Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Britain fights Japan's bid to control whaling commission

Britain fights Japan's bid to control whaling commission
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Published: 16 April 2007
Britain has led an anti-whaling fightback against Japan's attempts to take control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and scrap the international ban on commercial hunting of the great whales.

A British diplomatic campaign has led to six nations joining the IWC - countries who in May will vote with the anti-whalers and thus nullify the voting majority which Japan and its pro-whaling allies secured in the organisation for the first time last year, at the IWC meeting in St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies. The six who will line up against Japan in Anchorage, Alaska, are Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia, Croatia, Peru and Costa Rica.

Greece and Cyprus have come on board after a British lobbying campaign in which a glossy brochure, setting out the case against whaling and jointly signed by Tony Blair and the doyen of British environmentalists, Sir David Attenborough, was sent to 57 governments, including new European Union members.

Slovenia and Croatia joined up after earlier British encouragement, and the two Latin American countries will be voting because they have paid up the arrears in their IWC subscriptions (which last year prevented them) - Peru at the prompting of the British and Costa Rica after a campaign by US environmentalists.

It is possible that further countries may join the IWC on the anti-whaling side, although not in time for the Anchorage meeting. "We think there may be as many as four more waiting in the wings," said the Environment minister, Ben Bradshaw, the man behind the brochure initiative.

Last year's Japanese majority was secured after a decade-long campaign of persuading small countries to join the IWC and vote with Japan in return for substantial aid packages. So in a sense Britain and the other anti-whaling nations, such as the US and Australia, have been playing the Japanese at their own game.

Senior British sources are confident that the votes of the six new members will be enough to nullify the Japanese majority. In St Kitts it was achieved at only one vote, and as it was a simple 51 per cent majority, it was was short of the 75 per cent needed to overturn the whaling moratorium.

But it did enable the Japanese and their pro-whaling allies, led by Norway and Iceland, to pass the so-called "St Kitts declaration", which said that the 1986 international moratorium was no longer necessary, and that as whales consumed "huge quantities of fish", whale hunting was now necessary for food security for poor nations (strongly disputed by anti-whaling countries). This signalled that the campaign to reopen commercial whaling was in full swing. "It was a considerable propaganda coup," Mr Bradshaw said.

If the Japanese majority can be decisively overturned, a counter-resolution is certain. "It is essential to get the majority back, and push through a new resolution reaffirming support for the moratorium," said Mark Simmonds, international director of science for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

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