Norway and Japan block UN role on whales

Norway, Japan and their allies blocked a bid on Friday to give the United Nations a greater role in protecting whales, as sought by conservationists frustrated by deep polarization over whaling.

The International Whaling Commission closed its latest annual meeting marred by intense divisions, although the 89-nation group found a rare point of consensus by agreeing to study the health effects of eating whale meat.

Monaco offered a resolution inviting the United Nations to look at whale conservation. Monaco's envoy, Frederic Briand, said the six-decade-old commission was undermined by its own inability to enforce decisions — a reference to Japan's whaling in Antarctic waters declared a no-kill sanctuary.

The measure met opposition from Japan, Norway and Iceland, which conduct whaling despite a 1986 global moratorium. South Korea jolted the conference on Wednesday by saying that it would become the fourth nation to do so.

"It is very ridiculous for the IWC to seem to give up its mandate, its law and its responsibility," Japanese official Akima Umezawa said, describing parts of Monaco's resolution as "imbalanced, inconsistent and irrelevant."

Norway's representative, Ole-David Stenseth, said that "species issues in general are not a matter for the General Assembly but for competent fisheries agencies."

Faced with the opposition, Monaco withdrew the resolution. Briand said he would instead invite nations to meet at a later date to study the issues he raised.

Briand said that his main concern was that the IWC had authority only over 38 migratory cetaceans, with no other species added in decades and limited coordination with UN environmental bodies.

Of the members of the United Nations, "a great part share our concern that the stocks of highly migratory animals should be taken care of in coordination among all concerned countries," Briand said.

Environmentalists suspected that Japan and Norway — usually enthusiastic over the United Nations — wanted to avoid a larger profile over the whaling dispute.

"Clearly Japan, Norway and Iceland want to keep the bile at the International Whaling Commission confined here. They don't want to have to show up at the United Nations and defend the indefensible," said Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The commission's meeting saw friction at nearly every turn, with nations refusing to extend aboriginal whaling rights in Greenland and a separate coalition blocking a Latin American attempt to declare a whale sanctuary in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

But a German-led resolution passed through the commission late Thursday that encouraged the World Health Organization to conduct research on the meat of whales and other cetaceans.

Whaling nations allowed the measure to proceed after the wording was changed to call for the study of both the "positive and negative health effects" of the meat.

Sandra Altherr of German advocacy group Pro Wildlife said that meat from whales and dolphins can cause disorders through high concentrations of mercury and PCB. She hailed the passage of the measure as progress.

"In Japan, you have some excellent scientists working on this issue but their reports are only seen in internal publications," Altherr said.

"I hope that this will send a signal to the different governments and to the public."

In another point of agreement, the Commission decided to hold full meetings every other year instead of annually. Nations on both sides of whaling said the less frequent schedule would cut costs and may improve the atmosphere.

Experts will still meet each year. The scientific committee will gather in 2013 in South Korea — in a meeting like to assess the country's hopes to start whaling.

South Korea, like Japan, said that it would use a loophole in the moratorium on commercial whaling that allows nations to kill whales for research, with the meat then going to consumption.

South Korea has said it will eventually submit plans to the scientific committee but that it does not feel obliged to obtain approval.

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Plastic-free effort at royal residence failed: Crown Princess

Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit has said that she failed in an experiment to cut out the use of plastic at the royal residence at Skaugum near Oslo.

Plastic-free effort at royal residence failed: Crown Princess
Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Photo: Torstein Bøe / NTB scanpix

The Crown Princess says that she and other members of the royal family remain concerned over plastics pollution, reports broadcaster NRK.

“I made an effort to make Skaugum plastic free last year, and it didn’t go so well. I think it was incredibly difficult. It was an experiment to see how normal consumers can avoid using plastics,” Crown Princess Mette-Marit told NRK.

Known for her interest in the environment, the Crown Princess and other royals have previously been involved in initiatives to removed litter from beaches in Norway.

“The experiment inspired me to think about when plastic is a necessary product, and when it actually is not. We are in no way perfect, but I think that it is important to try and reduce the use of plastic in any case,” she said.

Plastic packaging with food and electronics products was the most difficult to avoid, according to the princess.

In interviews recorded by NRK with senior members of Norway’s royal family, King Harald described as a “wake-up call” the sight near Bergen earlier this year of a whale that had become ill after ingesting plastic.

After being forced to put down the whale, researchers found 30 plastic bags and large amounts of microplastics in the animal’s stomach.

Environmental organisation Grid has estimated that around 350 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually worldwide, with drastic increases forecast in the coming years.

15 tonnes are estimated to be dumped into the sea every minute, writes NRK.

Marine biologist Per-Erik Schulze of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (Naturvernforbundet) told the broadcaster that the issue was critical.

“Every single minute an amount equivalent to several waste disposal trucks full of plastic goes into the sea. We can observe that it is building up and is not broken down. That cannot continue,” Schulze said.

“Several researchers say that plastic is a type of environmental pollutant. An environmental pollutant is defined as something that is persistent and difficult to break down. It is then ingested by organisms and causes harm in various ways,” he continued. 

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