News & Current Affairs

September 13, 2008

Greenland seeks whaling breakaway

Greenland seeks whaling breakaway

Whalemeat hung out to dry in Uummannaq, Greenland

Whales and other marine mammals are traditional foods in Greenland

Greenland is attempting to remove its whale hunt from the jurisdiction of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Its whalers are angry that the IWC has twice declined to permit the addition of humpback whales to its annual quota.

The move could eventually make Greenland the only state outside the commission to hunt the “great whales”.

The news comes on the eve of a Florida meeting aimed at finding compromise within the fractured IWC.

The meeting is the latest stage in a “peace process” which began more than a year ago.

But documents sent in by governments’ delegations – seen by BBC News – suggest fundamental divisions remain.

Divided rule

Greenland’s Inuit communities catch minke, fin and bowhead whales under regulations permitting hunting where there is a “nutritional and cultural need”.

At the 2007 and 2008 IWC meetings, Greenland – represented by Denmark, its former colonial ruler – requested adding an annual quota of 10 humpback whales.

The requests were turned down owing to concerns that Greenland had not demonstrated a real need for the meat, and that its existing hunting was too commercial in character.

WSPA

Now, a letter has gone from the fisheries ministry of the territory’s home-rule administration, based in Nuuk, to Denmark’s foreign ministry, asking that Greenland withdraw from the IWC.

It is not clear whether Greenland is asking for Denmark to leave the organization, or to stop representing it, or to re-draw the areas of responsibility of the Copenhagen and Nuuk administrations to make whaling a completely home-rule issue.

Danish officials declined to elaborate, and Greenlandic fisheries officials did not respond to requests for clarification.

The issue is expected to take several months to resolve.

Separate lives

A withdrawal by Greenland would have serious implications, because outside the IWC, its hunts would be able to expand without international oversight.

But there is resentment in several Arctic countries over what is seen as the imposition of “western cultural values” on communities that take most of their food from the sea.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s government represents Greenlanders in the IWC

Some ask the question, too, of why whaling is regulated globally when fisheries are managed through regional bodies.

The establishment of the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (Nammco) in 1992 by Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands is an indication that some northern countries are looking for a different way to manage what they regard as their marine resources.

In its annual meeting earlier this month, Nammco concluded that Greenlanders should have an annual quota of no more than 10 humpbacks.

For the moment, Greenland is adhering to the IWC ruling rather than Nammco’s recommendation; but given its latest move, that cannot be guaranteed to endure.

The establishment of a similar body to Nammco for the North Pacific is one of the options mooted by Japanese officials if the IWC becomes, in their view, beyond redemption.

Bridging the gap

With a view to healing the fissures within the IWC, chairman William Hogarth embarked more than a year ago on talks to explore whether some meeting of minds was possible.

Some anti-whaling activists decry the process because it could open the door to a limited lifting of the 1986 moratorium on commercial hunting.

But others believe it is the only viable way to reduce the annual global kill, which – if quotas are fulfilled – stands at more than 2,000.

A working group of 28 countries – not including the UK – will now meet in Florida, Dr Hogarth’s home patch, to debate the issues that divide the organisation.

Thirteen countries have sent in statements of position, or comments, on the 33 issues that were agreed at the IWC plenary as needing attention.

Japan, as it has done regularly, says its traditional whaling communities should be permitted annual quotas.

THE LEGALITIES OF WHALING
Under the global moratorium on commercial whaling, hunting is conducted in three ways:
Objection – A country formally objects to the IWC moratorium, declaring itself exempt. Example: Norway
Scientific – A nation issues unilateral ‘scientific permits’; any IWC member can do this. Example: Japan
Aboriginal – IWC grants permits to indigenous groups for subsistence food. Example: Alaskan Inupiat

It envisages that such whaling would have a large element of international oversight, and that the number of whales caught would be deducted from the annual scientific hunt in coastal waters.

But it makes no mention of its annual Antarctic catch, the major bone of contention for anti-whaling nations.

Some anti-whaling countries indicate a willingness to compromise on fundamental issues.

Argentina, for example, says that “issues such as scientific whaling and (Japanese) small-scale coastal whaling should be re-examined in the light of a spirit of commitment and within the framework of a dialogue which will allow us to leave aside the winner/loser rationale which has lately prevailed at IWC”.

But other anti-whaling countries, such as the Netherlands, are adamant that the commercial whaling moratorium should stay; that scientific hunting, which is presently in the gift of individual governments. must be brought under IWC control; and that no countries beyond Iceland, Japan and Norway should be permitted to start whaling.

South Korea, meanwhile, appears to suggest that it might ask for a quota if the moratorium were to be lifted, saying that some of its communities have a whaling culture dating back thousands of years, and that “the ever-lasting whaling moratorium is destined to give rise to continuing socio-economic hardships to the communities concerned.”

And Norway has weighed in to the Greenlandic humpback issue, saying that the IWC’s refusal of a quota showed “an appallingly patronizing attitude vis-a-vis the needs of indigenous communities”.

Dr Hogarth’s aim is to have a package of measures agreed before the next IWC plenary in mid-2009. The indications are that much hard bargaining lies ahead if his wish is to be fulfilled.

September 5, 2008

Sea level rise by 2100 ‘below 2m’

Sea level rise by 2100 ‘below 2m’

B

Thames Barrier in the evening

A revamp of the Thames Barrier is likely as sea levels rise

Sea levels globally are very unlikely to rise by more than 2m (7ft) this century, scientists conclude.

Major increases would have to be fuelled by a faster flow of glaciers on the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets.

But writing in the journal Science, a US team concludes that a rise of 2m would need glaciers to reach speeds that are “physically untenable”.

However, even increases substantially less than 2m would cause major issues for many societies, they say.

“Even a sea level rise of 20cm (8in) in a century will have quite dramatic implications,” said Shad O’Neel from the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Woe betide any government that thinks a 2m rise in sea level isn’t something to take notice of
Dr David Vaughan
British Antarctic Survey

“This work is in no way meant to undermine the seriousness of climate change, and sea level rise is something we’re going to have to deal with,” he told.

Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth received some criticism for implying that a rise of 20ft (6m) was possible in the near future, although it did not give a definite timeframe.

By contrast, this latest research tallies broadly with the conclusions of other groups that have examined the question using different approaches.

Fast work

In its landmark assessment of climate change published last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that sea level rise would probably fit in the range between 28 and 43cm over the century, although 59cm was a possibility.

The current rate is about 3mm per year.

But the IPCC specifically excluded the mechanism able to produce the biggest amounts of water quickly – acceleration in the flow of ice from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the world’s two major ice masses that would between them raise sea levels by about 70m if they completely melted.

Most of the ice comes off in glaciers. Scientists know that many of the glaciers have accelerated in recent years – some quite spectacularly. The Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, for example, doubled its speed in six years to about 12km per year.

Antarctic glacier

The acceleration of glaciers is not well understood

But the processes involved are poorly understood, and the IPCC concluded that on that basis it would be unreasonable to draw any conclusions about how far the acceleration might go.

Individual scientists, however, have not be so coy. The team behind the current research looked at what we do know about Greenlandic and Antarctic glaciers, about the rates of flow and the factors that might prevent acceleration.

“We don’t really know a speed limit for glaciers,” said Dr O’Neel, “but we can look at what we have today and ask ‘what would happen if they all behaved like Jakobshavn?’

“It’s been going fast for several years now and hasn’t gone another marked increase in speed. Helheim had a brief period at 14km per year, Columbia at nine or 10; so that kind of figure, in the region of 10km/year, seems to be about as fast as it gets.”

To achieve a 2m sea level rise by 2100, by contrast, every Greenland glacier would have to increase its flow rate to at least 27km per year and remain at that velocity for the rest of the century.

‘Scary’ scenario

Antarctica is rather different. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet rests on rock that is mainly below sea level, meaning that warming seas could increase the rate of ice loss, though again the new analysis suggests this is also very unlikely to result in a catastrophic melt during this century.

David Vaughan from the British Antarctic Survey believes the US team has got its figures about right.

“The point is that whatever happens in this century can only start from present conditions and present rates of sea level rise, and that constrains the rise that can occur this century,” he told.

“However, if you’re looking further ahead than 2100 – and many governments are, including the Netherlands and the UK which are thinking about infrastructure that would last more than 100 years – then that second century still looks quite scary.

“I certainly don’t disagree with them that we shouldn’t be making outlandish statements about sea level rise, and some outlandish statements have been made; but the high end of the estimates here is still about 2m, and woe betide any government that thinks a 2m rise in sea level isn’t something to take notice of.”

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.