“We need a system-wide change. Instead of focusing on economic growth, our economic, social, and political systems should serve the well-being of communities, animals, and ecosystems.” That’s one of the conclusions of the successful world conference Eco-Crisis: Turning the Tide, that took place last weekend in Porto, Portugal. Representatives from 28 different countries were united by the Dutch and the Portuguese parties for animal rights to discuss solutions to the ecological crisis the world is facing. They took the opportunity to protest against the disastrous trade agreement between Mercosur-countries and the European Union in front of the Brazilian consulate and were joined by the Members of European Parliament Anja Hazekamp (Party for the Animals) and Francisco Guerreiro (PAN:People-Animals-Nature).
In May 2019, a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was published. One of its conclusion is that current global efforts are insufficient to stop the unprecedented decline of nature and extinction of species. Radical and fundamental social changes are needed to halt the loss of biodiversity and to restore nature.
Therefore, last weekend representatives from 16 political parties for animal rights and 33 ecological-oriented organizations and professionals from 28 different countries came together to discuss further cooperation in tackling the eco-crisis. The conference programme was full of lectures and workshops by scientists and experts.
Sustainability as the norm, not the exception
Ingrid Visseren, key- speaker at the conference and co-author of the IPBES-report, explained that the livestock industry, deforestation, fishing, and hunting are a few of the main causes of the ecological crisis. Due to this crisis, our food safety and quality of life are at risk. Visseren argued for a more integrated approach between animal welfare and environmental policies. She pointed out the importance of the fact that in the latest IPBES report, animal welfare is mentioned for the first time and an animal rights based approach is used.
“We have to work with smart policy mixes. Pulling out of the unsustainable economy and going into a sustainable one. Help farmers transition to a sustainable, more plant-based agriculture and offer real choices to consumers. Sustainability should become the norm, not the exception,” Visseren concluded.
The conference guests themselves shared different problems and best practices from their countries. For example, the Spanish party for animal rights PACMA shared how they successfully fight against hunting in Spain by using the Spanish legal system and Ukrainian organizations explained how they fought against keeping wild animals in captivity and the pollution caused by large livestock farms. Mohamed Benata, one of the first environmental activists in Morocco, shared his research on biodiversity in his country.
28 countries protest in front of Brazilian consulate
What happens when you put activists and politicians who want to make a positive change together during a conference? Action, of course. The conference guests stepped out of the conference for a couple of hours to collectively protests against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the so called “Mercosur-deal”, in front of the Brazilian consulate in Porto. During the protest, some guests held up letters, together creating the slogan “Save the Amazon, stop Mercosur!”. Others held up pictures of the Amazon and statements like “Livestock production = deforestation”.
The Mercosur-deal is a trade deal between four South American countries, including Brazil, and the European Union (EU). It encourages Brazilian cattle ranching which is responsible for 80% of the deforestation of the Amazon. It is estimated that Brazil cuts down at least a football pitch of forest every minute, while soy plantations used as animal feed also contribute to ecological devastation.
National parliaments have to ratify the Mercosur-deal, so there is still hope that the deal will be stopped. Moreover, the European Parliament also has the power to say no to the deal. That’s why Members of European Parliament Anja Hazekamp (Dutch Party for the Animals) and Francisco Guerreiro (Portuguese PAN) led the protest in Porto and recorded a video message for the world.
“Just talking won’t be effective if the EU keeps holding on to the current disastrous trade and agricultural policies. Forests are being burned down and human and animal rights sacrificed for cheap meat. We need a change of policy and legislation. As responsible politicians, we need to stop the Mercosur deal,” Hazekamp explained.
The protest ended with the making of graffiti artwork in the city, led by local artist PANT.Artworks.
Lecture by Marianne Thieme: from ego to eco
Parallel to the conference, Marianne Thieme, the leader and founder of the Dutch Party for the Animals, gave a public lecture on the importance of a different kind of politics and cutting meat consumption in order to protect precious natural environments, like the Amazon. Clearly topics that the Portuguese public is very interested in, as Thieme’s lecture was completely sold out.
Whether it’s forest fires, loss of biodiversity, climate change, or animal suffering, according to Thieme, it all comes down to the same problem: short-term thinking and selfishness of humans. “I am convinced that in order to change our way of life, to make it sustainable and be grounded on principles of compassion, we have to shift our focus from a man centred perspective to a planet centred perspective,” Thieme concluded.
The lecture was introduced by Bebiane Cunha, councillor in Porto and candidate for the Portuguese parliamentary elections in October. As part of the Portuguese party for animal rights PAN, she emphasized the changes in policy PAN is trying to make to create a more eco-centric system. PAN now has one seat in the Portuguese parliament but is likely to win more in October.