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At its 59th Annual Meeting (IWC/59) in Anchorage in May2007, the Commission agreed that an intersessional meeting should be held prior to the 2008 Annual Meeting to provide an opportunity for Contracting Governments to discuss the future of the organisation, given inter alia the impasse reached on the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) and the number of issues for which polarisation rather than consensus appeared to be the norm within the Commission.

In Anchorage, the Commission had considered the outcomes of three non-IWC meetings held between IWC/58 and IWC/59 regarding the future of the organisation. One was held in Tokyo, organised by the Government of Japan, one was held in New York, organized by the Pew Foundation and one was held in Buenos Aires by Latin American countries. In receiving the reports of these meetings (Documents IWC/59/7, 11 and 28), many countries recognised the positive overlap in some of the suggestions made and the Commission agreed that there was merit in pursuing discussions further through an intersessional meeting under the auspices of the IWC. It was agreed that the meeting should be open to all Contracting Governments and observers. It was also agreed that a Steering Group comprising the Commission Chair and Vice-Chair, the Commissioner for Palau (who chaired the Tokyo meeting), the Commissioner for New Zealand (who chaired the New York meeting) and the Commissioner for Chile (representing those involved in the Buenos Aires meeting) would prepare a draft agenda for the meeting that would be circulated to all Contracting Governments for comment.

The Steering Group met in Washington in October 2007. Noting that attempts made to date to find a way out of the impasse in which IWC currently finds itself have not worked, the Steering Group agreed that there was an urgent need to explore ways that might be more successful and which can improve levels of trust amongst members and others. To this end, rather than launching into negotiations on substantive issues where major differences among IWC members exist, the Steering Group agreed that, initially, it would be more fruitful to take a process-orientated approach and to seek ways to improve how negotiations within the IWC are conducted. The intersessional meeting therefore focused on matters of process rather than on matters of substance.


The Intersessional Meeting of the Commission was held at the Renaissance London Heathrow hotel from 6-8 March 2008.  The first day was devoted to hearing from, and gaining the experiences and perspectives of, a number of individuals from outside the IWC but with experience in handling difficult international issues. Drawing on these presentations, the second and third days were devoted to how discussions and negotiations within IWC might be improved and trust rebuilt.

To facilitate this approach, the services of an acknowledged expert in this field were engaged, i.e. Special Advisor Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. Other outside speakers attending the meeting were Ambassador Raúl Estrada-Oyuela and Ambassador Alvaro de Soto. They were invited to take part in view of their extensive and high-level experience with a range of challenging international issues. Ambassador Estrada-Oyuela has been a major player, in particular, with climate change discussions and the Kyoto Protocol and its implementation, chairing sessions to finalise the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol. He has also been involved with other environmental and sustainable development issues, was on the Board of Governors of the UN Atomic Energy Agency and has a background in international environmental law and policy. Ambassador de Soto had recently concluded 25 years service at the United Nations where he was deeply involved in a range of peace negotiations, his last role being the UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. He has a long experience in the UN Security Council, both as a national representative and on behalf of three Secretaries-General and he was also involved in discussions leading up to the adoption of the Law of the Sea Convention. Both individuals have held senior positions in their national diplomatic services.

The Chair’s Report, meeting documents and press releases from this meeting are available HERE.




As a result of the productive discussions at the March 2008 interesssional meeting and during the 2008 Annual Meeting, the Commission agreed, by consensus, approaches to:

  1. reforming its working procedures and practices; and
  2. further discussions/negotiations on substantive issues. An Intersessional Correspondence Group (ICG) on Issues Related to the Scientific Committee was also established.

Documents discussed at the 2008 Annual Meeting relating to the future of IWC can be found HERE

Working Procedures and Practices

The Commission agreed that it would make every effort to reach consensus on all matters of substance and that voting should be a last resort.  It developed revised Rule of Procedures/Debate to this effect. The Commission recognised that increased dialogue between Contracting Governments and greater use of informal meetings would improve the prospects of achieving consensus.  The Commission agreed that the work of the Commission should be organised to provide sufficient opportunities for all proposals to be discussed informally between Contracting Governments before action was taken by the Commission.  It also recognised the importance of ensuring that its proceedings took place in an environment of mutual respect, notwithstanding the differing views and perspectives among Contracting Governments. 

To maximise the prospects of reaching consensus, the Commission agreed that full draft text of all proposals for action by the Commission (e.g. Schedule amendments and Resolutions) should be circulated to Contracting Governments 60 days in advance of the annual meeting and that there should be a similar requirement for proposed amendments to the Rules of Procedure and Rules of Debate.  Revised Rules of Procedure were developed to this effect.

The Commission also agreed that reducing the uncertainty over the voting intentions of new Contracting Governments would improve the predictability of the Commission’s annual meetings.  It developed a new Rule of Procedure that would not allow a new Contracting Government to exercise its vote until 30 days after adherence. 

Recognising that French and Spanish are the primary languages of many Contracting Governments, the Commission also emphasised the importance of enabling effective participation in its affairs and widely disseminating information to the public through the use of French and Spanish as working languages of the Commission.  It amended its Rules of Procedure accordingly (see also section 17).

The Commission further recognised the importance of ensuring accurate and timely information on the Commission’s work was provided to the media and encouraged the Chair, Secretary and Head of Science to provide regular briefings to the media at the meetings of the Commission.

The Commission decided to implement the use of French and Spanish as working languages of the Commission beginning with its 60th Annual Meeting and that the other amendments would come into effect the following year at the 2009 Annual Meeting.

Further discussions/negotiations on substantive issues

To assist the Commission to arrive at a consensus solution to the main issues it faces and thus to enable it to best fulfil its role with respect to the conservation of whale stocks and the management of whaling, it agreed to establish a Small Working Group on the Future of IWC (SWG). 

Intersessional Correspondence Group (ICG)

The ICG was established to consider, inter alia, advantages and disadvantages of separating the annual meeting of the Scientific Committee from that of the Commission, ways to increase participation in the Scientific Committee of scientists from developing countries and to build scientific capacity in these countries, and to review the process for inviting participants to the Scientific Committee.




To facilitate further discussions/negotiations on the future of IWC, the Commission agreed by consensus to establish a Small Working Group (SWG) to assist it:

‘to arrive at a consensus solution to the main issues it faces (based on Table 1) and thus to enable it to best fulfil its role with respect to the conservation of whale stocks and the management of whaling. The working group’s primary task in this regard is to make very effort to develop a package or packages for review by the Commission’.

Table 1

Elements/issues identified as being of importance to one or more Contracting Government in relation to the future of IWC. These are in alphabetical order.

1 Advisory/Standing Committee or Bureau: need for 18 Financial contribution scheme
2 Animal welfare 19 Frequency of meetings
3 Bycatch and infractions 20 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
4 Climate change 21 Objections and reservations
5 Civil society (involvement of) 22 Procedural issues: improvements to
6 Coastal whaling (ie within EEZ) 23 Research under special permit
7 Commercial whaling moratorium 24 Revised Management Procedure (RMP)
8 Compliance and monitoring 25 Revised Management Scheme (RMS)
9 Conservation Committee 26 Sanctions
10 Conservation management plans 27 Sanctuaries
11 Convention (purpose of) 28 Science – role of science and functioning of Scientific Committee
12 Co-operative non-lethal research programmes 29 Secretariat: implications for role of/expertise
13 Data provision 30 Socio-economic implications
14 Developments in ocean governance 31 Small cetaceans
15 Ecosystem-based approach to management 32 Trade restrictions
16 Environmental threats to cetaceans 33 Whalewatching/non-lethal use
17 Ethics    

An overview prepared by the Secretariat summarising the status of discussions within IWC on the above 33 issues (as of the 2008 Annual Meeting) is available HERE.

It was agreed that SWG membership would be representative in terms of, for example, views, geography and economy and that its members should: (a) consult with those non-participating countries that it broadly represents; and (b) take into account the known general views of all countries that are not members of the working group.

Ambassador Alvaro de Soto, one of the experts involved in the March 2008 intersessional meeting, was appointed to chair the SWG under the supervision of the IWC Chair, Bill Hogarth.

The SWG was tasked with presenting a report on the results of its initial deliberations to the 2009 Intersessional Meeting of the Commission on the Future of IWC. The report may be found HERE.

Between the 2008 and 2009 Annual Meetings, the SWG met three times; in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA from 15-18 September 2008, Cambridge, UK from 8-10 December 2008 and Rome, Italy from 9 to 11 March 2009, immediately following the Intersessional Commission Meeting.




The Intersessional Meeting of the Commission on the Future of IWC was held from 9-11 March 2009 at the Headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in Rome, Italy. It reviewed the SWG’s report and gave it further directions for its work leading up to the 2009 Annual Meeting.

The Press Release from this meeting may be found HERE.


In Madeira the Commission reviewed progress with discussions on the future of IWC. Click HERE to go to the relevant page containing further information and all the principal documents.

Recognising that the work was not complete, the Commission agreed by consensus to extend the time allocated to the SWG until the 2010 Annual Meeting to be held in Agadir, Morocco.  It further agreed to open the SWG to observers.  Click HERE for the Consensus Resolution.

 The SWG was tasked with intensifying its efforts to conclude a package or packages by 2010 that should allow the Commission to reach a consensus solution to the major problems it faces, building upon the concept of a two-phase process and the progress reported by the SWG in its report to IWC/61.  The Commission also agreed that the Chair, in consultation with the Advisory Committee, should establish a Support Group containing equitable geographic and socio-economic representation and range of views to assist him in providing direction to the process and in the preparation of material for submission to the SWG.  The Support Group comprises Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, St. Kitts and Nevis, Sweden and the USA.  It was agreed that it would meet in Santiago, Chile from 5-16 October 2009.

The Commission also agreed to establish a small joint working group of the Scientific and F&A Committees to further consider issues raised during discussions of the ICG’s report and to develop recommendations for consideration at next year’s meeting.  The group will work by correspondence.  Its composition will be arranged by the Chair of the Commission.




The fourth meeting of the SWG was held in St. Pete Beach, Florida, USA from 2-4 March 2010.  It was open to IWC-accredited observers but not to the media.

CHAIR'S REPORT: Chair’s Report of the Intersessional Meeting of the Commission St. Pete Beach, Florida 4 March 2010 - HERE

PRESS RELEASE 05/03/2010: Statement by the Vice-Chair of the International Whaling Commission, Anthony Liverpool, on the Future of the IWC - HERE


Report of the fourth meeting of the SWG on the Future of the IWC ðIWC-62-6rev
Comments received on the draft consensus decision to improve the conservation of whales (IWC-M10-SWG4) ðIWC-A10-SG1
Meeting Documents
Draft Agenda ðIWC-M10-SWG1
List of Documents ðIWC-M10-SWG2
List of Participants ðIWC-M10-SWG3
Chair’s Report to the Small Working Group on the Future of IWC ðIWC-M10-SWG4
The Future of the IWC: An Australian Proposal ðIWC-M10-SWG5
Report of the Scientific Assessment Group ðIWC-M10-SWG6
Statement on the Future of the IWC by Japan ðIWC-M10-SWG7
Summary of statement by the Government of New Zealand on the Chair’s Report to the SWG ðIWC-M10-SWG8
Presentation on the Future of the IWC progress ðpowerpoint
Statement by the Chair of the Support Group ðSGP statement


Following the March 2010 SWG meeting the Chair and the Vic-Chair of the Commission released a "Proposal Consensus Decision to Improve the Conservation of Whales". This will be discussed at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Commission in Agadir, Morocco. For a Press Release on the Proposed Consensus Decision please click HERE.