| Whaling's day in court is a sea change for conservation|
|It’s been a long, tenacious, 20-year fight by lawyers and conservationists to get to this point. Today, representatives from the Australian government are facing their counterparts from Japan in the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to end Japan's so-called "scientific whaling".|
Japanese accounts are unconvincing as to what "scientific whaling" in fact means, but it is understood to be related to food security – in other words, supporting a trade in whale meat for food. As such, "scientific whaling" may be little more than a cover for the continual slaughter of thousands of whales in the Antarctic each year, feeding a commercial industry behind an unnecessary culinary habit - similar to killing sharks for shark-fin soup.
Despite the intergovernmental International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) ban on commercial whaling since 1986, Japan has continued to slaughter whales, having been granted a special permit from the United Nations to do so. Since 1986, Japan has killed 14,000 of them.
Over the past 20 years, many campaigners have been frustrated by the IWC. Indeed, it has had a fraught history, where Japan and a few other countries have continually been accused of "buying" support to continue whaling from developing world countries.
However, wildlife campaigners such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are upbeat about the outcome of the court case. They say that while the IWC may have let Japan continue to kill whales, Japan has in fact been breaking compliance with at least seven international treaties to do with protecting marine life. As a result, environmentalists largely believe Australia has a good legal case, and the outcome will mean the end of the right for Japan to continue the mammals' mass slaughter.
This court case is just one example of the "sea change" in environmental campaigning – and how legally savvy conservationists have had to become. Largely gone are the days when a demonstration or a petition could sway governments to behave differently.
Further, over the past decades campaigners have become skeptical of intergovernmental organisations and their power to act effectively or quickly to save precious species and the environment. The slaughter of whales is just one example; others are the poor efforts by governments to agree on an effective climate deal to control carbon emissions into the atmosphere, or to prevent the ongoing slaughter of elephants and rhinoceroses to sell trinkets and so-called medicines.
Many conservationists believe that environmental law will become increasingly important to hold countries to account over environmental crimes. Some lawyers foresee court cases involving developing world countries taking wealthy countries to court, for example, over their failure to keep promises about reducing carbon emissions.
The ICJ, however, is not a criminal court. Each party will present its case and judges can ask questions of the parties. It is expected that the court will come to a conclusion within six months of this case. Australia hopes that the ICJ will demand that Japan ceases whaling in the Antarctic. If that is the case, it is expected that Japan will abide by such a decision. If not, the United Nations Security Council could enforce a judgement of the ICJ.
This whaling case, however, starkly shows Australia’s inconsistent morals when it comes to protecting wildlife and wilderness areas. While Australia has the moral high ground over Japan in this case, it can hardly be proud of many laws that are truly damaging to the environment and wildlife. Indeed, Australia seems to have a better track record of protecting species in international waters than those on our own soil.
For instance, it is currently legal in Australia to mine and log in state forests and also in some national parks. There have been few campaigners who can stand up to mining companies successfully. We may criticize Japan over its cruelty to whales, but we pick and choose our battles when it suits us. For in a culture focused on profits, the mining industry is winning over wildlife.
However, despite its poor record on wildlife on its own soil, you can’t help but hope for Australia to win its day in court. The future of the survival of whales depends on it, and there is no place for this brutality in the 21st century.