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Celebrities draw blood on whaling

Richard Black | 15:10 UK time, Friday, 18 June 2010

Celebrities are joining the "fight against whaling" this week in rarely-seen numbers.

In a video produced by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), model Alice Dellal daubs and spatters a wall and herself with what I presume is intended to pass for whale blood, while intervening shots show us butchered bits of cetacean.

Christopher_EcclestonMeanwhile, former Dr Who actor Christopher Eccleston warns us that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is about to embark on a meeting that could see the lifting of the 24-year-old commercial hunting moratorium.

"Don't let them," he enjoins - seeking to "be the change" without the aid of a sonic screwdriver.

A major rock star is about to lend his voice to the cause, I'm told; and you can listen to Pierce Brosnan's fulminations against Japan any time.

Whenever celebs are involved in an environmental issue, I can't help wondering how much of the story they've been told, and to what degree of complexity they have grasped the political realities.

Taking Ms Dellal and Mr Eccleston's certainties at face value, it appears unthinkable that anyone who is anti-whaling could view the reforms on the table at next week's IWC meeting in Morocco as a positive development.

Yet many of the activists who have been with the issue for the longest time - including some veterans of early Greenpeace forays - are urging now that whale peace be given a chance.

Let's be clear about the choice facing the anti-whaling movement, and facing countries that abhor the industry.

It is either to condemn and fight and declaim for what they all really want - a total end to whaling - or to accept that that is not for the moment realisable (they have after all been trying for decades) and to work for something that is markedly better than the current situation.

I outlined in April the elements of the 10-year reform package that now now lies before IWC delegations, which is being debated now in preliminary meetings in Agadir ahead of Monday's formal opening.

Three of the groups prepared to countenance a deal - Greenpeace, Pew and WWF - set out their six "bottom lines" in a press call during the week:

•An end to hunting in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary
• Domestic use only for whalemeat - no international trade
IWC science must be used to set quotas
• No hunting of threatened species
• An end to use of the scientific whaling regulation
•If there is a consensus, all governments must agree not to lodge an objection (as IWC rules allow)

Whaling fleetHere's Pew's Sue Lieberman:

"A number of NGOs are looking at the current proposal from the chair and saying they don't like stuff in it.
 
"What we're saying is it can be made good. If we leave Agadir with no decision or no progress - that is not victory."

I gather that a number of anti-whaling countries are also setting "bottom lines" that are very close to the Pew/Greenpeace/WWF position.

I'm told that a modified package is likely to emerge by Monday morning that is closer to their lines of thinking.

If so, what are its chances of adoption?

The plan's backers - principally the US - are clearly hoping for consensus.

That appears to be an unlikely prospect. If anyone's clever enough to construct a form of words that could simultaneously please Australia at one extreme and Iceland at the other, they should immediately be put to work solving world hunger and nuclear proliferation.

So we're into the politics of voting blocs.

The EU commands more than a quarter of the votes, so its position is critical.

In principal, EU states are supposed to agree a common position on all environmental issues and to vote en masse.

But must that be done by consensus, with the inability to reach a consensus implying the need for a mass abstention?

Or can it be done by majority?

Or is there a third possibility - that countries can vote individually, according to their own consciences - as the UK did at the recent CITES meeting in defiance of the common position (a vote that has brought no recriminations from the European Commission)?

ProtestSoundings I've taken indicate they are close to agreeing a common position.

But it's entirely likely that negotiations during the week will throw up subtly different options for compromise, which some EU nations may find acceptable and others not; we'll see whether the bloc is nimble enough to respond on the hoof and maintain its co-ordination in what's likely to be a highly pressured environment.

Australia and the Latin American countries appear to be setting a higher bar for approving the deal than other anti-whaling nations such as the US and New Zealand.

South Korea, meanwhile, may vote against anything that doesn't give it similar whaling rights to Japan, while the positions of nations such as China and Russia are hard to gauge.

In short: all is to play for.

And the mechanics of the process received a late twist when it emerged during the week that the Chilean IWC chairman Cristian Maquieira, who outlined his case for trying to agree a deal in our Green Room series last week, will not be making the trip to Agadir - officially for health reasons, though some are voicing suspicions that his government vetoed his continued involvement because of the political opprobrium it was bringing.

For the vast majority of people stuck outside the circle of the IWC's immediate politics, the picture can appear hazy.

For example: the reform package can be viewed as a lifting of the 1986 commercial whaling moratorium. Yet given that Iceland and Norway are for historical reasons allowed to hunt commercially now, it could also reduce the number of whales being commercially killed each year. Confused?

Scientific whaling would end around Japan's coasts. But it would catch roughly the same number of whales, maybe more; but the hunting would have a different label, prompting some to ask: what's the point?

I'll be there during the week and endeavouring to clear the fog and make sense of it for you.

Any questions that you have, please post, and I'll do my best to answer them.

In the meantime: anyone prepared to tell Chris and Alice that it's not quite as simple as they're painting it?

UPDATE: I've posted some details of the EU's agreed position at comment 60 below.

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