Monday, November 29, 2010

Beyond the blame game

I don't know if it's because his organization was unusually in the spotlight in the last two weeks. At the end of the Paris "tuna conference" on Saturday, the Secretary General of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) asked me if I was going home with a better opinion of his organization.

I think I'm going home with a better understanding of ICCAT, which is about trade of individual species and not about marine ecosystems conservation (maybe the name should be changed into ICTAT, with the first T for Trade). Despite the word "conservation", fisheries interests run the show at ICCAT and Environment administrations have hardly any or no say. It's so bad that maybe it wouldn't be worst if the Trade ministers were in charge. The failures of ICCAT examplify the need for deep reform of the regional fisheries management organizations system. ICCAT has formed a sub-group to discuss its future, including a possible redraft of the ICCAT convention, but they're not expecting results before five or six years. It might thus be a good idea to discuss these issues in a broader context, between now and 2012 which is not only the year of the next Earth Summit but also of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

When I was at the airport yesterday a key member of ICCAT (if you follow me on Facebook, you'll guess who that was) told me that he was disappointed environmental NGOs had been so critical of the outcome of the conference. With the protection awarded to two shark species last week, he would have thought we'd been more positive. His concern was that if NGOs are critical even when good things happen, then governments have no incentives to continue in the right direction. Well, NGOs were delighted with the protection granted to hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks (two measures that had been promoted by NGOs in the first place). But governments should not think that throwing such bones at the NGOs is enough to "buy" their support.

This does not mean that NGOs can't go beyond the blame game. When it makes sense, they can acknowledge steps taken  in the right direction, and even support them decisively though it's clear they're insufficient. The best example of this perhaps is the action of key NGOs in support of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change when and after it was adopted in 1997 as a first step towards bolder greenhouse gas emission reductions. If it had not been for the campaign of some NGOs, the Kyoto Protocol would never have been ratified by the European Union and Japan in 2002 and it would never have entered into force in 2005. And still today (in Cancun this week for example) NGOs are supporting the efforts to maintain and reinforce Kyoto. And to go beyond of course.