Can we expect more communal singing today?
It is still dark on the streets but there is a faint tinge of pink in the sky to the west as the CMS delegates are making their way to the conference centre for the first full working day of the COP.
In the big hall a few early delegates wander around slightly confused as their place names are not yet distributed, so they cannot home in on where to sit. Their migration has been interrupted. A few enthusiastic NGOs sit respectfully towards the back of the room (we know our place) and await their place names too. A small legion of secretariat staff soon move around the room and country designations are soon distributed. But then they are picked up by a more senior member of secretariat staff and repositioned. Country delegates are now arriving in numbers and desperately hunt for their place names filling the narrow gangways to the centre and sides of the room.
A senior member of secretariat staff is holding Luxembourg behind his back. The Luxembourg delegate watches quietly from the back of the room. The Luxembourg plaque is then replaced on the stage in a pile alongside many others country names that are not quite ripe for positioning. After a while it is retrieved again and replaced on a table. The Luxembourg delegate moves elegantly across the room and takes his seat. Other nations waiting in the wings do likewise.
Meanwhile a team of strong people from WDCS and the Migratory Wildlife Network are distributing to delegates a copy of the weighty tome that is the second version of Erich Hoyt’s superb text on Marine Protected Areas for Cetaceans.
No NGOs name plates are distributed. They mill around gently vying for position at the back of the room.
Elizabeth the Executive Secretary of CMS comes to the microphone to apologise for the confusion and notes that in the coffee break all delegates should leave the room, so name plates can be properly located.
The Chairman of the Standing Committee opens the meeting and he and Elizabeth welcome everyone. She waves the new CMS publication, Living Planet-Connected Planet, in the air. It will be formally launched today. She hopes it will guide us. She again welcomes everyone and thanks partners and others for their support. Amongst other things she speaks of the new CMS website but she also stresses the need for adequate resources for the work of the convention. Does the African elephant need new resources?
A list of some half a dozen new countries that have adhered to the convention is noted and one of these, Armenia, takes the microphone to wish the meeting well and notes some relevant initiatives in his country. Ethiopia does the same and thanks the host for its warm hospitality.
The Kingdom of Swaziland reports that they are planning to join the convention and they are in the process of completing adherence. They are committed to the conservation and sustainable use of their migratory species.
We are reminded by Elizabeth of rule 15.2 which deals with voting rights. In the unlikely event that the COP decides to take a decision by vote (which she stresses has never happened in the history of the convention) countries must have paid their dues. The rules of procedure are then adopted, as the Chair sees ‘nodding’.
The Chair of the Standing Committee now seeks a Chair for the main COP and its main working group, which is known as the Committee of the Whole and it is traditional that the host country provides this. The Norwegian delegation proposes a name and there is applause. (We hope to clarify this name in due course.)
Chile proposed Uruguay for Chair of the Committee of the Whole. This is accepted.
The Chairman of the whole conference is established as Mr Oystein Storkersen from Norway. He moves to the stage clutching his faux skin conference bag and makes a short speech.
There are problems looming in the sky he says. (We cannot see the sky as the blackout blinds are down – possibly to get us used to the fact that daylight in these parts is scarce.) There were two main issues at the mini-CoP that is the Scientific Council he continues. We are good at making guidance and resolutions. We should look at what we are good at but strive not to overlap with other initiatives. Many of our resolutions are difficult to comply with across the world. He also notes the ‘crucial’ Rio 20+ meeting next year. We should seek to enable it to do a better job. There is no point in making more resolutions if they are not implemented at a national level. He is applauded and delegates are ushered out.
A long coffee break follows. People leave coats, bags and computers on seats which rather thwarts plans to reorganise the name plaques. It should be easier tomorrow.
Several working groups are now established. One is financial; another is marine species. The Future of the Convention will also be discussed alongside these. There will also be a Saker Falcon working group. The participation in these working groups is to some extent based on regional representation, so this is next discussed. The UK is chairing the important finance working group.
It is noted that various USA national entities are attending. The USA is not a party.
A long list of NGOs is then read out, including WDCS. Technically they are asking formally to be admitted. The Chair asks if we accept all these groups. A flag is raised. It is Argentina and she asks to see a written list before they approve admission. The Chair agrees. A few NGOs were not listed, including WWF and UNEP WCMC and they rush to microphones to note that they are in fact here.
The spoon-billed sandpiper now takes the stage. An expert, Professor Dave Wilcove, from Princetown University now addresses the Conference. He explains that it is the abundance of many migratory species that makes them so important. For example, the Salmon in the Columbia River Basin: in the 1800s there were 350-500 pounds of salmon in this system but now only 26-30 million pounds. Many non-migratory species, including bears, are dependent on this migratory species and will suffer because of its decline.
In North America, 6-21 million pounds of defoliating insects per day are consumed by migratory songbirds. What would be the effect of losing these birds?
Many uncertainties affect migratory species. Often we have incomplete knowledge about many migratory species. Scientific uncertainty will diminish. We are entering, he claims, the ‘Golden Age’ of migration science, as new technologies will give new insights. Some uncertainties will, of course, continue. In the US there is a migration of dragon flies but we don’t know why and where they are going. (A monitoring tag has recently been fitted for the first time to an insect species.)
Climate change will affect temperature and precipitation patterns. He takes the case of a flycatcher which has not changed the timing of its migration, whilst its food resource has responded to climate change. Such mismatches may be increasing important in the future. He notes the climate threat to sea turtles too.
Invasive species can also be expected to spread around the world: another threat to migratory species.
He proposes five steps to create effective ecological networks for migratory species.
1. Create a ‘red list’ of declining migratory species. (He notes here the threat to the highly migratory monarch butterfly where deforestation in Mexico at one end of its range is adversely affecting it).
2. Protect high-quality habitat across the entire migratory latitudinal and longitudinal range of the species
3. Identify and protect stop-over points.
4. Use incentives and regulations to maintain flexibility.
5. Stronger alliances to address threats to migratory species and here he mentions that even those technologies that seek to address climate change can be a problem for migratory species.
We can do more – we must not do less. The great migrations are irreplaceable, he concludes to supportive applause and the Chair notes that this is all food for thought. Egypt asks for a copy of the presentation to that it can be changed into Arabic.
Into the Future
Before lunch the Chair of the Intercessional Working Group on the Future Shape (of the CMS) gives an update on this work area. He introduces ERIC – the Environmental Regulation and Information Centre – which has made an independent assessment of this issue. He outlines the work to date and concludes that investing in biodiversity is investing in mankind’s future.
The meeting then breaks for a signing ceremony – for new parties to various legal instruments within the CMS family - and we shall come back to this matter after lunch.
Various countries now come forward to sign the Shark MOU, the Aquatic warbler MOU, the Raptors MOU. Italy for example takes to the stage to applause and signs the Shark and Raptors MOU. Germany does the same, as does Romania. A little later the EU signs the Shark MoU. Others follow.
Many people quietly check their emails, pausing only to clap.
A lunch break arrives and delegates set off for lunch in another part of the conference hotel which is a couple of blocks (and potentially a significant soaking) away. Not only is there ample and excellent food here provided by the host nation but a side event on ecological networks.
To provide a flavour of the context of CMS here follows a list of some of the species that it caters for:
Sharks – CMS oversaw the Second Meeting on International Cooperation on Migratory Sharks in 2008 and now we have the MOU in place for them, as signed earlier by various nations and the EU.
African Elephants – there is an MOU for West African elephants too. Its first meeting happened in Ghana in 2009. One of the issues brewing here at the COP is how many species of African elephant should be recognised. Some favour two others, including the CITES Secretariat as we heard last week in the Scientific Council only one and obviously this has implications for their conservation.
Aquatic Warblers and other avian species – they have an MOU too; so do the Siberian Cranes and also the migratory grassland birds of Southern South America. Then there is a houbara bustard MOU.
Saiga Antelopes – another MOU and the Bukhara deer have one too!
Dugongs – and another and its signatories met in 2010.
Bats – there is a fully fledged Agreement for bats in Europe known as ‘Eurobats’, and its party nations last met in the Czech republic in 2010.
Cetaceans – ASCOBANS is the agreement for small cetaceans only in Northern Europe and ACCOBAMS covers all the cetaceans in the Mediterranean and Black Seas (and the adjacent patch of the Atlantic); not to mention the Pacific cetacean MOU and the one for West Africa.
These are all the ‘babies’, as Elizabeth called them yesterday, of CMS. And CMS has been busy striving to help many species, including cetaceans. Can this continue against the backdrop of world economic issues? We shall see.
Other issues here over the next few days include those surrounding the bobolink? So we better find out what that is.
Lunch comes and goes.
We are quorate says the Chair. That means at least half of you are here. He repeats that all working groups are open-ended anyone can join. Each working group needs to appoint its own chair.
ERIC now gives its report on the Future Shape of the CMS and its Family (and presumably its babies). She talks about how the various CMS bodies work cooperatively. Some more than others but there is not, she says, a real family of integration, although ASCOBANS and ACCOBAMS work closely together. There is no infranet to help. Scientific bodies tend to be separated. Some MOUs also do not have a coordinator. She goes on to compare staffing levels in CMS with those in other bodies. Staffing seems to be comparable but CMS does support many more separated bodies.
The gorilla body receives little separate funding. It is mainly funded by the Secretariat.
She next details the estimated costs associated with possible changes. For example the working group on the Future… has recommended a number of key reforms and she considers a range of costs.
What issues do you want to focus on? she concludes.
In answer to a question from Pakistan she notes that part of the proposal is for a single scientific body for the whole family.
The EU now takes the floor for the first time and it is the Polish delegate speaking. They do not find the report sufficient. More work needs to be done; anything that needs additional funding will not be acceptable. They propose that COP 10 proposes that a new strategic plan should be developed.
Norway is prepared to develop in further discussions and looks forward to stream-lining and to link the Future process with the strategic plan.
Bert Lenten from the Secretariat, the Deputy CMS Executive Secretary, now gives some details of the work of the secretariat; noting with some conviction that we need to protect species before they disappear and also the long hours worked by the Secretariat as they try to cope with their heavy work load.
Total fix costs are 5.9 million Euros. Costs have increased because of inflation, increased staffing costs and the expansion of work. There is nothing currently in the small grant fund. If Parties want a new website, this will also cost. Bert notes that where there is a will there is away, for example the billions of Euros suddenly found by Europe to save the euro-zone.
Bert gets some applause and the Chairman says we also need to think of innovative ways forward. He tries to move to a coffee break but Mr Salmon of the UK is waving his flag (well actually his name plaque). The Chair says he now sees there is a desire to comment on what Bert said. The EU is given the floor first. She says different costs for different options need to be shown clearly. She is looking for a table to allow comparison with the different budget.
The UK thanks Norway for hosting and congratulates the chair and asks for the practical arrangements of when we meet. Madagascar gives the usual compliments. Would it not be possible to develop a funding mechanism?
The Chair says please do participate in the finance group. Argentina notes that the payment of contributions can turn out to be very expensive for developing nations.
The various working groups are now announced. The important (to us) working group on marine issues will include Germany, Norway, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Argentina and Ecuador. The other working groups are the ‘Future Shape’ and the ‘Strategic Group’.
Can we expect more communal singing today?
What makes a good opening ceremony for a multi-lateral environmental organisation’s Conference of Parties (COP)?
Is it speeches that inspire?
Is it a good sing-along?
Is it a suitably prestigious and impressive venue?
Is it a welcome from the hosting hotel manager pointing out the emergency exits and the main toilets?
Stand by because we are about to enjoy all these things.
Delegates fill the big meeting hall. There is an excited buzz and much meeting and greeting and then this suddenly stills as someone takes to the main stage.
It is the hotel manager. Delegates listen seemingly in awe as he identifies toilets and the exits. Then he exits. Then someone comes to sit at the grand piano which is central stage, and he is joined by a ljovial lady with red hair ady who sings to us.
Apparently ‘Birds and Bees do it’ and ‘even the Fins do it’. (It seems a little unfortunate to single out one member nation in this way, but there you are.)
The song is the old famous Cole Porter standard with the famous refrain:
And that's why birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love.
And another Party is identified in the lyrics with ‘the Dutch do it’!
Anyway, the gist of this is that the Parties are entreated to fall in love with each other. We will report back on how well this goes at the end of the meeting.
Then Toots sings to us one of her own compositions and asks the delegations to join in with the chorus which is ‘La la la la la’ x c30’. (It doesn’t matter what your language is she says, you can join in, and we do!)
The other lyrics go something like this:
‘Allow yourself to let it in… I’ve seen more of what you are… … weak makes you strong… the truth is bizarre.’ Followed by many lalalalalas.
There is warm applause.
Prince Bandar Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia is then announced as the master of ceremonies and some tables are rearranged, name plates added and carefully placed, and then the prince comes to the stage.
Prince Bandar welcomes everyonea and says we shall decide the future of CMS and the future of migratory species here and he calls for all parties to provide much needed institutional support. Ladies and Gentlemen the CMS family is growing… we are facing increasing challenges. More and more transboundary species are faced with extinction.
He describes the core strength of CMS as the support that it receives from its Parties and he hopes this will expand in coming years. He also calls on non-Party states to accede to the Convention and recalls that we are in the run-up to Rio + 20 (the key international environmental meeting).
He thanks the people and Government of Norway for their hospitality and the CMS Secretariat for their high quality arrangements for this meeting and wishes everyone constructive deliberations and a fruitful outcome.
Lisbeth Iversen a Commissioner of Bergen Municipality takes the microphone next. She welcomed everyone to historic Bergen and shows an aerial photo of the city, which was founded in 1070. The sea was the highway to cooperation with others she comments, and despite the fact that Bergen has been ravaged by fire many times, the history can still be read in the streets.
Uncertain weather conditions are now affecting the city; uncertainty is now the normal situation. Bergen is the second largest city in the country and surrounded by green and fertile mountains… she mentions the funicular railway, the birds in the city… and stresses that wildlife belongs to all of us and we belong to it. Bergen tries to have sustainable management of its biological diversity which they try to register and map.
With emphasis she concludes that ’We are all grown ups, we need to look to the future and work with children and their open hearts. In Bergen, the children have adopted our lakes and river systems. They take samples for the Universities and they help measure and monitor the trees. She hopes that we have come here with warm hearts to change the world. Good luck with your important talks.
More warm applause.
The UNEP Deputy Executive Director, Amina Mohammed, speaks next. She too extends greetings and thanks. The theme of COP10 - networking for migratory species - could not have been agreed at a better time she states and adds that we must agree synergies between international treaties. She lists the key international treaties: CBD, CITES and the RAMSAR convention.
Biodiversity is a product of years of evolution… and yet by our actions and activities, we are allowing erosion of biodiversity, at a time when our dependence on biological services and diversity is increasing rapidly. This is the UN decade of biodiversity and all countries should keep up the good work through the UN. She then echoes Ms Iversen; they all belong to us and we to them, she says. We need to invest in the conservation and sustainable use of species and she mentions the relationship between this and global poverty. An issue that must be addressed consistently.
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema comes to the microphone next. She is the Executive Secretary of the Convention for Migratory Species and she congratulates Norway on its outstanding environmental work. She could not have wished a better host for this jubilee meeting. Her speech is halted by applause for Norway.
She then gives a personal perspective: in her previous role as the lawyer for UNEP and responsible for its many treaties, she had thought that she knew CMS. But, she says, she discovered she was responsible for a most complex family of treaties and she refers to the daughter agreements and MOUs (memoranda of understanding). She was impressed by how many agreements were run from the small CMS secretariat – one for small cetaceans (ASCOBANS) another for gorillas and so forth. The small team and its small funding had to look after not only the main treaty but its ‘many babies’.
At the last COP she reflects, Parties tried to work out how to deal with all this work and she notes the many players involved in the work of her convention, including those in the field and in civil society. She considers the case of the Saiga Antelope in Russia. Acute decline was caused by poaching. No mammal has ever declined faster, but it is now recovering and, ultimately, it is the many people in the range states that made this happen.
She also mentions the other international bodies dealing with conservation and the importance of joint work – as agreed yesterday in the Standing Committee meeting.
The NGOs and civil society have continued to assist. ‘Your hard work in partnership with CMS and independently continues to be important’.
She notes that the convention has been locked into a review process (the Future Shape Process which we shall be hearing much more of over the next few days) and that many potential new agreements were put on ice whilst this has been running.
She praises Tanzania (her own country) for its recent decision not to build a road through the middle of the migratory route of many wild animals across the Serengeti. We must go from here with a clear way forward! We must also explain to the rest of the world, why it should care!
She is applauded.
Some small, and rather high tables, are now added to the stage and the senior administrators of a range of conventions come to stand alongside them with Elizabeth Maruma Merema. They include CITES, RAMSAR, ITPGRFA (The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture) and Peter Schei (the representative of Norway and a CMS Ambassador).
They are invited to profile their conventions and have an ‘interactive discussion’
The CITES Executive Secretary, John Scanlon, speaks up first. We enter our convention like CMS ‘through the lens of species’. We cannot meet our objectives by working alone he says – he lists a number of bodies CITES works with including Interpol. He says the relationship with CMS is strong. CMS and CITES have become very specific. How do we help our parties address listings under both conventions?
The Saiga antelope decline was a lot to do with illegal trade – a CITES issue. In addressing this Mr Scanlon says we brought together the originating states and the consuming states and good results came with good cooperation between the conventions. Then he points to the gorilla depicted on the banner on the stage (Rhingo), another species that needs us to collaborate and adds that CMS and CITES need to go on being specific.
We need to look at ecosystem services but also individual species. Some forests are already empty. We cannot only look at ecosystems services. We mush maintain the species focus.
Nick Davidson of RAMSAR (the Convention for Wetlands) agrees with the CITES executive secretary and then throws numerous acronyms at the assembly. (Acronyms are not an endangered species.) Migratory species may be international sentinels of global change he stresses and notes that here we are speaking to the converted. We need to reach out urgently to others (and he identifies in particular the absence of the energy sector here). We must also recognise the hairy and slimy species, not just the birds. He calls out for outreach to CBD (interestingly not apparently represented here).
Shakeel Bhatti of ITPGRFA speaks next. He is committed to working with the other environmental treaties. He sees a link in the ‘wise use’ or ‘wise management’ of species as identified in the CMS treaty with the work of his treaty.
We now come to the tall and distinguished figure of Peter Schei. He is not only a CMS Ambassador but since 2004 BirdLife International's Chairman. Before this he was International Negotiations Director for Norway and was based at the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, where he had been Director General from 1989 to 1995.
CMS and CITES are specific and related to species he says. The species level is represented in CBD but they focus more on the ecosystem level. They look at the drivers of extinction. We are indeed focusing too much on speaking to ourselves. He agrees that we need dialogue with others in the other sectors, including the extractive ones. They have been striving for this in Norway.
Mr Schei does not like the fragmentation of governance coming from many different conventions. It is good that the biodiversity conventions are talking; but this is easy. They are more or less the same people. We need to speak to the climate people. They are not so interested in biodiversity. We should talk to the World Trade Organisation and seek ‘horizontal integration’ between ministries and sectors. We need to restore the ecological infrastructure on the planet. It is not so strong now and it will be important for adaptation to climate change. Science is also important. BirdLife works closely with the CMS Secretariat in this regard, he adds, we need the best advice and the government of Norway has long been focused on the best science for the implementation of conventions.
Elizabeth is then invited back to the microphone. She highlights the Biodiversity Liaison Group established between the international bodies. There needs to be more liaison at national level too she urges.
Fernando Spina of Italy, recently appointed as the Chair of the CMS Scientific Committee – and resplendent in a duck-decorated tie – gives the penultimate speech. He reflects on the last COP (which was in Rome, and yes we were there too).
Whilst we meet and talk, many animals are going about their business anyway. He gives various examples including the fact that majestic gorillas are unaware of crossing borders in their shady forests and gigantic whales are following their mysterious underwater track ways.
He then formally hands over from COP9 to COP 10. There is applause and he is thanked by Prince Bandar who introduces Erick Soheim, Minister of the Environment of Norway (he is also the Minister of Development Cooperation). He is the last speaker and he is invited to now open the meeting.
It is not a coincidence that we are here in Bergen. This is the most international place in Norway. Once the language here was German and grain flowed in and cod out. Bergen was once the main city and people in Bergen still believe they are far superior to other Norwegians. There is laughter.
He continues: Norway is built on migratory species. Why did people first come here? First they followed the reindeer. Moving here from south France, but why would they leave the more beautiful (as some would say) women of France? They also discovered the migratory salmon. They were once so common and big and fat that the peasants once begged their overlords to have just one salmon-free meal a week.
The most popular song in Norway is about migratory birds. Yes they spend some times overseas but as Norwegians, we see their home here (not in Spain or Africa.) They return in the Spring and our society blooms then too. We are never happier than in April and May. He emphasises this by noting that more babies are born in Norway in January because of this. There is more laughter.
Norway knows now that to protect its bird life it must protect them in all their habitats around the world. Actions are taken in Norway but there must also be international cooperation.
One road could affect many wild beasts. Here we are focused on action to address the electrocution issue. Our transmission lines are killing hundreds of thousands of birds. Marine Litter was covered by a conference here last year. We have seen all the plastic in seabirds. We cannot continue to use the oceans as a litter bin!
He emphasises that we need to outreach to people. Probably only ten people in Norway understand what ‘CMS COP 10’ understands, and they all work for him, says the minster laughing. When you use all these acronyms it makes life hard. In his ministry he only allows 2 acronyms – UN and EU (and sometimes USA). There is more laughter.
We need people to understand the beauty of nature and not impair this with jargon.
He is rewarded with applause.
He goes on to speak about the relationship between palm oil and the destruction of rain forest. Here is a conversation that has happened with the relevant industry. They are ready to use degraded land in Indonesia if this is possible and there would then be no reason to use prime forest. This industry is substantial to the budget of Indonesia and this has to be recognised but it has started.
We need to speak to all ‘tribes’. We must uplift the one billion people living in poverty; we cannot achieve conservation separately from this.
We even have one tribe looking at Climate Change and another focused on biodiversity. These tribes must be brought together.
What other arguments would people understand? Across religions there is a common philosophy that calls for the protection of nature. The bible – the holy book of Norway - begins and ends with the beauty of nature. We cannot take it upon ourselves to be the one species destroying nature.
The second argument is the ecosystems argument. Destroying one species can have enormous impacts on the rest. The third argument is the economic one. Species can have economic potential and not only for tourism. We need to send a message to the climate change meeting in Durban in three weeks time (some delegates already seem to be looking at a draft message, so something along these lines is already being progressed here).
Norway’s main contribution, says its minister, has been to address deforestation working with Brazil and others. Brazil has reduced deforestation by seventy percent. Tremendous progress and it shows you can combine conservation and development. He also mentions his support for gorilla conservation.
In conclusion, this will be an important year for conservation. There are several important meetings. We must combine our efforts to make this successful. This conference is an important step.
He steps back and the applause is enthusiastic. He has impressed the COP.
The Prince thanks him, especially for stealing many of the remarks that he wanted to make! Environment to him is the most important thing. It is holy, our life, our home, our food, we are part of it. A human being is a custodian as it says in his religion. Our forefathers did look after it but, in the last 100 years, we have destroyed more than ever before because of our technology and increase in population. Ignorance and greed are the reasons for the destruction of the environment. We need to reach out to governments and non-government groups and agencies all over the world.
Once there were only seven bald ibises in the world. Two crossed Saudi Arabia. One was shot by an ignorant child and this made the Saudis mad. They then initiated a new protective regime and the next year the birds passed through Saudi without incident.
All countries in the world have migratory species – we had problems in Saudi Arabia with CITES implementation but now we have come a long way. We have explained now to our people the need and that implementation on a local level is so important.
Every country must join in and Prince Bandar concludes by thanking the host nation, noting the role of Norway in helping to protect the biodiversity of the world.
[Please note that what we report here is not verbatim but we try to capture the gist of what was said and welcome comment and correction.]
Some images from the opening ceremony.
Onwards and upwards.
Bergen has an old town at its centre called Brynngen which was the medieval trading centre of this part of the world. It is characterised by a series of ancient wooden buildings that have somehow survived (at least in some parts) the years, the fires and a mighty explosion when a visiting munitions vessel blew up in 1944. Once they were warehouses full of goods, especially fish from northern Norway. They now list in a rather tipsy manner and host a variety of shops and cafes. Here you can find Christmas decorations, Norwegian knitwear, jewellery, furs and whale meat on your plate.
There is a funicular railway that climbs from Brynngen into the countryside. The track is at a sharp angle (about forty five degrees) and the trains are full this Sunday morning of delegates getting their last gasp of sharp fresh Norwegian air before the opening ceremony of COP 10 this afternoon. In fact, the train’s coaches and the top of the mountain have become something of an extension of the meeting as delegates meet and greet each other as they do their sightseeing. Even the hard-pressed translators have escaped for a few hours to admire the view, and what a view it is!
The fiords and mountains and the sprawl of Bergen are sharply in view today. Only the clouds and heavy rain are missing, their memory held in the wet vegetation and torrents of water pouring down the slopes.
All of which is mainly an excuse to show you some more pictures of the town and the view whilst we await the opening event.
It is cold. The views are nice … in the few hours of daylight that there are!!
We are apparently currently attending the ‘Scienitific Council’ meeting of the Convention on Migratory species and all the official badges – probably with correct spelling - (and allegedly many of the official papers) have become embroiled in some kind of customs dispute and been sent back to Oslo. Hopefully, they will be located soon.
All delegates have been provided with a conference shoulder-bag (faux animal skin) of goodies. Herein we find a jaunty bright yellow rain-hat, waterproof poncho and a reflective arm band. The host country obviously does not mean us to get wet or run over during our stay here. There is also a Jamie Oliver note pad and some memory sticks from CMS and EU loaded with documents. We shall definitely not go short of reading material.
The conference hotel, the Bergen Scandic, is currently bravely hosting two conferences simultaneously. The other concerns ‘Psycopathy’ in the local community. This may cause some confusion and we are pondering what will happen to delegates from either conference who accidently attend the wrong one and, in particular, how long it may take people to realise that they are in the wrong place.
Outside it is hovering around a non-balmy 2 degrees but it is occasionally sunny – at least we think it is, as daylight is something we’ve not seen a lot of since we arrived. Northern crows scream overhead and a few magpies also haunt the occasionally cobbled streets. Bergen is famously both cosmopolitan and picturesque but that is probably enough about the location (for the moment).
So, what do we expect from this meeting, especially noting the backdrop of global economic gloom and doom? There are a host of issues in front of the meeting, including many that directly or indirectly affect marine mammals.
Unfortunately, the outlook for many migratory species is bleak; climate change is now affecting them directly and indirectly and this offers a new and urgent challenge. Will this meeting of the convention take adequate action to address this matter? Only time will tell …!
Also on the agenda is a significant draft global work plan for cetaceans, a considerable piece of work that will hopefully ensure enhanced (and concerted) action on all species of cetacean that are currently listed on Appendix I and II of the Convention (approximately 40 of the 86 species that are currently recognised). Other important draft resolutions up for consideration concern marine debris, fisheries bycatch, marine noise and other matters. Some of these issues are of great importance to cetacean conservation and welfare (and so of considerable interest to us) and we shall be doing our best to ensure that the meeting is successful and has only positive outcomes for all and any migratory species of whale and/or dolphin.
One growing issue here and in other international agreements is the role and behaviour of the countries from the European Union. Readers who follow our blogs from the International Whaling Commission will know that in recent years these nations, including the UK, have started to act exclusively in consort in that forum; seeking unanimous positions on all issues via a process that requires them to confer extensively with each other. This has generated concerns about access to national delegations (essentially they often claim that they cannot speak to us because they are too busy speaking to each other) and what exactly each nation is doing has become obscured in this process. In the IWC context this has caused huge problems. Will it do so here? We shall see.
We will not report from the Scientific Council but begin blogging in earnest next week when the main CoP (Conference of the Parties) opens. Stay tuned for more from the Norwegian fiords!
WDCS joined this week with the Humane Society of the United States and Defenders of Wildlife to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for continuing to allow fisheries that it manages to injury and kill endangered whales, like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
“In an increasingly busy ocean, the survival and recovery of the North Atlantic right whale depends on protecting each individual from entanglement-related injuries and deaths,” said WDCS's Regina Asmutis-Silvia.
The lawsuit points out, “Each year, critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales become entangled in commercial fishing gear. In these incidents, fishing line wraps around whales’ heads, flippers, or tails, often impending basic movement, feeding, and reproduction, causing infection, and sometimes preventing the animals from resurfacing, resulting in drowning.”
It also notes that so far this year “there have been at least seven new right whale entanglements, ten new humpback entanglements, and at least two right whales have died from entanglement-related injuries.”
We shall let you know how the case progresses.
Our congratulations also this week to the UK's FCO. A WDCS and AWI team busted the sale of whale meat at Iceland's Keflavik International Airport. Prompt action by the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to remind UK citizens that purchasing whale meat and attempting to import it into the UK and Europe would be an offence led to the Icelandic authorities withdrawing the whale products from the airport shop.
Okay, so now I have seen everything.
Japan, devastated by the tsunami and earthquake, reeling after Fukushima, is going to spend even more money on subsidizing its whaling fleet. ABC is reporting that around an additional 2 billion yen will be put into the overall support (some estimates put it at the equivalent of Aus$40 million) for the loss making fleet.
And the reasons reported for this. Japan does not wish to loose face in being seen to give into opposition to its whaling policy.
So Japanese people will suffer, areas of Japan will be rebuilt later, just because Japan cannot get over a cultural hurdle? What is so stupid is that the disasters of the last year are the perfect excuse for Japan to save face and get out of this preposterous business once and for all.
But no, Japan's pride in its unnecessary whaling is so important, that it must be put before the safety and future of millions of Japanese, many of who care little about whaling or are unaware of the global opinion about Japan's renegade whaling.
Yep, now I have seen everything.
It seems that what some of us have been saying for some time is slowly dawning on some of the proponents of whaling.
If you want healthy oceans, we need many more whales and dolphins.
The Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið reports that Örnólfur Thorlacius has questioned the issue of whether whales are eating all the fish, a popular myth postulated by proponents of whaling to ensure the continuance of government support, in the form of both political and taxpayers money, for the continuation of an outmoded industry.
In an article entitled 'Can we lose the whale from the food chain' the author questions why it is that with so many whales removed by whaling, the oceans are not teeming with life, pointing to work in the southern hemisphere that shows whales are integral to the heath of the oceans.
So Icelanders, you may be weakening the future of your own fishing industry by the insistence of a few individuals that whaling continues. It seems that the many will pay the price for the gain of a few rich individuals. And there was me, thinking that Icelanders had learned that lesson in the last few years.
All the discussion of the economic problems in the global economy is annoying. Not because there is not a problem, but because I feel that the media can sometimes move from 'reporting the issues' to 'hyping the gloom'. Just look how the markets react to the latest media reports on rumours and suggestions of countries defaulting on their loans. Now it may well be about to happen, but some reports seem to help it on its way by causing such gloom that it becomes a component of causation. I am sure the Greek Government would like people to stop stating that 'its going to default on its debt', as every published article or news piece seems to add another percentage point to its repayment costs - and so hasten the default.
Unfortunately it also happens in the whaling debate. Recently in Brussels it was reported that a member of the EU Commission seemed to be telling other colleagues and MEPs that the 'IWC needs fixing before it falls apart'. This is the kind of thing we hear when people are badly briefed and think that, they, despite all the efforts of others, can 'fix the problem'.
What plank of logic this is based on I don't know. Yes the whaling interests in Norway, Japan and Iceland have worked hard to create the image of a 'dsyfunctional IWC', but its their actions that has made the IWC a difficult place to work in. The conservation-led countries don't need to hype the problems, they need to help stop the whaling interests making it worse. The EU should definately not give the whalers what they want because its the 'easy option' or because its seen as a way of 'fixing' the IWC.
It's like rewarding a screaming drunk with another bottle of booze, after everyone has said its cannot have any more because its bad for them and those around them. But the drunk is stuck in the past and like a badly behaving child, will rant and flail until they get what they want. Some justify giving in by saying its the only solution (for an easy life), because otherwise the drunk will go and smash their way into the off-licence and take the booze themselves. So they break the rules, they bend the rules, - 'because what else can they do?'
Well there is a lot they can do. And they can start by listening to those who understand the history of the whaler's manoeurverings in the IWC, and not the panicked calls of a few bureaucrats. If they are not extremely careful, their ignorance of the issue will deliver the whalers all they want, and more.
When people start believing the hype they can make mistakes. The EU Commission needs to think carefully about where its getting its briefings from and Member States should not give into the rhetoric coming from some about a 'dyfunctional' IWC, - else they may well just help create one.
WDCS is very sad to learn of the death of one of the great champions for the whales and one of our friends, Alexandre de Lichtervelde, the first Commissioner for Belgium to the International Whaling Commission.
Alexandre was appointed to this role in 2004 when Belgium joined the Whaling Commission and immediately brought to it a new, distinctive and very welcome approach. He was also deeply involved in Antarctic issues. Over the last day, as the news of his untimely death has broken, we have witnessed tributes to him coming from all around the world. These tributes show the deep affection and admiration that many felt for him.
Alexandre made a profound contribution at the IWC, and many of us at WDCS worked closely with him. He was highly instrumental in the expansion of the Commission’s work into a number of new and important spheres, including most recently consideration of the effects of ship-strikes on whales. He brought great energy and integrity to all that he did and he was essentially a key driving force in opening up the IWC to address new issues, including by the leadership he brought to its Conservation Committee. He also notably supported contributions at IWC meetings of young scientists.
We knew Alexandre as a man of excellent humour and he was often featured in the WDCS blog from the IWC, which we also knew he avidly read and would comment on (including if he felt it was not funny enough or inaccurate). At the IWC meeting in Morocco last year, Alexandre did not hesitate to pose for a picture for the blog waving a small fan in the air which was being used as a lobbying tool by one conservation organisation. Whilst he did not always take him self seriously, his dedication to cetacean conservation was very clear and he was determined to make a difference to the way in which the IWC worked. In this he was in many ways successful and this will be part of his legacy.
He was also good company and after the hard work at meetings was over for the day, he would be found celebrating with friends reflecting on events with a wry humour. We were proud to be counted amongst these friends and he will be very sorely missed by us and many others within the conservation world.
We send our sincere condolences to his family and his other friends.
Two months after the US Secretary of Commerce recommended that the US take strong action against Icelandic whaling, President Obama issued a strongly worded statement that fires a warning shot across Iceland’s bows if its fin whaling does not stop for good.Although the President did not go as far as WDCS and its follow NGOs hoped by imposing trade sanctions on Iceland, he directed his administration to review its diplomatic relationship with Iceland, potentially including cancelling meetings with Icelandic officials and withdrawing funding for joint projects in the Arctic.
Iceland did not undertake any fin whaling this summer, blaming reduced markets in Japan following the tsunami in March, but it has given no indication that its aggressive policy on fin whaling has changed. If Iceland resumes fin whaling, President Obama has sought an immediate report from his officials, suggesting that the door remains open for punitive economic measures against Iceland by the US in the future.
In late 2010, WDCS co-authored an 80+ page petition to the US government that set out how Iceland is undermining the effectiveness of both the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) by its ongoing whaling and international trade in whaling products in defiance of international bans.
The petition, which identified whaling-related commercial targets for sanctions in Iceland, was supported by nineteen other US conservation and animal welfare groups. Together, in recent weeks, we have collectively rallied hundreds of thousands of US citizens to send emails, faxes and letters to the President calling for sanctions.
Although we are disappointed that Iceland is not facing trade sanctions for its fin and minke whaling, we believe our months of effort paid off; the petition and your messages of support reached the President’s desk and he took us seriously. WDCS remains optimistic that strong action by the US will help bring an end to Icelandic whaling and trade.We expect to receive a response from the Department of Interior next month to the part of the petition related to Iceland’s trade in whale products.