Animal farming is not only a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but also a significant cause of deforestation. While it is widely known that animal agriculture must be regulated and limited to control climate change, in this insight Lorraine Tan will discuss the effects of climate change on animal welfare are rarely adequately addressed by laws around the world.
How does climate change harm animals?
Climate change threatens the lives of both farm and wild animals, because many of them are not accustomed to high temperatures, and die in heat waves as a result. Even if they survive, their habitats may be destroyed by unprecedented wildfires and floods. Their food and water supplies are also at stake due to climate change-induced crop infestations and droughts.
What are the legal obligations we have towards animals?
From a utilitarian perspective, humans have a moral responsibility to protect animals from extreme weather events via public policy, in order to maximise general welfare. Therefore, countries around the world should offer general protections to animals by prohibiting their unnecessary suffering caused by man made climate change and providing them with basic welfare needs. Furthermore, wild animals in particular deserve additional legal protection from climate change-related harm in the form of conservation laws.
What has been the legal response so far?
In the context of worsening climate change, humans should pay closer attention to the rights and wellbeing of animals laid out in both domestic and international legislation.
(A) The UK
Section 9 of the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 imposes a positive duty of care on animal owners to fulfil an animal’s “need for a suitable environment”, but does not establish a duty to frequently adjust the measures which shield animals from evolving climate problems. In a conference organised by RSCPA (the UK’s largest animal charity), speakers addressed the need for stronger welfare laws to keep animals cool, such as the prevention of footpad burning on dog walks and increasing penalties for not protecting livestock from extreme heat.
The Glasgow Climate Pact that was signed during the UN Climate Change Conference 2021 (COP26) vowed to assist vulnerable countries in adapting to our rapidly warming planet through the launch of the Adaptation Research Alliance; but it failed to include animal welfare on its agenda.
As the changing climate continues to ravage the homes and lives of animals in increasingly destructive ways, the relationship between animal law and environmental law is becoming closer than ever. Experts from both fields should not work in isolation, and instead come together to incorporate climate change considerations into animal welfare laws, and vice versa. If we can help animals adapt to climate change and prevent climate change via the reduction of animal agriculture, we will be able to create a better world for animals to live in.
This is not legal advice. If you’re an animal advocate, organisation or charity and think that these changes may affect your work it is vital to seek expert advice at the earliest possible stage. For more information on the services Advocates for Animals offers please contact email@example.com