Given that there are now some 200 multilateral treaties on, or touching on, the environment, only the most significant can be mentioned here. The first of these concerns whaling. The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was adopted in 1946 and amended by a Protocol in 1956. Its purpose was never to ban the hunting of whales. It was merely to reverse the process of the depletion of whale stocks by the establishment of a regime that would, in the words of the preamble to the IWC, ‘provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry’. The IWC applies worldwide and now has sixty-six parties. The IWC Commission, whose members represent all the IWC parties, has a Secretariat, situated in Cambridge, England. The Commission meets at least once a year. It can by a three-quarters vote of the members (excluding abstentions and absences), adopt regulations for the conservation and use of whale resources. A regulation becomes binding on all parties after ninety days. If a party objects to a regulation within that period, another period, of up to ninety days, is allowed for any other party also to object. Thereafter, the regulation becomes binding on all parties except those which objected.
The IWC allows a party to authorize its nationals to conduct whaling for scientific research, although the scale of such whaling by Japan has been criticised by other parties. In 1982, the Commission imposed a general moratorium on commercial whaling. It is not binding on Norway which lodged objections. At present, the Commission is almost evenly split between those who support the moratorium and those who do not. This may change as many more small states become parties, thus possibly making it easier to obtain a three-quarters majority to lift or modify the moratorium. Iceland withdrew from the IWC soon after the moratorium was established. When in 2001 it sought to become a party again, though with a reservation that would have enabled it to conduct commercial whaling, its accession was opposed by the moratorium states on dubious legal grounds. By a bare majority, it became a party again at a Special Commission Meeting in 2002 with a modified reservation.