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 historic win paves the way for future victories for animals. It resulted from the collaborative work of many countries and organizations, including Mercy For Animals, which led NGO advocacy to the governments of Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.
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 toward 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
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. In 2019, the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Report highlighted animal welfare as a key issue missing from the goals. The same year, prominent expert body EAT-Lancet Commission reported that “food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth” and that diets “rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods … are ‘win-win’ in that they are good for both people and planet.”
Industrial animal agriculture in particular has a profound impact on sustainable development—driving deforestation, biodiversity loss, and climate change and fueling 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 recognizing 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.
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 toward 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.
Mercy For Animals continues to work on raising awareness of the connections between animal welfare and other important issues. At the global level, for example, Mercy For Animals joined with partners to host an event during Climate Week NYC on how the nexus can address important global problems and joined the UN climate conference in November 2022, COP27, to raise awareness of the connections between animal welfare, our food system, and climate change.
Mercy For Animals has also worked with other animal protection organizations to produce a vision document that assists UNEP in developing its report by sharing our expertise on these issues.
The Nexus Resolution and Its Reflections in the United States and Around the World
Alongside the nexus resolution, significant progress has recently been made toward 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, 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.
In the United States, a groundbreaking piece of federal legislation aimed at reforming the U.S. food system was recently introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act (IAA) places the responsibility of beginning to solve various problems in the U.S. food system on the corporations that created them.
Since its introduction, the IAA has garnered massive support from more than 70 organizations, including animal welfare, public health, labor, environmental, religious, and sustainable agriculture. You can help push for the bill’s passage! Take action today by urging your representatives to support the IAA.
Meanwhile, 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.