The IUCN - International Union for Conservation of Nature - World Conservation Congress, the world’s largest conservation event, began today (Sept 6) on Jeju Island, South Korea.
More than 8,000 people from over 170 countries are in Jeju to debate and vote on solutions to climate change and environmental and development issues.
Happening every four years, the congress brings together government leaders, NGOs, scientists, and business and community leaders from around the globe.
However, the run up to the Congress has been mired in controversy following calls on the IUCN to postpone or cancel the Congress and express disapproval on several environmental issues in Korea, including scientific whaling.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has urged Republic of Korea to publicly reject scientific whaling plans as it hosts the international conservation gathering.
IFAW draws attention to the timing just weeks after Korea provoked international outrage by announcing its intention to begin harpooning minke whales for scientific research.
South Korea indicated at the July 2012 meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Panama City, that it may conduct whaling under Article VIII of the Convention, which would allow it to set its own catch limits...
IUCN has issued a position statement on the proposal, urging Korea to reconsider its plan and instead continue to support non-lethal whale research in Korean waters.
IUCN considers that any plans to increase catches at this stage would be inadvisable.
Evidence of decline in the minke whale population exploited off Korea led the IWC in 1985 to classify it as a Protected Stock, on the advice of its Scientific Committee.
However, bycatches of minke whales in Korean waters increased from the late 1980s.
"In the run-up to the World Conservation Congress taking place in Jeju in September, IUCN urgently requests the Government of the Republic of Korea to reconsider the plans to resume scientific whaling, and instead to continue to support non-lethal whale research in Korean waters," IUCN said in a statement.
Charities including IFAW are backing the call.
Patrick Ramage, of IFAW, says: “There is a certain irony that at the same time Korea is hosting this vital international conservation congress, it could be planning to train its harpoons on an endangered whale population.
“We urge Korea to state publicly and categorically that it is abandoning its ill-thought out whaling plans.”
IFAW believes that scientific whaling is merely commercial whaling by another name.
The J-stock minke whales population is predicted to decline further if current bycatch levels continue.
Currently South Korea forbids commercial and scientific whaling.
Other organisations to question South Korea’s position on scientific whaling prior to the Congress include Greenpeace, Humane Society International, and The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).
Greenpeace described scientific whaling as "just thinly disguised commercial whaling".
The 2012 World Conservation Congress runs from September 6-15.
Other issues are likely to be discussed including ways to protect tuna populations.
IUCN says it expects several conservation announcements during the Congress including news on some corporate partnerships with major international businesses.