Making sure animal welfare is part of the world’s environmental agenda
My goal while I am in Nairobi, Kenya—at the stakeholder’s weekend meeting to prepare for the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA)—is straightforward: I am here to promote IFAW’s concept of wildlife conservation and well-being as a key element for any sustainable development strategy discussed at this high-level gathering.
UNEA is the new Governing Council of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) established by world leaders at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012, specifically to strengthen UNEP so it can become the leading global environmental authority.
UNEA meets for the first time and is supposed to set the global environmental agenda, promoting coherent and effective implementation of the environmental dimensions of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serve as an authoritative advocate to protect biodiversity within the global environment.
In one way in particular, we have already achieved success: The fight against wildlife crime (i.e. poaching and illegal trade) has now become—finally!—a top priority for world leadership. At the High-level Segment Ministerial Plenary (its dialogue can be read here), relevant ministers from almost every country in the world will discuss how the “Environmental Crime Crisis” threatens the goal of “sustainable development” due to large-scale “illegal exploitation and trade in wildlife and forest resources … estimated to be worth $70-213 USD billion annually.”
The UN has produced a very readable and comprehensive rapid response assessment that confirms a lot of the environmental crime issues we’ve been championing all along, from the fact that “responses need to reflect the differentiated and shared characteristics of various supply chains, and recognize that consumer demand remains the most important driver of the illegal trade in wildlife” to the need for “coherence and collaboration amongst agencies [to] support holistic national approaches.”
Unfortunately, it is still mostly economic loss that garners the attention of many government delegates and other stakeholders, not recognising that animals have value far greater than the monetary profit gained when they are turned into a commodity.
They tend to forget that animals have intrinsic value and have a variety of roles in maintaining the health of larger natural systems. Some even have their own cultural and social values. Animals are sentient beings and more and more scientists consider some to have a sentience that rivals ours.
Looking around, I can see that many people but few animals gather to shape the world’s environmental agenda here at UNEP. Many people attend focused on very important humanitarian, development and economic issues. But only few look at the larger picture—sharing IFAW’s vision that successful conservation and sustainable development policies need to be guided by ecological and biological sustainability, the ethical treatment of animals and the precautionary principle.
For us, it is a good reason to make the animal felt in the room.