January 09, 2024

Environmental, Natural Resources, & Energy Law Blog

The Interspecies Justice Perspective: Dusting The Environmental Lens - Altamush Saeed



By: Altamush Saeed*


The United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) predicts there will be 560+ disasters annually from 2030 onwards, and an additional 37.6 million people will face extreme poverty.[1] Disasters are global hazards, and the UNDRR Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNSDRR) rightfully designates disasters as a collective responsibility of states.[2] Therefore, any solutions need to be systemic instead of addressing individual infractions. Initiatives such as the Global Stocktake under Article 14 of the Paris Agreement are examples of collective solutions to global environmental problems.[3]

Systemic solutions require an across-the-board review of the current framework before moving forward and creating new frameworks to address such problems. However, disaster risk reduction and the food system are inextricably linked areas of Environmental Law, which are seldom discussed. This lack of intersection blinds our lens and further propagates our existing biases, such as the anthropocentric bias.[4] The anthropocentric bias eventually denigrates the intrinsic value of the environment and furthers a disconnect in our ability to acknowledge the current framework honestly.

However, mere intersectional approaches are insufficient. We need a new approach that takes interspecies justice into account. Professor Danielle Celermajer defines Interspecies justice as

“It is a theory of justice that includes not only the interests of all humans but of the nonhuman, such as other animals, plants, forests, rivers and ecological systems. Taking their interests seriously as ‘justice claims’ means there is a moral and political obligation for the basic institutions of society – including our political and legal systems – to take those interests into account when making decisions. They cannot be dismissed simply because they are inconvenient or costly (for certain humans), and attending to them is not a matter of charity or generosity.”[5]

Background on the interspecies justice approach:

The interspecies justice approach acknowledges the anthropocentric bias by the inclusion of non-human animals and ecological systems within decision-making and attempts to not just move forward in a procedural resolution of the problem[6] but also acknowledges the substantive burden of making the victim whole and acknowledging their innate value. Ecological systems and non-humans have innate rights as explicitly narrated, for example, under the ever-growing rights of nature theory in International Environmental Law. [7] The rights of nature theory grants mother nature and its elements independent rights. As a legal movement, “Rights of Nature” refers to sociobiocentric [or socioecological} policy that recognizes, respects, and provides for the right of ecosystems, natural elements, and living beings to exist, flourish, and evolve and that may also provide for subordinate rights, including the right to restoration. The rights of nature movement is included in the constitutions of many Latin American countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador. The culmination of the Rights of Nature movement came in 2022 and 2021, respectively, when the United Nations passed the resolutions on the One-Health intersection between humans, animals, and the environment and the resolution on the right to a healthy environment.[8] Though this resolution merely acknowledges the intersection and is not justice-oriented, these are a logical step towards interspecies justice as these resolutions do acknowledge the importance of improving global animal welfare to the UN’s goal of One Health and harmony with nature and that animal welfare is connected to human well being and environmental sustainability.

The food system is a victim of such anthropocentric biases and has constantly been abused, politicized, and ostracized to the point that it has created divides within the interspecies justice sphere.[9] The most apparent ostracization is between human rights, environmental rights, and animal rights activists, all advocating for their interests while ignoring the interests of the other.

Little do they acknowledge that their justice is interlinked with the justice of the other. For example, the recently recognized Human Right to a healthy environment by the United Nations is only possible to implement by acknowledging the rights of nature and animals.[10] At the same time, the UN Sustainability Development Goal 13 for climate action is only possible to implement by acknowledging human needs and animal rights.[11] In the same direction, the UNSDR goal for reducing disasters, an annual decrease in mortality rates, economic loss for vulnerable populations, and disaster damage is only possible with acknowledging animal rights as a mechanism to avoid biodiversity loss and the human rights of the most vulnerable.[12] Therefore, connecting these concepts through an interspecies justice approach makes sense.

Analysis: Encouraging and Facilitating the Interspecies Justice Approach

Luckily, a remarkable global push for Interspecies justice is picking up pace in International Environmental Law. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its corresponding Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius below industrial levels and linking to the global stocktake where states are coming together to create a global systemic solution is remarkable.[13] While the global stocktake certainly does not mandate an interspecies justice perspective, the spirit of Article 14 of the Paris Agreement is to achieve the result in a facilitative manner while acknowledging equity and inclusiveness to take acknowledgment of implementation of the agreement. Equity is impossible without justice, and the Paris Agreement’s ambitious goal is virtually impossible without an across-the-board review of the existing global environmental framework. As the Paris Agreement requires, this review or “taking stock” will happen for the first time at the 2023 Conference of the Parties (COP28).[14] In COP28, 134 countries signed a declaration on food and agriculture, which pledges to reduce carbon emissions from the food system.[15] The declaration also includes the need for countries to include agricultural systems in their nationally determined contributions by 2025.

The interspecies justice approach should be supported and the sooner the better. 2023 unequivocally has been declared the hottest year in the last 125,000 years.[16] Similarly, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR6 2023 Report has also unequivocally declared the era of the Anthropocene at fault for unregulated human actions against the environment and animals, thereby violating the principle of interspecies justice. This violation becomes more obvious under the IPCC AR6 report declaration that even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, the food system emissions alone would jeopardize the achievement of the 1.5 degree Celsius target.[17]

The IPCC AR6 cites that food systems are responsible for one-third of the global greenhouse gas emissions but only receive 3 percent of climate finance funding.[18] To clarify, while the global rise in temperature is not a disaster, it is a precursor to several other kinds of land- and water-based disasters, such as floods. On the same note, while the food system is not a disaster but a victim, in its currently existing anthropocentric state, the system is a significant precursor to disasters, including underwater nitrate and phosphate discharges, eutrophication, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and global temperature rise. Ironically, the current food system is leading to massive food shortages and food security concerns worldwide by driving climate change. Climate change due to nutrient loss imbalances and changes in ecological factors affect the yield of crops. It puts the most vulnerable at the risk of wealthier nations who can afford the effects of climate injustice [19]. The current food system further marginalizes animal lives by keeping them in tight spaces, thereby exacerbating the chances of zoonotic disasters such as COVID-19[20] and causing significant air and water pollution.[21]

However, the food system is still a victim because it is inextricably complex and is mostly misunderstood. Jessica Fanzo describes the system as comprised of four domains.[22] These include environmental inputs, system variables, proximal outcomes, and distal outcomes. Environmental inputs include soil quality, arable land, water quality, weather patterns, seasonality, temperature, and ocean acidification. System variables include the food supply, food environment, and consumer behavior. Food supply includes agriculture, livestock, aquaculture, processing packaging, and transportation. The food environment includes food availability, safety, quality, and affordability. Consumer behavior includes the everchanging global preferences for food. Proximal outcomes include diet, food wastage, and safety exposures. Finally, distal outcomes impact nutrition, health, and the environment. Nutrition and health include malnutrition, chronic diseases, and food-borne illnesses. The environment includes GHG emissions, air pollution, depletion of natural resources, rising temperatures and sea levels, deforestation, and eutrophication.[23]

From an animal rights point of view, 8.9 billion chickens, 520 million fish, 362 million egg-laying hens, 285 million Turkeys, 66 million cows, and 71 million animals are consumed annually in the US. These animals are subjected to inhumane conditions in the food system; from an environmental rights point of view, meat alone is responsible for 14 to 22 percent of the net global 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions per the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).[24] From a human rights point of view, however, the goal of the food system is to compete with the ever-increasing 8 billion global population food supply and ensure food-borne illnesses and malnutrition do not occur in the most vulnerable.[25] With such competing interests at play in such a complex food system, addressing individual infractions within the environmental, animal, and environmental rights domain will not fix anything, and history is evidence of this.


Now more than ever, the world needs an Interspecies justice lens that looks beyond the themes of anthropocentrism and even beyond merely Intersectional approaches such as the One-Health and purely eco-centric approaches. The window for these actions is till 2030. If we fail to dust our lens and at least attempt to see the across-the-board framework and do not attempt to resolve it from an interspecies justice perspective, we may face 560+ global disasters annually.

Interspecies justice can be channeled when we acknowledge that the environmental wonders we often traverse have a right of inherent protection and are not merely there to be instrumentalized. Similarly, non-human animals are not just food or companions; they, too, have inherent rights and are worthy to have a life of their own. The inclusion of morality and ethics in International Environmental Law can be one way to include Interspecies justice in the current debate.


* Altamush Saeed is a Pakistani Interspecies Justice lawyer, activist, philanthropist & teacher. He possesses an Animal Law LLM from Lewis & Clark Law School, being the first Pakistani recipient of the Brooks Institute for Animal Rights and Policy International Scholarship. He also holds a Human Rights LLM from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was the Comparative and International Law Scholar and winner of the Myint Zan LLM Prize and the outstanding LLM Student for Pro-Bono Service, and a BA-LLB from Lahore University of Management Sciences. He is pursuing an Environmental Law LLM as an Environmental Law LLM Ambassador (expected graduation Dec 2023) Scholarship recipient at the Environmental, Natural Resources, and Energy Law Center at Lewis & Clark Law School.

[1] UNDRR, break the cycle drrday activity, Linkedin ( Oct. 14, 2023) https://www.linkedin.com/posts/undrr_breakthecycle-drrday-activity-7118581838100484097-pFiK?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_desktop.

[2] UNDRR, ‘Implementing the Sendai Framework’ (Apr. 05, 2023) https://www.undrr.org/implementing-sendai-framework; UNDRR, ‘What is the Sendai Framework for Disaster Rusk Reduction’ (Apr. 04. 2023) https://www.undrr.org/implementing-sendai-framework/what-sendai-framework.

[3] Sebastan Osborn, Global Stocktake Must Address Food – With Nuance, IISD ( Nov. 15, 2023) https://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/guest-articles/global-stocktake-must-address-food-with-nuance/.

[4] Altamush Saeed, From the United States to Pakistan: Can Climate Change Pave the Way for An International Right to Animal Rescue in Disasters?, 2 Animal L. Rev. 193 (2023).

[5] The University of Sydney, What is multispecies justice, and why does it matter, (June 01, 2022) https://www.sydney.edu.au/arts/news-and-events/news/2022/06/01/what-is-multispecies-justice-and-why-does-it-matter.html

[6] Phoeniz Zones Initiative, People – Animals – Planet https://www.phoenixzonesinitiative.org/; Gupta, J., Liverman, D., Prodani, K. et al. Earth system justice needed to identify and live within Earth system boundaries. 6 Nat Sustain 630–638 (2023).

[7] The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund(CELDF), Rights of Nature:Timeline, https://celdf.org/rights-of-nature/timeline/.

[8] Environment Assembly Res. 5/2, U.N. Doc. EA.5/L.10/Rev.1 (Mar.2, 2022). Human Rights Council Res.48/13 (Oct. 8, 2021).

[9] Jessica Fanzo, Alexandra L Bellows, Marie L Spiker, Andrew L Thorne-Lyman, and Martin W Bloem, The importance of food systems and the environment for nutrition, 113,1 Am J Clin Nutr. 7-16 (2021).

[10] Kristen Stilt, Rights of Nature, Rights of Animals, 134 Harv. L. Rev. F. 276 (2021).

[11] United Nations, ‘Climate Justice - United Nations Sustainable Development’ ( Nov. 07, 2023)


[12] UNDRR supra note 2. The policy goal of the UNDRR under the UN Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction is to:

“The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.”

Disasters or Hazards in UN Terminology is defined as:

“A potentially damaging physical event, phenomenon or human activity that may cause the loss of life or injury, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation. Hazards can include latent conditions that may represent future threats and can have different origins: natural (geological, hydrometeorological and biological) or induced by human processes (environmental degradation and technological hazards).


[13] Osborn supra note 1.

[14] Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104 art 14.

[15] ProVeg Internationa, ProVeg welcomes Declaration on food systems at COP28,(Dec. 01, 2023) https://proveg.com/press-release/proveg-welcomes-declaration-on-food-systems-at-cop28/.

[16] Kate Abnett and Gloria Dickie, This year ‘virtually certain’ to be warmest in 125,000 years, EU scientists say, MSN( Nov. 10, 2023) https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/this-year-virtually-certain-to-be-warmest-in-125000-years-eu-scientists-say/ar-AA1jzW6c.

[17] Osborn supra note 1.

[18] Id.

[19] Saeed supra note 4.

[20] Id.

[21] Austen Dip, Why are CAFOs Bad for the Environment?, ACTION CLIMATE EMERGENCY (Aug. 6, 2021), https://perma.cc/T3M2-ML44.

[22] Fanzo supra note 6.

[23] Id.

[24] Hannah Ritchie, Food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Our World in Data ( Mar. 18, 2020) https://ourworldindata.org/how-many-animals-are-factory-farmed; Nathan Fiala, ‘How Meat Contributes to Global Warming’, Scientific American (Feb. 01, 2009) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-greenhouse-hamburger.

[25] WorldoMeter, Current World Population https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/.