposal and states that the scientific committee has flagged concerns about the sanctuary proposal. It would be a ‘feel good – self seeking’ measure she adds.
Norway moves in. They support whale sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) when they are justified. There is no scientific justification for it he says briskly.
Ecuador is completely in support.
Australia congratulates Panama on the good organisation of the meeting and the Chair on his election. The sanctuary is ‘entirely consistent’ with article 5 of the Convention which provides for the establishment of sanctuaries. She speaks of economic benefits – that they draw interest and also that whales provide ecosystem services. Two weeks ago in Brazil, her prime minister called for the use of tools like this to protect marine biodiversity. Australia strongly supports the sanctuary and no whaling should be allowed in this or any other sanctuary.
Others speak in similar vein – either strongly for or against. Church bells ring in the background. Iceland cares for it not all and emphasises again the issue of the exclusion of the EEZs (national waters).
Cyprus intervening for the first time on the behalf of the European Union nations notes that she holds the presidency of the EU and supports the proposal. She is also grateful to Panama for hosting.
Switzerland congratulates his colleague for being elected to the chair and is in favour.
Chairman Bruno notes that many are still waiting to speak but he is hearing nothing new and there is no consensus. How would you like to proceed he asks Brazil.
Brazil says we are discussing matters under rule E – the commission shall make every effort to reach consensus but it this cannot be achieved then there is a procedure to follow. He believes all aspects of this issue have been discussed and all questions answered and seeks the Chairman to start the procedure by vote.
The Chairman agrees and Simon Brockington is invoked to explain the procedure.
Cherry Alison from the Secretariat also comes to the stage to assist with counting and Simon notes that they will take matters very carefully this is the first vote for 4 years and the first that he has run. But he is interrupted
The Russian federation is waving his flag enthusiastically. Do we have a quorum in the meeting he asks mildly? Not all delegations have credentials, have registered or paid up.
A quorum is 45. Simon has no doubt there are more than 45 members present. He asks Chairman Bruno if we need to count. The Chairman thinks there are more than 45 and that we can proceed.
Simon continues. and a table appears on the screen. The first government to vote will be Slovenia. He explains the vote – this is for a schedule amendment for the south Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. It requires a ¾ majority to pass. If you support the establishment of the sanctuary you vote ‘yes’ – if you do not ‘no’.
[Will the new microphone system cope with this?]
There are four categories of votes – yes, no abstain and ‘not participating’.
And so we start.
Slovenia is first and reminded to press his microphone. He says carefully ‘We support and therefore we say yes’. After each vote the Executive Secretary repeats the vote and it is noted on the spread-sheet on the big screen.
We will not record each vote here. The voting pattern is somewhat predictable. The USA has a problem with the microphone and shouts ‘yes’. Demark says ‘yes’ but notes he has an explanation for vote.
Then to some surprise and delight Gabon says yes – seemingly breaking away from the west African anti-vote and Morocco abstains.
The result is as follows:
Yes =38; no = 21; abstentions = 2; and not-participating = 0
Chairman Bruno says thank you everyone. I know some will be disappointed (the proposal having not achieved the required 75% majority of votes) but this vote in which everyone is participating is a good sign that we are functioning well.
Denmark says he has been instructed to support the proposal as put today. Brazil thanks everyone who supported them.
We break and the NGO are told to go and talk to themselves.