Looking back, looking forward

December 18 2020

Marine Lercier & Eva Bernet Kempers

At the end of a year full of grief, lockdowns and home-working, it is time for us to review some of the activities that our newly launched Think Tank-programme on Animals & Biodiversity of the Global Research Network has been involved in over the last few months. In these dark and isolated times, the Think Tank programme sought to bring some light in the form of a vibrant virtual network between animal studies scholars around the world, connecting us in our effort to fight for a more-than-human world of multispecies justice.

As we (Marine Lercier and Eva Bernet Kempers) are lawyers, we have decided this year to focus on animal law. Next year we will be expanding our team with animal studies scientists, and look at undertaking interdisciplinary work as well. Animal law invites us, because of the issues it deals with, to take a stand in defence of animals in society. It necessarily implies a certain degree of activism, if only because of the critical look that we are invited to take with respect to the laws that regulate our relationship with animals. More than in any other field, lawyers, philosophers, and scientists have a great role to play in social progress, to accompany changes and make them possible through their research work. Universities, too, have a key role to play in education and must be pioneers in promoting the challenge of improving the condition of animals; thinking about and with animals must no longer be a taboo subject. This is what we hope for the future: the democratization of this discipline and taking the interests of animals seriously.

Thus, we welcome the initiative of the Declaration for the Constitutional Protection of non-human Animals (Chile, 2020), which should give lawyers around the world pause for thought – as well as impetus for global co-operation. The condition of non-human animals invites us to reflect on the concept of justice, and we must decide whether we want to abuse our privileges or show empathy in defending the most vulnerable, as speciesism still characterizes our relationships with other animals. The consideration given to each one and, therefore, the rules that govern their treatment still depend on the species to which they belong: the pig and the dog, although so similar, have two diametrically opposed destinies.

In October, we started this exciting journey with a theme that suited the circumstances: we dived into human-animal relations with the arrival of the covid pandemic. On our website you can find the latest reports and articles on this topic, as well as the blogpost written by Junior Fellow Marine Lercier in which she reflects on the way in which our current treatment of animals is threatening not only the welfare of animals, but that of humans as well: we need to work towards a more holistic view of one-health, one-welfare.

In November, the tensions between the protection of individual animals versus the protection of biodiversity as a whole was the focus of our discussions. Is the current legal framework for the protection of endangered species sufficiently attuned to the welfare of the individual, sentient animal? Wild animals are often excluded from any welfare considerations and easily targeted for extermination when they are labelled ‘invasive’ or ‘alien’ species. But how can we reconcile the two opposing approaches? Apart from the blogpost written by Junior Fellow Eva Bernet Kempers, we  again sourced and made available a list of recommended readings and reports on the topic. The theme is an important one, and it is certain that our programme will return to it over the coming years. Our first Associate to the Think Tank Programme, Ashleigh Best, also published a piece on the tragedy of animals caught in wildfires.

On the 26th of November our programme organized its first ever “Open Forum”, which was an opportunity for the general public and other academics to connect and voice their concerns, contributing to shaping the Think Tank in the years to come. The Fellow of our Programme, Dr. Yoriko Otomo, and Junior Fellows Eva & Marine, launched our website and the numerous resources it contains for young scholars and academics interested in the subject, and also for the general public. Many scholars and members of the general public attended and exchanged fruitful discussion on the themes of animal welfare and animal rights. In this respect, more profound changes are expected in terms of animal and environmental policies to address the challenges of our century. What emerged was a desire for greater collaboration and openness to a multidisciplinary and international perspective, which is necessary for any progress in this area. You can see a recording of this event on YouTube.

In December our programme focused on the theme of veganism: how to celebrate vegan holidays, and more broadly, why and how can we lead more compassionate lives to eliminate animal cruelty. A variety of documentaries on the topic can be found on our website. Is veganism really dangerous for your health, as some carnists tend to assume? Or can it actually solve health problems? For your stubborn brothers, fathers, and boyfriends, who fear that a meatless diet would somehow negatively impact their masculinity, we warmly recommend this sporty documentary: The Game Changers, as it is the one movie that managed to get some of our own carnist friends to turn vegan at once. While a bit sad that the prevention of non-human animal suffering and climate change was not enough and that change of heart was driven by personal interest, we welcome it nonetheless.

We hope that 2021 will bring with it a seachange. We have just announced a Panel Discussion on the Universal Convention on Animal Health and Protection (UNCAHP) to be held on January 15, 2021, in partnership with the Global Animal Law GAL Association, which drafted that proposal. Renowned experts will offer interventions, and be complemented by a discussion that can be followed live. Keep an eye on our Facebook-page and website for updates on the programme of this exciting event, to which you can now register to watch the discussion live.

In February 2021, we will look at the relationship between livestock farming and climate change, working together with the Think Tank Programmes on Human Rights, Family & Gender and Climate & Energy. In March, we will host a debate on the question of animal personhood in different legal systems. In April, a collaboration between the Think Tank on Animals & Biodiversity and the Aquatic Animal Law Initiative of the world-famous Center for Animal Law Studies will take place –  the first to focus on questions broadly relating to the legal protection of aquatic animals – in which the often neglected topic of aquatic animals welfare stands central.

On May 1st, International Workers’ Day, the Think Tank will hold a Roundtable on Animal Labour, in which some of the best animal law scholars will participate – among others, Charlotte Blattner and Kendra Coulter, authorities on the subject. And many more events will follow! Don’t hesitate to give us your feedback and comments through email, or respond to one of our blog posts on the website! We would be delighted to hear from you.

Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful team of the Global Research Network for trusting us with this initiative and giving us the means to address crucial issues for animals and biodiversity every month, as well as the ever-growing number of partner organisations and associate members of the Think Tank. Happy holidays to all, take care of yourself, and we invite you to join our programme and participate in the life of the Think Tank from January! And you, what do you wish for animals and biodiversity in 2021?