19 September 2023

The SDG Summit 2023 must step up commitments to animals, people and the planet

Anna Marry - Senior External Affairs Adviser

On 18-19 September heads of state and government delegations from nearly 200 countries have gathered in New York for the SDG Summit, a once-every-four-years event held during the UN General Assembly. This year’s event also falls exactly at the halfway point towards 2030, a milestone date by which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be met.  

Working horses, donkeys and mules are at the core of sustainable development. They help their owners and their families earn an income (SDG 1 – no poverty), they work in agriculture and produce food (SDG 2 – zero hunger), they carry water (SDG 6 – clean water and sanitation), they take children to school and help pay school fees (SDG 4 - education), they alleviate the burden of physical labour for women and girls (SDG 5 – gender empowerment), and they help communities rebuild their lives after disasters (SDG 13 – climate).

In order to have these animals properly recognised, we are calling on decision makers in New York to: 

Commit to investing in animal health and adopt a One Health approach. 

Consider animal welfare linkages to sustainable development.

Recognise the role of working animals in SDGs. 

Every four years the UN commissions a group of world-leading experts to produce the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) – a science-led stock taking of progress and a roadmap to inform the SDG Summit and plan for the following four years. Brooke is pleased to see that the 2023 GSDR report launched on 12 September: 

  • Recognises the linkages between human and animal health, and the environment. 
  • Mentions biodiversity and species loss as a serious challenge that needs addressing. 
  • Promotes diverse and healthier diets, and discourages overconsumption of animal-based foods. 

However, the report could go further in including: 

One Health as an important lever of the SDGs 
The Covid-19 pandemic, one of the biggest factors to hinder progress towards Agenda 2030, has shone a spotlight on the connection between animals, humans, and the environment. The One Health approach, integrating animal health, human health and the wider environment, can act as an important lever to meeting the SDGs. However, first we need to step up investment more in animal health – currently the weakest pillar of One Health. 

The role of animal welfare in sustainable development  
The report considers animals in its recommendations around biodiversity and nature loss and then again when talking about transforming diets away from animal source products. However, animals play a role in sustainable development much beyond wildlife and farming for food, from companion animals that contribute to human wellbeing, vectors of zoonotic disease, to important resilience and livelihood assets. The UN Environmental Assembly recognised the important linkages between animal welfare, the environment and sustainable development in its ground-breaking 2022 nexus resolution. We urge the GSDR authors to do the same.  

Contribution of working animals to the SDGs 
Working horses, donkeys and mules continued working throughout the covid pandemic, helping their owners and their families put food on the table, take children to school and the sick to healthcare providers. Without their work, more people would have fallen deeper into poverty (SDG 1) and food insecurity (SDG 2).  

Leaders gathered in New York this week must take a wider view of people, animals and the planet and turn to One Health and animal welfare as key levers that can accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs, before it is too late.