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International Whaling Commission: 66th Meeting

Volume 619: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2017

I was unable to attend last year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC66) on 24-28 October 2016 in Slovenia but there was a strong UK delegation present.

This meeting marked the 70th anniversary of the international convention for the regulation of whaling and the 30th anniversary of the global moratorium on commercial whaling. I am happy to report that all UK objectives for this meeting were achieved and, as always, the UK worked tirelessly behind the scenes to influence and support crucial decisions intended to improve the conservation and welfare of cetaceans. The UK also ensured its long standing opposition to commercial whaling and whaling under special permit (scientific whaling) was made clear at every appropriate opportunity. As with previous meetings, there was the need for careful negotiation at times but overall the dialogue was constructive despite the fundamental differences in views.

I was pleased that a number of important resolutions were adopted. In particular, IWC adopted a resolution on the need for action to address the alarming decline in the critically endangered Vaquita. In line with the agreed position of EU member states, the UK voted in support of the proposal. This was aligned with the UK’s negotiating position and represents a good outcome. The Vaquita, a small cetacean found in Mexico, is under significant pressure from bycatch driven by the illegal trade in the Totoaba. With an estimated population size of only 59 individuals, action is needed now and so I was encouraged that parties were able to put aside their disagreements on whether the scope of the IWC extended to small cetaceans in order to make this important statement.

I was also encouraged to see decisions taken on further modernisation of the organisation through institutional and governance improvements agreed by consensus, and the expansion of research efforts into important threats to cetaceans such as contaminants passed by a vote. These are important steps forward. In line with the agreed position of EU member states, the UK supported both of these proposals. This was aligned with the UK’s negotiating position and represents a good outcome.

Reflecting on previous unsuccessful proposals for “small-type coastal whaling”, Japan proposed a process for intersessional dialogue to address issues relating to fundamental differences of positions within the IWC. An informal process to discuss such issues was established. The UK will maintain a careful watching brief on this matter.

I was disappointed that Japan announced its intention to begin a new 12 year programme of whaling under special permit in the North Pacific. In collaboration with other EU member states, the UK will ensure a strong co-ordinated statement is made in response to this announcement. The UK will continue to oppose the issuing of special permits on the basis that there is no justification for lethal scientific research on whales. I was, however, pleased that a resolution was passed that should help strengthen the role of the IWC in considering special permits, albeit not by consensus. In line with the agreed position of EU member states, the UK voted in support of the proposal. This was aligned with the UK’s negotiating position and represents a good outcome.

A proposal brought forward by Japan, Cambodia and Ghana to create a fund to strengthen the capacity of Governments of limited means to participate in the IWC did not achieve consensus. Because consensus could not be reached with parties, EU member states were instructed to abstain from the vote. A number of other anti-whaling countries also abstained. The resolution passed which is an acceptable outcome for the UK; although we will keep the development of the fund under close scrutiny to ensure appropriate safeguards and restrictions are in place.

Once again I am pleased to report that the UK, in line with the agreed position of EU member states, voted in favour of establishing a South Atlantic whale sanctuary. Unfortunately the proposal failed to gain the three-quarters majority required for adoption. This will be re-tabled at the next meeting in 2018, which was announced as being hosted by Brazil.

Finally, I was pleased that the UK-led work to progress the consideration of non-hunting threats to cetacean welfare was well received. A number of important recommendations were proposed to allow this important and ground-breaking work to continue. These were agreed by consensus meaning the UK can continue working closely with NGOs and academia to move this to the next stage.

In conclusion, this was a successful meeting and the UK made clear its continued strong opposition to commercial and scientific whaling. We now turn our attention to building for the 2018 meeting in Brazil, and will be working very closely with civil society in order to continue developing and delivering tangible improvements to the conservation and welfare of cetaceans globally.

On 23 June, the EU referendum took place and the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. Within IWC, until exit is concluded, the UK will continue to operate as part of the EU. Once we leave the EU, we will regain the ability to speak and vote independently at IWC and will be able to form broader coalitions to promote the conservation of whales and cetaceans.