Within the 2030 Agenda, there is very little reference to protecting animals or the benefits that this could bring to achieving a better planet for all. Jack McQuibban of Cruelty Free International, one of UKSSD’s newest partners, shares his thoughts on the need for greater recognition of the positive role protecting animals could have on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN’s 2030 Agenda specifically envisages a world “in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and other living species are protected”. But while protecting and caring for animals is formally recognised as part of sustainable development by the UN, there is an animal-sized hole in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as some 500,000 animals suffer and die through testing for cosmetics each year.

Although progress is being made, with new UN initiatives like the Wild for Life campaign and the Lion’s Share Fund, there is scope for much more to be done on animal protection within the SDGs.

Next year provides a real opportunity for meaningful action. The UK will present its first Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development next July, where the second Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) will also be presented and examined by member states.

By protecting animals used in experiments we could directly help achieve SDGs 9 and 12. By fostering humane and human-relevant science and innovation, as well as empowering consumers to lead the sustainable lifestyles they increasingly desire, the UK could play a leading role in helping to move these SDGs forward towards their successful implementation by 2030.

The numbers show it’s worth it

Target 9.5 specifically aims to ‘enhance scientific research… in developing countries, including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers…’ Cosmetics animal testing was ended in the UK in 1998 and a full testing and marketing prohibition came in to force in the EU in 2013. The bans have given an impetus to innovation in the field of non-animal testing methods with applications beyond cosmetics. The European cosmetics industry has continued to prosper and is now worth £75 billion, providing 2 million jobs regionally. The demand for cruelty free cosmetics shows no signs of slowing down and is predicted to continue to grow at 6.1% over the next six years.

As the recent UKSSD report highlights, there is great scope for the UK to improve its performance on SDG9. This can be done by leading in the development of non-animal methods, sharing this expertise globally and at the same time, operationalising it within the UK’s modern industrial strategy. The UK should commit to a leading role in replacing the animals used in experiments worldwide as a key principle towards its approach to achieving SDG 9.

Informed consumers and responsible business

The Body Shop – one of the first companies to achieve our Leaping Bunny non-animal testing certification – wrote previously that business and civil society together can harness consumers’ voices to achieve SDG 12. Over eight million people from every corner of the world have signed a petition organised by Cruelty Free International and The Body Shop calling for an end to cosmetics animal testing globally. We believe that such a move could mark an important step towards more sustainable, more responsible and more ethical consumption and production.

Every day, consumers make purchasing choices which collectively shape global consumption patterns and therefore our ability to achieve SDG 12. Here in the UK especially, but increasingly across the world, consumer demand for cruelty-free products is growing. By acknowledging the importance of replacing animals with non-animal alternatives in testing, working with businesses to go cruelty-free and spearheading an international agreement to end cosmetics animal testing, the UK government could immediately take concrete steps towards achieving SDG 12. For example, Targets 12.6 and 12.8 call for businesses “to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle” and ask that “people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature” respectively.

Ahead of the UK’s VNR, the government has a real opportunity to connect with the public on issues they care about. Connecting the growing demand for cruelty-free products and humane science with the SDGs and by communicating this effectively with citizens would help bring the SDGs to the local level, generating a sense of ownership and responsibility over the goals that is key for accelerating their implementation here in the UK.

Jack McQuibban is Public Affairs Advisor for Cruelty Free International, the lead organisation working to end animal testing globally. You can find out more about their work on the SDGs here