6 December 2023

COP28: Three reasons why working animals matter

As world leaders, civil society, businesses, and other stakeholders gather in Dubai for COP28, Senior External Affairs Advisor Anna Marry explains why working animals should be included in discussions.

A Kenyan woman collects water with her donkeys.

This month, world leaders, civil society, businesses and other stakeholders gather in Dubai for COP28, the world’s biggest summit on climate. The meeting comes at a crucial time, with scientists warning that limiting global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels is quickly slipping out of reach. Those living in low income countries are suffering most from the consequences of climate change – droughts, fires, floods, crop failure, increasing food prices, and yet they have not contributed to the emissions responsible for climate change. Those communities most vulnerable to climate change include smallholder farmers and livestock-keepers, many of them reliant on donkeys, horses and mules for their livelihoods and food security. For this reason alone, Brooke is closely monitoring the discussions at COP28.  

But there are at least three more reasons why working animals are very relevant to the climate change agenda, and a key part of the solution.  

Agriculture and food systems

Discussions on the linkages between agriculture, food and climate are gaining traction at COP. Animals are central to this agenda, but the focus is mostly on animals kept for food – their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. But this is only part of the story. Working animals, like donkeys, horses and mules, are not significant sources of emissions. They are, however, critical enablers of agricultural production around the world, by ploughing fields, transporting water and crops, etc. As such, they must be included in the discussions on building sustainable livestock agriculture systems. For example, they are key components of agro-ecological or regenerative agriculture approaches, by providing manure and draught power.  

At COP28, Brooke has joined the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other partners in the Global Livestock Advocacy for Development initiative, to call for more investment in sustainable livestock transformation in Africa, with a particular focus on smallholder farmers and including working animals.

Climate disaster and resilience 

Working animals play a unique, yet very much overlooked role, in building community resilience in the face of climate related disasters, such as droughts or floods. They play a part at every stage: before, during and after disasters. This has been exemplified during recent droughts in Kenya and floods in Pakistan. Working animals help evacuate people out of hard to reach disaster zones, and transport water, food and medical supplies to the affected populations. In the aftermath of disasters, they help rebuild long-term resilience of the community, ensuring that owners and their families can earn an income and re-build their livelihoods. Yet, animals themselves are victims of disasters – one million livestock died in the 2022 floods in Pakistan alone. The loss of a horse or donkey is truly catastrophic for people who depend on these animals to put food on the table, obtain fresh water or carry goods to market.  

That is why Brooke is calling for the inclusion of working animals in national disaster risk reduction plans and for their recognition as important climate resilience assets in international policy.

Animal health systems

As part of our mission to improve the health and welfare of working animals, Brooke is working to strengthen the entire animal health system, which includes building the capacity of animal health workers, improving access to essential medicines, and boosting the capacity for surveillance and disease diagnostics. This has a crucial connection to the climate agenda. Healthy animals help prevent the spillover of zoonotic disease to humans, the consequences of which we have seen during the pandemics of SARS, swine flu, bird flu and, of course, covid-19. Zoonotic diseases are on the rise - currently 75% of emerging human infections originate from animals. This is due to the changing climate, whereby new pathogens appear in places where they never existed before, threatening populations with no prior immunity. The infringement of human settlements on wildlife habitats, such as deforestation, fuels climate change and pushes wild animal species closer to humans and livestock, again risking the spillover of disease. There is also emerging evidence that healthy animals generate less greenhouse gas emissions.

At COP28, we want to make working animals visible and part of the discussions. That is why we have joined the Solutions with Legs campaign, led by ILRI, to illustrate the role of working animals in sustainable livestock transformation. To highlight the role of working animals in building climate resilience, we are part of the ‘Loss and Damage in Focus: 10 Years of the Warsaw International Mechanism’ photography exhibition at COP28, curated by UNFCCC, which can be viewed in Dubai and online.