Sustainable Development Goal 8
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Animals are fundamental to the functioning of entire societies and their economies and are at the core of industries such as agriculture and ecotourism. The role animals play and the importance of conserving and protecting them need to be acknowledged in order to fully and effectively implement SDG 8.
Greater support for smallholders and a transition away from intensive agricultural practices which reduce employment opportunities and result in low-wage, unsafe working conditions is needed.
Stronger measures to stem the loss of wildlife and biodiversity in order to ensure sustainable tourism opportunities for the future must be implemented and enforced.
There must be a transition away from GDP toward more holistic assessments of growth that promote the flourishing of humans, animals and nature.
600 million of the poorest people in the world rely on animals for their livelihoods. Through agriculture and tourism, animals are fundamental to economies around the world. However, trends towards industrialized animal production, dwindling wildlife populations and agro-crime pose a grave risk not only to animals, but to the people and economies that rely on them. Trade in animal products, for example, the donkey hide trade, have resulted in the decimation of donkey populations across entire regions such as Africa. Communities who rely on these animals for draught, traction and transport for selling goods at market are left without the means of achieving their livelihoods. Furthermore, continued reliance on GDP as the main indicator of economic growth is at odds with the achievement of environmental and social well-being needed for sustainable development.
Target 8.8 calls to “Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.” Yet the spread of intensive animal agriculture is not only inhumane to animals and environmentally harmful, it also results in unsatisfactory working conditions, relatively high levels of occupational hazards, including traumatic injuries and infections, as well as low wages and reduced employment. Intensive livestock systems also are highly reliant on vulnerable migrant populations, intensifying poor labor conditions in the sector.
Target 8.9 aims to “devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.” Nature-based tourism is a substantial driver of the tourism sector. Eighty percent of all trips to Africa are for wildlife viewing. In 2018, gorilla trekking, which draws thousands of visitors yearly to Rwanda, helped create a majority of the 350,000 tourism-related jobs that year. Without stemming the global loss of wildlife and biodiversity, this incentive for tourism will also dwindle, making it impossible to meet this target. Additionally, if not properly developed at the community level, nature-based tourism can fail to deliver benefits to local communities and those furthest behind.
On a broader level, the pursuit of economic growth, as measured by GDP, is a key driver of social inequality, resource use and environmental degradation. The landmark new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) documents the effect of economic growth on nature as another stark reminder of the rapid degradation of the earth. The IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson, said: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” Unlimited economic growth simply cannot be sustained in a world with finite resources.
Many industries depend on animals for their ability to provide inclusive and decent employment to billions of people. If the conservation, protection and welfare of animals are ignored, and GDP continues to be prioritized, this will have dire consequences on the future for those furthest behind.
To achieve Target 8.8, governments must do more to ensure that agricultural production systems make a positive contribution to sustainable livelihoods and decent work. This means that disincentives for intensive systems which contribute to poor labor, environmental and animal welfare outcomes must be implemented. These can be in the form of removal of unfair incentives such as subsidies to these forms of production, internalizing externalities and by strengthening and enforcing labor policies. On the other hand, small-scale, high welfare, agroecological production provides local food security and labor opportunities. Small-scale systems, when well-managed, can also produce development opportunities for rural populations, including youth and women. This type of production can be supported by improving extension services and training, providing financial incentives, and enabling smallholder access to markets to ensure smallholders are better able to compete. Further, implementing good practices for animal welfare can bring significant benefits to the agricultural sector, including opportunities in market differentiation and segmentation, production, national reputation and trade, as well as livelihoods, sustainability and development. Policies to fight agro-crime and protect communities from theft must also be implemented to ensure communities have the means to strengthen their livelihoods.
Strengthened implementation and enforcement of, as well as eliminating gaps in conservation policy will enhance opportunities for nature-based tourism. Additionally, increasing protected areas for wildlife and ecosystems, as well as improving protection enforcement in existing areas, is key. Policies will also need to ensure that well-regulated wildlife viewing is humane and ethical, and does not negatively impact habitats, species or the well-being of individual animals. Developing ecotourism plans with community involvement ensures that local communities reap the benefits from this sector.
Governments must shift from a single-minded focus on economic well-being, as measured by GDP, towards other more qualitative aspects of development and well-being. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably.” This transformative change requires “a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.” The 2017 NGO Major Group position statement put it well: “Notions of development based entirely on economic growth present a myopic view of progress and must be discarded, and corporations must be held to account for their social and environmental records. We call for a new development paradigm which furthers the well-being of humans, nature and animals, and which sees as its ultimate aim the achievement of equity and justice, to “leave no one behind.”
Agricultural ministries have the responsibility to implement policies that favor and support smallholders, and discourage intensive agricultural production which results in greater environmental degradation and poor working conditions. They also have the responsibility to promote best practices in animal welfare and sustainable agricultural production.
Competent authorities for the environment, conservation and/or natural resource management have the responsibility to prioritize wildlife conservation over consumptive uses of wildlife. They also have the responsibility to ensure that wildlife tourism is responsible, ethical and humane.
Governments should develop strong and effective social, environmental, and animal welfare safeguards to ensure that economic growth does not adversely impact the two other pillars of sustainable development, the environment and social wellbeing, and therefore future sustainability.
Governments can partner with NGOs and research institutions to develop environmental, social and animal welfare safeguards to ensure economic development does not exclude social and environmental aspects.
The competent authorities for tourism should coordinate with conservation, environmental and natural resource ministries as well as NGOs and ethical travel companies to support wildlife conservation efforts and ensure best practices in tourism endeavors.
Agricultural ministries can partner with NGOs and academic institutions to promote best practices in agricultural development, including on animal welfare and promotion of smallholders and agroecological solutions.
NGOs and governments can work with local communities, listen to their concerns regarding their lands and challenges, and develop on the ground community-centered conservation solutions that can have long term beneficial impacts for humans, animals and local environments. These types of partnerships empower communities to implement change themselves and ensure that they continue to reap benefits from their lands but in a more conservation-focused mindset. Additionally, “conservation of animals and human wellbeing are linked and leading thinkers in conservation and international development have called for a stronger integration of conservation and poverty alleviation agendas.”