One year ago, on March 2, 2022, history was made for animals. The United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a landmark resolution on the nexus between animal welfare, the environment, and sustainable development. The resolution calls for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to produce a report on the relationship between animal welfare, sustainable development, and the environment—to be shared with all 193 countries that are part of the UN. The resolution was a key milestone, as the UN system has too often overlooked the critical need to address animal welfare.
This success resulted from the collaborative work of many countries and organisations, including Mercy For Animals, which led NGO advocacy to the governments of Brazil, Mexico, and the United States, and paves the way for future victories for animals.
Sustainable Development and SDGs
In 2015, UN member states adopted a sustainable development agenda “for people, planet, and prosperity,” which defined 17 interconnected Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs seek to tackle the world’s most pressing problems and cover issues ranging from hunger and poverty to gender equality and climate action. But progress towards the SDGs has been limited, and the UN’s most recent SDG report states that “the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is in grave jeopardy.”
The Missing Element in Achieving Sustainable Development
While animal welfare is relevant to all the SDGs, it isn’t explicitly mentioned in any of them, even those that include a focus on animals—for example, SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), and SDG 15 (Life on Land). As a result, conversations on animal welfare have largely been absent from global actions on creating a better world, hindering progress for animals, people, and the environment alike.
This is evidenced in many reports. The 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report, for instance, highlights animal welfare as a key issue missing from the goals.
Industrial animal agriculture in particular has a profound impact on sustainable development—driving deforestation, biodiversity loss, and climate change and fuelling the spread of zoonotic disease.
The Nexus Resolution: Finding the Missing Link
The nexus resolution marks a needed change in the global community’s mindset by recognising the connection animal welfare has with sustainable development, the environment, and human health and well-being—the first time the UN has officially acknowledged the importance of animal welfare.
After extensive negotiations and as a result of collective efforts around the world, the resolution was adopted with the unanimous support of the United Nations Environment Assembly’s 193 countries.
Continuing Progress on the Nexus Resolution
Since the resolution was adopted, more than 20 countries have joined the Group of Friends of the Nexus Resolution, a coalition working to ensure its implementation. UNEP has initiated a scoping study this year as a first step towards developing the nexus report.
The resolution has already had a global impact, including recognition in two United Nations General Assembly resolutions adopted at the end of last year: Agriculture Development, Food Security and Nutrition and Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Its Contribution to Sustainable Development.
Food Systems, the Nexus Resolution, and Its Reflections in India and Around the World
Alongside the nexus resolution, significant progress has recently been made towards global recognition of the importance of animal welfare and the need to change our food system.
The UN expert body Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report showing that food systems that “emphasise healthy, plant-centred diets reduce emissions in the agricultural sector while helping in the fight against malnutrition.” Another important UN report, the Global Land Outlook states that “a shift towards plant-based, whole food diets is healthier and more sustainable” and calls for curbing intensive animal farming and promoting plant-based diets.
The India-led Mission LiFE initiative seeks to make lifestyles more sustainable through individual and collective action, including by eating more plant-based foods. Shifting towards plant-based diets can have a huge impact on mitigating climate change, as raising animals for food accounts for about 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Including plant-based diets in climate change policies and initiatives can help achieve SDG 13, Climate Action.
But more progress is needed. Together with our partners, Mercy For Animals continues to work for robust implementation of the nexus resolution and better awareness that improving animal welfare is key to achieving global progress on our world’s most pressing challenges.