In October 2022, the 68th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was held in Portorož, Slovenia. IWC68 was also the first meeting in which Japan, which withdrew from the IWC in 2019, participated as an observer. 

This first session in four years brought attention to the IWC’s changing priorities, including several points of significance that deserve discussion. These are examined in a four part series, continuing below in Part 2.

Part 1: IWC68: Reflections on the Future of the International Whaling Commission

The IWC is facing a difficult financial situation. (© Institute of Cetacean Research)

Part 2 of 4

Cascading Financial Woes

The most important issue for the 68th IWC in 2022 was its financial problems. This problem had been recognized even before Japan’s withdrawal from the IWC. However, no effective measures have been taken to address it. 

If the current situation continues, the IWC will go bankrupt in 2025. There is also a possibility that the bankruptcy could come even earlier. To stave off this possibility, the IWC needed to agree on some decisive measures at this meeting.

Why did the IWC find itself on the brink of financial collapse? 

The causes are complex. But the biggest cause is that the IWC has launched a series of new programs without increasing its income. And all of these are so-called conservation programs for whale protection. 

For example, new whale watching guidelines and whale rescue programs for whales entangled in nets and ropes are recent achievements of the IWC. 

The IWC receives large contributions from anti-whaling countries and NGOs. But new conservation programs also place a heavy burden on the IWC’s budget in terms of increased administrative and personnel costs.

Income Needed to Take On Expenses

If income does not increase, but households continue to make new purchases one after another, their finances will naturally become more difficult. In the case of IWC, the income comes from contributions from member countries, which have not increased. 

The IWC also receives voluntary donations from governments, NGOs and industry to support specific programs. (© Institute of Cetacean Research)

Proposals to increase the contributions have been made many times. Nevertheless, they have failed to materialize due to opposition from member countries. 

On the other hand, in order to implement new programs, expenditures have always exceeded revenues, a deficit budget. The shortfall has been paid out of the general fund, the household savings fund, which is expected to run out by 2025.

Monetary Rate Fluctuations and Membership Dues

There are other reasons for the financial collapse: the IWC Secretariat is located near Cambridge, in the United Kingdom. Its budget is in UK pounds. 

The UK pound has lost value since the country left the European Union. This is a decline in the purchasing power of the pound. When meetings are held outside of the UK, or when the Secretariat staff travels outside of the UK, they now need more pounds than before.

In addition, inflation in the UK has increased in recent years, reducing the purchasing power of the pound within the UK as well.

On top of this, the situation has become marked by member countries’ non-payment or delay in paying their contributions. This has been becoming more and more noticeable for some time. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation in Ukraine have further worsened the financial situation of many countries. It has become difficult for them to pay their contributions to international organizations, including the IWC.

In this context, Japan withdrew from the IWC, and the IWC lost about 8% to 9% of its revenue.

Resistance to Counting Income and Expenses 

In the run-up to the 68th meeting, measures to deal with this fiscal crisis were being discussed. The working group presented options of raising contributions, drastically reducing expenditures, or a combination of both. These discussions remained deadlocked in the face of the threat of financial collapse.

In reality, many member countries had long been opposed to any increase in contributions to international organizations. Add to that the combination of the food and energy crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation in Ukraine. Both have further impacted the financial deterioration of each country. Now, it is essentially impossible to introduce any increase in contributions.

On the other hand, the reduction of the budget of the conservation programs was also strongly resisted by the anti-whaling countries. As a result, the budget of the IWC Scientific Committee was drastically reduced. 

Finding ways to address the budget problems for the Commission and its Scientific Committee was a dominant theme at the IWC68. (© Institute of Cetacean Research)

The budget of the Scientific Committee has been subject to cuts in the past. This indicates that the IWC is more willing to accept a reduction in the scientific projects. 

The fact that the budget for scientific research, which should be the basis for the conservation and management of cetaceans, is to be further reduced is a clear indication that science is becoming even less important to the IWC.

Developed Countries vs Developing Countries

The debate over the IWC’s financial crisis has highlighted another issue. It is the conflict between developed and developing countries, or developing countries’ distrust of developed countries, especially those that support sustainable use. This is a point of view that can also be linked to the criticism of environmental imperialism and environmental colonialism against anti-whaling nations. 

And it is important to note that high-profile international conferences were held in November 2022. Among them, the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 19th Conference of the Parties to the CITES

Conflicts, differences in awareness and values, and mutual distrust between developing countries and developed countries were markedly apparent. 

In the former, discussions were muddled over a proposal for a Loss and Damage Fund to compensate developing countries for damage and loss such as floods and land erosion caused by climate change. In addition, in CITES, Tanzania warned that a number of developing countries could withdraw from CITES. Its warning came in response to discussions that continued to ignore the socioeconomic interests of the residents of developing countries.

IWC68 was held in the affluent town of Portorož, Slovenia.(© Institute of Cetacean Research)

Following the Western International Order

Why did these cases occur and what do they mean?

The world’s legal order, international organizations, and social and economic systems have been constructed mainly by the current advanced Western countries. Non-Western countries, including Japan, have accepted and adapted to these systems. And in some aspects they have strived to join the ranks of the Western advanced nations. 

Many of today’s developing countries also aim to develop based on a similar sense of purpose. This was the vision of the future toward undoubted development and happiness.

However, that vision of the future has begun to crumble in recent years. Climate change is steadily advancing. And even if greenhouse gas emissions were immediately reduced to zero, climate change will probably continue for decades to come, just as a car that brakes suddenly cannot stop on the spot. 

In this context, new paradigms such as green economy and carbon free world are being proposed. But for developing countries, it is tantamount to being told to give up their own economic development scenario for the future of the global environment. 

IWC68 plenary session (© Institute of Cetacean Research)

Who Pays the Bill

Developing countries are being asked to pay the bill for the destruction of the global environment by the developed countries.

This bill-paying structure may have given rise to questions among developing countries and non-Western countries. 

Is it really right to follow the path of development taken by the advanced Western countries? Are the world legal order, international organizations, and socioeconomic systems created by the advanced Western nations really compatible with their own societies, cultures, values, and customs? 

Aren’t we losing something big to accept them? Aren’t there systems and methods better suited to developing and non-Western countries? 

The developed Western countries claim to respect science, technology, and rules, but aren’t these claims only convenient for the developed countries? Have developing countries and the non-Western countries unwittingly being imposed of the ideas and rules created by the Western developed countries, including environmental issues?

These are doubts and concerns that have been felt by many pro-sustainable use countries in the debate over the whaling issue. 

Continues in Part 3: IWC68: New Contested Issues Emerging from the South 


This article is published in cooperation with the Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan. Let us hear your thoughts in our comments section.

Author: Joji Morishita, PhD

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