Animal welfare is still missing at the UN and particularly in its Agenda for the Environment, even if it benefits from a growing recognition at the UN, particularly in the reports of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Secretary-General. With the exponential demand from the civil society to better protect animals, the next UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in 2022 offers an unprecedented opportunity to enshrine the new paradigm in favour of animal welfare recognition at the UN, including through the 2022 Political Declaration.
Animal welfare is a missing consideration in the UN Environment Agenda
Animals are not only part of the environment but also victims of its destruction. Nowadays, animals should be fully considered into UN environmental instruments and policies. Not only for increasing environmental sustainability but also for our humanity.
In this sense, neglecting to consider our treatment of animals could lead us, as a global consequence, open to further pandemics in the future (possibly more severe and virulent than COVID-19).
The absence of a global protection of animals puts humanity at risk
Despite our previous ‘Policy Brief: Animals in the Global Pact for the Environment’, animals are regretfully left aside as there is not a single mention of animal issues in the Draft Building Blocks of a Political Declaration.
However, this concern would fit with the first statement for a “healthy and sustainable environment and […] the urgent need to reinforce the protection of the environment for present and future generations” as well as other statements recalling the need to comply with “the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (Art. 1 and 4).
Animal welfare is a missing issue in the 2030 Agenda
Even if this globally crucial 2030 Agenda is envisioning “a world in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are protected” (Art. 9 of the UNGA Resolution 70/1), animal protection is almost totally absent from the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its 169 targets.
With the exception of SDG 14 “Life Below Water” and SDG 15 “Life On Land”, those “other living species” are hardly mentioned, and their welfare is not addressed.
Only one mention of “animals” can be found in Target 2.5 as to “maintain the genetic diversity of […] farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species”.
The same concern is addressed in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in which occurrences can be found many times in Preamble, Arts. 1, 2, and in the Target 13 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Beyond the need to preserve the genetic diversity of species and to adopt conservation measures to protect endangered wildlife species, the time has come to consider the need to protect the welfare of animals as sentient beings and to make it a new UN-iversal mission.
Fortunately, animal issues, as well as their interlinkages with humans and nature are increasingly recognized by the UN and its Member States. For instance, the Ministerial Declaration for the High-Level Political Forum in July 2021 first excluded “animals” from the One Health concept, in contradiction with its definition and meaning. After a call to the UN member States delegates, animals could be reintroduced in the text as follows:
“We recognize that human, animal, plant and ecosystem health are interdependent, and we emphasize in that regard an integrated approach that fosters cooperation between environmental conservation and the human, animal and plant health sectors in line with the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.” (See Jessica Bridgers, “UN Declaration highlights need to protect animals for sustainable future”, June 2021).
The time has come to consider the need to protect the welfare of animals as sentient beings and to make it a new UN-iversal mission.
In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and UNEP have agreed to strengthen collaboration and set up a “One Health High-Level Expert Council” on the links between human, animal and environmental health in order to improve One Health.
Animal welfare is a growing concern in the UN regarding environmental issues
In 2019, a major step forward has been taken by the UN Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) meaningfully called “The Future is Now”, prepared by an Independent Group of Scientists appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General.
The 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR)
For the first time, the GSDR acknowledged that animal welfare is a key issue missing in the 2030 Agenda (See Jessica Bridgers, “Just in Time for World Animal Day, UN Global Sustainable Development Report Identifies Animal Welfare as Issue Missing from the Sustainable Development Agenda, World Animal Net”, 4 October 2019). It states at art. 117:
“The clear link between human health and well-being and animal welfare is increasingly being recognized in ethics- and rights-based frameworks. Strong governance should safeguard the well-being of both wildlife and domesticated animals with rules on animal welfare embedded in transnational trade”.
To fully recognize all aspects of sustainable development (human, environmental, and animal concerns), a new SDG 18 on “animal health, welfare, and rights” has been proposed (see Ingrid J. Visseren-Hamakers, “The 18th Sustainable Development Goal”, 3 Earth System Governance 1–5, 2020. The Animal Issues Thematic Cluster (AITC), as part of the NGOs Major Group at the UN, aims at “Ensuring that the care, protection, and conservation of animals is included in the sustainable development agenda”. In its 2019 report for the UN High-Level Political Forum, the AITC highlighted the ways that animal protection helps to support most of the SDGs and how this protection would foster SDGs’ achievement.
After the GSDR release in 2019, the UN Secretary-General confirmed this consideration for animal welfare in its report on Harmony with Nature in 2020.
The 2020 UN Secretary-General report on harmony with nature
In the art. 42 of its 2020 report on Harmony with Nature, the UN Secretary-General stated:
“A first step to recognizing the rights of Nature is the recognition that non-human animals are sentient beings, not mere property, and must be afforded respect and legal recognition. Such recognition is growing around the world, in particular with regard to those animals best known and most easily appreciated by humans”.
Indeed, animals are sentient beings, and their welfare should be better protected globally (See Sabine Brels, Le droit du bien-être animal dans le monde : évolution et universalisation, l’Harmattan, 2017). An increasing number of countries have done so in their laws, their civil codes (See the Animal Welfare Legislation Database at National Level by Sabine Brels for the Global Animal Law – GAL Association), and the European Union in the Lisbon Treaty affirms in art. 13 that “States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.
Under the aegis of the African Union, the Animal Welfare Strategy in Africa mission is aiming at “treating animals as sentient beings”.
It is also important to highlight here that, internationally, all the 182 members of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) have agreed to implement the growing series of various international standards on animal welfare since early 2000.
The growing recognition of the need to consider animal welfare by UNEP
As a matter of fact, the intensification of animal density-both of farmed animals (in factory farms) and wild animals (because of habitat loss) drives the spread of zoonoses, such as H1N1 from farmed animals and Covid-19, which likely came from wild animals. As stated by UNEP in its 2020 report for Preventing the next pandemic: “These diseases affect not only human health but also animal health and welfare” and identifies the growing need for “ensuring animal welfare” (see pages 72 and 41).
The next year in its 2021 report Making Peace with Nature, UNEP also recalls the need to “improve animal welfare’ for ‘sustainable agricultural systems” (see pages 34 and 121).
Animal welfare is a new paradigm to endorse in the 2022 Declaration
Animal welfare is at the intersection of the major global issues our world is facing, related to environmental protection and human well-being. Factory farming is a driver of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, and is also in total contradiction with the welfare of billions of animals. It is an issue that must be seriously and efficiently addressed at the UN for the sake of the environment, animals, and humans.
As a wake-up call, the Animals Manifesto: Preventing Covid-X was released last year.
Strong governance should safeguard the well-being of both wildlife and domesticated animals with rules on animal welfare embedded in transnational trade.
Building forward better can be possible only in considering animal welfare
The Animals Manifesto is now supported by nearly 180 NGOs worldwide and prefaced by Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, UN Messenger of Peace. A key message is the need to generally endorse the “One Health/One Welfare” approach for humans, animals and environment at international and UN policy levels. Considering the existing interlinkages, as well as the emergency to better protect the health and welfare of the planet and all its inhabitants, animal protection is still a lacking UN goal in this trilogy.
The UN has considered human protection and adopted, inter alia, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, as well as a series of environmental protection instruments since the Stockholm Declaration in 1972. As we know, there is still a lot to do to improve both, as reflected, for the environment, by the Global Pact for the Environment project and the 2022 Declaration.
However, there is still no UN instrument for protecting animal welfare as sentient beings, which is what the Manifesto is advocating for in making concrete proposals to advance animal welfare protection at international and UN levels.
Animal welfare proposals for the next UN Environmental Assembly in 2022
As to concretely advance animal protection at the UN, the proposal for a Resolution on Animal Welfare for a Healthy, Humane and Sustainable Environment is led by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) and WFA with the support of the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), aiming to its adoption by the “Global Parliament for the Environment” at the next UNEA in 2022.
Moreover, WFA is glad to partner with the Global Pact Coalition for the 2022 Declaration and strongly advocates in favor of the inclusion of animals and their protection in the next UN relevant Environmental instruments, notably into the upcoming and strongly supported 2022 Political Declaration.
As previously demonstrated, animal welfare cannot be reasonably excluded anymore, neither from the 2022 Declaration nor from the – hopefully following – Global Pact for the Environment (GPE) in the future. Indeed, with the GPE’s initial ambition to enshrine the rights of nature in UN Law and to live in Harmony with Nature, animals should not be left aside anymore. As summarized by the leaflet of the Animal Welfare Resolution:
“Exploitation and unsustainable use of animals is a key driver of the triple environmental crises of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution as well as the emergence of the current global COVID-19 pandemic. The integration of animal welfare in the work of UNEP would benefit their objectives”.
In sum, better protecting the environment can only be achieved by better protecting animal beings too.
Originally published on the Pathway to 2022 Declaration website.
Sabine Brels is the legal advisor to the World Federation for Animals. In 2014, she cofounded the Global Animal Law (GAL) Association and led work on several projects, including the creation and update of the first complete Animal Welfare Legislation Database.