International Speed Dating: IWC Style
Monday was the opening day of the plenary session of the 62nd Annual Meeting of the IWC, in Agadir, Morocco. The ceremony opened with welcoming statements from the Moroccan Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries and the Mayor of Agadir, and was followed by a procession of lively traditional Berber dancers and musicians. This brief prelude was immediately followed by a 45-minute coffee break. I didn’t notice any delegate trying to catch his or breath from the 20-minute effort of listening to the speeches or observing the festivities, but this is the infamous rhythm of a typical IWC meeting – a few precious minutes of work and discussion followed by 45 minutes of coffee break.
As a relative newcomer to the process, I appreciate the opportunity for cultivating professional relationships during the lengthy breaks, but it does appear to be a death knoll for substantive productivity, not to mention its potential for producing highly-caffeinated, jittery delegates and advocates.
Upon reconvening, we were informed by Vice-Chair Anthony Liverpool (who, I might add, appeared to be in stellar health) about the process by which contracting governments would deliberate the infamous compromise package. The discussions will take place in private, closed-door sessions with several countries grouped together “in every conceivable combination” to allow exchange and negotiation of as many perspectives as possible – basically, round-robin style. The U.S., along with Australia, New Zealand, Monaco, and Cambodia, comprise “Group One”. Each group will appoint a rapporteur, who will consolidate the group’s progress and submit his/her report directly to Vice Chair Liverpool. The process is designed to intensity efforts by which to reach consensus among all attending governments in order to finalize a package by this meeting, a goal developed during the 2009 meeting in Madeira. We have started to refer to it as “speed dating,” given its similarity to the social networking scheme. This process will continue Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday, with the plenary meeting resuming on Wednesday morning.
This is unprecedented in the IWC process – the meetings are private and governed by “Chatham House Rules”, whereby participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed (“You can be quoted, but not fired”). Additionally, advocacy groups such as ACS have no access to the delegates (even during their numerous breaks), which greatly handicaps our ability to learn about emerging developments from which we can strategize the way forward. The only way to reach a number of delegates is to email them, and right now many are being bombarded by formatted, pre-written emails, which they generally find unhelpful and irritating.
While we wait, we develop press releases, we identify delegates whose countries have yet to adopt a firm position on the package, we talk to the media and meet with our own delegates outside of the meetings to express our opinions and expectations about the package and the process.
Following the closed-door sessions, the Chair, along with the Small Working Group (SWG), will produce another draft of the package, which delegates will then send back to their respective governments and await their official marching orders. If consensus cannot be reached (and no one reasonably expects this to happen), then voting is expected to occur late in the plenary schedule, although a specific time has not been indicated. While no one is certain at this point, based on nuances we observe and hear, many of us are predicting that the package as it stands will fail.
What happens following the outcome of the vote is anybody’s guess, but no one is expecting a show of grand histrionics, such as public walk-outs by delegates during the plenary.
As it stands, the package is unacceptable to the broader conservation community, though in principle, the higher goal of ‘fixing a broken’ IWC and restoring its credibility is a noble one and should be encouraged. Perhaps it is my inexperience in high-level, savvy international negotiations or plain naïveté, but it seems to me that recruiting leaders whose moral compass point to “integrity and honestly” would be a positive step in the right direction. In the end, I’m certain that the way to restore integrity to a hopelessly corrupt and ineffective organization is not by killing more whales.