Yesterday, the Washington Post came out with a scathing editorial about Iceland, and how it harpooned a UN agreement which would have protected vast areas of sensitive marine habitat from unregulated bottom trawling:
A tiny country that still hunts whales scuttles an effort to save the ocean bottom.
Sunday, December 3, 2006; Page B06
IN A FORM of fishing known as bottom trawling, huge, weighted nets are dragged across the ocean floor, destroying corals and just about everything else in their path. In U.S. waters, the practice is tightly regulated -- and forbidden in certain environmentally sensitive areas. On much of the high seas, however, it's open season. Delicate ecosystems get ravaged with nobody paying attention. The Bush administration, along with several other governments, has been pushing for a moratorium on unregulated trawling on the high seas. Last month, thanks in large part to Iceland, it failed to get that measure.
Because the arcane rules of high-seas fishing are largely defined by consensus, even small countries that are genuine moral outliers in world attitudes toward oceans can prevent agreement. The result in this case was a mushy resolution that fell far short of what the administration and environmental groups wanted, which in turn is ominous for efforts to protect marine life in international waters.
This is incredibly damning stuff and right on the money. It sounds like Iceland was able to basically veto any strong action, with the complicit support of some other countries most likely.
I hear that the closed-door agreement will come before the UN General Assembly in the next few days. It will likely get a rubber stamp of approval since none of the governments involved want to admit how badly they have screwed up, and because something (at least in this case) is (probably) better than nothing.
What the editorial doesn't include is that the real hero in all of this was another tiny island country, Palau, which stood up to Iceland right to the end.