The IUCN and Animal Advocacy

I write this post from Barcelona where I am attending the World Conservation Congress, the quadrennial meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The IUCN is a unique coalition of countries, NGOs, and others whose common cause is protection of the environment. I am a member of the delegation representing Pace Law School’s Center for Environmental Legal Studies, which is a member of the IUCN. My delegation forms part of the 8000 or so people who have converged on Barcelona for 10 days of meetings and politicking aimed at setting environmental policy for the world for the next four years. Last night featured an address from 2006 Nobel Laureate, Mohammad Yunus and today we heard from Ted Turner.

What does it have to do with animals? Well, that’s exactly the issue. Animal advocacy, which should be front and center at a congress like this, is instead relegated to subtext. Many sessions focus on endangered species, ecosystem and habitat management, and marine mammal protections but nothing specifically treats animal welfare for its own sake, ethics or rights. That gap underscores an issue about which I intend to blog a fair bit in coming days – the schism between the animal and environmental communities and if and how it can be healed.

At first blush, it is hard to see why friction should arise between those whose passion is environmental protection and those for whom animals (who both live in and form part of the environment) come first. One would expect synergy and cooperation between linked causes. Alas, no. Here at the IUCN, for example, animal advocacy cannot even find a place at the table. Not long ago, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) applied for membership but was denied because its mission did not align with IUCN’s stated goals of supporting indigenous groups’ right to hunt and of sustainable take policies.

I find this exclusionary policy baffling. Nowhere is the “big tent” approach more necessary or urgent than in the realm of environmental protection. IFAW (and other animal advocacy groups) may have a different set of goals than those who support hunting but both find common cause in IUCN’s larger mission of the conservation of nature. Excluding those who support the protection of animals because they are sentient, self-aware beings whose lives matter for their own sake is divisive and unnecessary. It ignores enormous areas of agreement among the parties and sows dissension instead of unity.

I consider myself both an environmental and an animal advocate. Yet, I do not find common cause with everyone or every issue in either community. In my view, those differences create strength and diversity rather than problems. By contrast, rigid doctrinal requirements undermine momentum towards shared goals and create needless friction among would-be allies.

I intend to raise this issue everywhere I can in the next week and a half and to see what I can do to put in on the agenda for the future. Further bulletins as events warrant.

David Cassuto

2 Responses

  1. I totally agree. I worked in conservation for a couple of years and was always disappointed that ethical arguments for animal welfare/rights were never mentioned. I think it may partly be because environmentalists are trying to move away from touchy-feely stuff. Many of them are aware of the negative way they are perceived, so even their own personal feelings about preserving nature are hidden to argue utilitarian reasons for conservation. Also, many are trained as scientists. Scientists are desensitized to the sentience and rights of animals by laboratory experimentation in their courses. Ethics is unfortunately not a part of the typical scientific education. I find the fact that many conservationists promote hunting disturbing too. Though in Africa where poaching, timber logging, etc., are rife it may be a compromise.

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