What’s Missing In Sustainable Development?
As the global population continues to expand, experts are seeking ways of developing the planet while at the same time safeguarding it for future generations — commonly called sustainable development. Despite the harm that animals have endured in pursuit of human progress, the topic of animal welfare remains niche in sustainable development practice.
To change the status quo, a team of scholars recently published a policy agenda that explains why sustainable development and animal welfare are connected. The authors go on to outline several ways for lawmakers to prioritize animal welfare in future policies.
First, the agenda explains why animal welfare is related to sustainable development. While animal advocates and many ethicists agree that animals deserve respectful treatment in their own right, the authors point out that our exploitation of animals often leads to major health and environmental harms. For example, consider the role that our treatment of animals plays in zoonotic disease outbreaks, antibiotic resistance, deforestation, climate change, and pollution. In turn, these issues impact animals as much as they impact humans. Furthermore, many of the attempts to solve health and environmental problems continue to harm animals — consider environmentalists who support chicken-heavy diets in lieu of climate-harmful red meat, or conservationists who advocate for mass killing and captive breeding programs.
From the examples above, it’s clear that issues of animal welfare are linked with issues of human and environmental welfare. As such, it’s critical for lawmakers to include animals and their needs in future sustainable development policies. To accomplish this, the authors recommend three different approaches:
- Consider animal welfare in global sustainable development governance: This includes creating legally-binding treaties to safeguard animal welfare, and expanding existing ones (like CITES) to incorporate stronger animal protections. Another idea is to expand the popular “One Health” approach to policymaking. Although in theory the framework is promising, some scholars argue that One Health considers animal health only insofar as it affects human health.
- Promote animal-friendly sustainable development on a national and local scale: This includes establishing better animal welfare laws grounded in science. It also means taking economic measures to protect animals, such as regulating harmful practices, reducing subsidies to industrial animal agriculture, and incentivizing the creation of healthy, plant-based alternatives. Once society shifts away from harmful industries, it’s also important to minimize job loss and support people who are transitioning to new, humane career paths.
- Supporting future sustainable development practices: This includes investing in animal welfare research, giving animals a voice in decision-making through citizens’ assemblies and animal welfare offices, and cooperating internationally to exchange technology, medicine, and ideas about animal protection.
As we continue to develop the planet, we won’t be able to meet our global health and environmental goals unless we start taking animals seriously. Animal advocates are needed to help promote these policy ideas, but they will also play an important role in educating the public and engaging the different stakeholders involved in this issue. The important part is to continue pushing for change, even if it comes in stages. When it comes to sustainable development, small steps can lead to big changes down the road.