Putting Animals on the United Nations’ Agenda


With a global pandemic caused by animal abuse and heart-breaking scenes like this, surely it is time to put animals on the agenda at the United Nations?  They need to be at the centre of the UN policy on the environment.  The pandemic has highlighted our interconnectedness with the other beings with whom we share the Earth, and has demonstrated that we cannot abuse them without abusing ourselves. We have to end, not just wildlife markets, but all factory farming and all forms of animal abuse. 

What AIA has done

In an article written for Animal Spirit magazine in March 2020 Covid-19 – When Will We Heed Nature’s Warnings?, I asked why the lessons of past pandemics, which had all derived from animal abuse, had not been learned and I suggested that we should campaign at the United Nations (UN) to end animal abuse and ensure such pandemics never happen again.
AIA wrote to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Antonio Guterres, in April 2020,asking for the UN to take decisive action to prevent further pandemics.  The letter called on the UN to do everything in its power to ensure that governments around the world learn from the pandemic and put measures in place to mitigate against the risk of future pandemics occurring.  The letter listed the measures required.  We received a very positive response from his office.
Since then we have been supporting the UN Environment Programme’s Faith for Earth Initiative whose vision is “A world where everything is in balance” and whose mission is “to encourage, empower and engage with faith-based organisations as partners, at all levels, toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfilling the 2030 Agenda”. We exchanged emails with Faith4Earth’s Director, Iyad Abumoghli, based in Nairobi, who kindly posted AIA’s article on the Faith4Earth’s website page Faith in the Frontline with Covid 19.
Our key aim, as an alliance of faith-based organisations, will be to get animals on to the agenda of the UN Environment Programme’s Faith4Earth. See below (How can we achieve this? no.3).

What needs to be done?

We need to put animals at the centre of UN policy on the environment.  We have to end, not just wildlife markets, but all factory farming and all forms of animal abuse.  Confining animals in close spaces, where they cannot express their natural behaviours, is not only cruel and unbefitting of the species supposedly charged with stewardship of the Earth, but it is very dangerous to the health of humans, animals and the planet.  As the human population grows, so the number of their factory farmed animals grows, and so the situation gets worse.

What do we want the UN to do?

What we require, and what we asked of the UN in our letter of March 2020, was the following:
– A worldwide ban on wet markets;
– A worldwide ban on the wildlife trade;
– A worldwide ban on the use of animals in traditional medicine;
– A worldwide ban on factory farming – all farming should be practised to a minimum of RSPCA Assured standards;
– A worldwide ban on the long distance transport of animals;
– A ban on the use of all animals in entertainment with zoos held to World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) standards;
– The promotion of non-animal based sources of nutrition (which will promote the health of the world’s population).

How Can We Achieve This?

The following actions offer opportunities to get the UN to put animals at the centre of policy:

1. Adopt a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW)

This was originally initiated by some of the major animal charities in 2000. Unfortunately, it has yet to achieve the required number of signatories. If adopted by the UN, UDAW would become a non-binding set of principles that acknowledges the importance of animal sentience and human responsibilities towards them.  These principles would encourage and enable governments to introduce and improve animal protection legislation. UDAW would also mark the moral development of humanity.  The declaration, updated in 2014, is outlined below.
The declaration calls for:
– Recognition that animals are living, sentient beings and therefore deserve due consideration and respect
– Recognition that animal welfare includes animal health and encompasses both the physical and psychological state of the animal and that good practices in animal welfare can have major benefits for humans and the environment
– Recognition that humans inhabit this planet with other species and other forms of life and that all forms of life co-exist within an interdependent ecosystem
– Recognition of the importance of the ongoing work of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in setting global standards for animal welfare and that member states should adopt all necessary measures to give effect to the principles of UDAW, including the implementation of these standards
– Acknowledgment that many states already have a system of legal protection for animals, both domestic and wild and that the continued effectiveness of these systems must be ensured, with the development of better and more comprehensive animal welfare provisions
– Awareness that the Five Freedoms (freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour) and the Three Rs (reduction in numbers of animals, refinement of experimental methods and replacement of animals with non-animal techniques) provide valuable guidance for the use of animals
– Recognition that the provisions contained in this declaration do not affect the rights of any state
– The principles of the declaration are:
– The welfare of animals shall be a common objective for all states and all appropriate steps shall be taken by member states to prevent cruelty to animals and to reduce their suffering.
– The policies, legislation and standards of animal welfare attained by each state shall be promoted, recognized and observed by improved measures, nationally and internationally. Each member state should care for and treat animals in a humane and sustainable manner in accordance with the principles of the Declaration.
– All appropriate steps shall be taken by states to prevent cruelty to animals and to reduce their suffering.
– Appropriate policies, legislation and standards on the welfare of animals will be further developed and elaborated, such as those governing the use and management of farm animals, companion animals, animals in scientific research, draught animals, wildlife animals, and animals in recreation.

2. Include animal welfare in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development agenda envisions a world in which “humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and all other living species are protected”.   The Agenda reads as follows:
This is the People’s Agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind.  It seeks to ensure peace and prosperity, and forge partnerships with people and planet at the core.  The integrated, interlinked and indivisible 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the People’s goals and demonstrate the scale, universality and ambition of this new Agenda.
The 17 Proposed Sustainable Development Goals
1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment , and decent work for all
9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation
10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)
14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

The SGDs and Faith Organisations: The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) was founded by Prince Philip in 1995 and was led by the inspirational Martin Palmer as ARC’s Secretary-General from his offices in Bath, UK.  It was a secular body that helped the major religions of the world to develop their own environmental programmes, based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices. They created powerful alliances between faith communities and conservation groups.
In 2009 they held the first Long Term Plan event at Windsor Castle, UK and the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended. In 2015 they launched the Bristol Commitments as the faith-based response to the SDGs and published the book ‘Faith in the Future’ which outlined this response.
ARC closed in 2019, believing that they had achieved what they had set out to do, as the religions and conservationists were now working together.

The SDGs and Animals: In 2019 the UN Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) identified animal welfare as a missing issue from the SDGs.  It stated “The clear links between human health and well-being and animal welfare is increasingly being recognised 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”.
It is incumbent on the animal protection movement to address this omission and put animals on the agenda in the next round of SDGs in 2030.  AIA has a key role in being the faith-based voice of the animal protection movement here.  Animal protection should be recognised with its own SDG.

3. Put animals onto the agenda of the UN Environment Programme’s Faith4Earth Project

A key target objective of AIA, as an alliance of faith-based animal advocacy organisations, is to put animals onto the agenda at Faith4Earth. Faith-based organisations have a key role to play.  The former Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon said:
“I have long believed that when governments, civil society and, particularly, religious communities work towards a common goal, transformational change can take place.  Faiths and religions are a central part of that equation.  Indeed the world’s faith communities occupy a unique position in discussions on the fate of our planet and accelerating impacts of climate change”.1
Faith4Earth’s vision is “A world where everything is in balance” and their mission is “to encourage, empower and engage with faith-based organisations as partners, at all levels, toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfilling the 2030 Agenda”.
In 2017 UNEP launched the Faith for Earth Initiative to strategically engage with faith-based organisations and partner with them to collectively achieve the SDGs and fulfil the objectives of the 2030 agenda. Their strategy is based on three overarching and interlinked goals:
1. Inspire and empower faith-based leaders and organisation for a sustainable impact;
2. Greening faith-based asset as and investments;
3. Making knowledge and scientific evidence available for more powerful spiritual messages.
The detailed strategy can be read here.

4. Propose a UN Resolution to incorporate animal welfare into UN policy at the fifth UN Environment Assembly, UNEA 5

The fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly is themed “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.  The theme calls for strengthened action to protect and restore nature and the nature-based solutions to achieve the SDGs in its three complementary dimensions (social, economic and environmental).
It is being held in two stages. UNEA 5.1 was held virtually on 22-23 February 2021 and focused on urgent and procedural decisions.  UNEA 5.2 isbeing heldin Nairobi in February 2022 to focus on in-depth matters.
At UNEA 5.1 the World Federation of Animals (WFA) and some of its leading members advocated for animals on the major issues of Covid-19 and pandemic protection, One Health-One Welfare, animal welfare, transformative change and food systems.
At UNEA 5.2, to be held in Nairobi in February 2022, a resolution is being proposed by Africa Network for Animals Welfare (ANAW), the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and the World Federation for Animals (WFA). The resolution ‘Animal Welfare for a Healthy, Humane and Sustainable Environment’ will call upon the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and all member states to acknowledge that animals are sentient beings and that animal issues are closely related to biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, human health, and food systems.  To pass the resolution a simple majority of 97 member states will be required and the member states will need lobbying.  They need to be convinced that this resolution is crucial to safeguarding the welfare of animals, people and the planet.

5. Put animals onto the agenda of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – COP15

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is being held in Kunming, China on 11th October 2021.

6. Put animals onto the agenda of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021

The UN Food Systems Summit 2021 summit was convened by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030.  It is an opportunity for the animal protection movement to ask for transformative change to the food system, to end factory farming.  Reforms should be implemented that are good for the planet, people and animals.
The 2021 Food systems pre-summit is being held in Rome on 26 and 28 July.

1. From Ban Ki-moon’s speech at the first Long Term Plan event at Windsor Castle, UK, 2009 held by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).  From ‘Faith in the Future’ by ARC.