Climate change and animal health, welfare and production
Ratification Date: 10 Mar 2022
- The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) acknowledges the scientific evidence that human activity is the primary cause for the acceleration of climate change.1 The AVA recognises the view of the World Veterinary Association2 that this constitutes a global emergency.
- The AVA acknowledges the consequences of climate change have serious observed and projected negative effects on the health of people, animals and the environment, globally and in Australia. Veterinarians, in their role as advocates for animal health, welfare and production, and the health of the environment, have a responsibility to adopt and promote sustainable practices to reduce the emission of human-generated atmospheric greenhouse gasses, predominantly carbon dioxide (CO2).
- The AVA supports policies and actions that promote sustainable practices to mitigate the emission of human-generated atmospheric greenhouse gasses. This includes veterinarians developing and applying environmentally smart practices to mitigate the effects of climate change and climate extremes on animals.
- The AVA supports efforts being made by Australia and other countries to achieve strong interim emissions reductions. Further, in recognition of the urgency and severity of this problem, the AVA urges all actors to strive to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030, in accordance with scientific recommendations.
This policy reflects the increasing concern of the veterinary profession worldwide about the negative effects of climate change on animal health, welfare and production, as described in the World Veterinary Association’s ‘Position on the Global Climate Change Emergency’.2
Climate change is negatively affecting animal health and welfare throughout wild and managed terrestrial and aquatic environments. It is also affecting animal productivity and food supply, and the geographical distribution and spread of diseases in animal and human populations.3 The inter-related dependencies between humans and animals are also vulnerable to climate change.3, 4, 5, 6
There is scientific consensus that human activity is the major contributor to climate change or global warming. Both the rate of current change, and its negative effects, reflect human activity and the production of greenhouse gases. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considers that evidence for anthropogenic-fuelled warming of the climate system is now unequivocal.1
Veterinarians are professionally qualified to play a key role in responding to the negative effects of climate change on animal, welfare food security and safety, production, vector-borne diseases, and ecosystem health. The One Health paradigm states that the health of animals, the environment and humans are interconnected; thus, protecting animal and human health requires protection of environmental health. By way of their professional duty to protect animal health and welfare, and human health, veterinarians have a responsibility to advocate to government for appropriate policies and take individual actions in their professional capacity to minimise global warming.
Climate change is associated with more extreme weather events and an increased incidence and intensity of natural disasters such as droughts, heatwaves, bushfires and floods.
- Animal welfare
Ambient temperature rises are also a hallmark of climate change. Mass mortalities involving the death of thousands of mammals, birds and fish have been linked to natural disasters. For example, large numbers of native mammals, birds and reptiles were injured, displaced or killed in bushfires in Australia in 2019–20 7, and there were substantial losses of sheep and cattle. Many more animals suffered injuries and the associated pain and stress are a significant animal welfare concern.
Heat exposure is a major cause of stress and mortality for livestock, wildlife and competing (sport) animals 8. Excess heat also reduces productivity of agricultural animals and increases the need to provide shade and plentiful water. Companion animals (pets) are commonly affected by heat stress.
- Food security and safety
The intersection of agriculture and climate change is complex.10 Critical to the challenge climate change poses is the need to feed a burgeoning human population on the planet. Not only is food security challenged, but increasing environmental temperatures are associated with an increased incidence of food-borne diseases and thus risks to food safety.11–16
Agricultural productivity is vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. On a global level, efficient animal production relies on predictable weather patterns. Modelling indicates that most animal-related production systems will be negatively affected — locally, nationally and globally.
Estimates suggest that in Australia greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture account for about 17% of Australia’s total emissions. These agricultural emissions predominantly come from ruminant livestock according to current modelling. However, livestock emissions through methane production can be mitigated.10 Consequently, there is a need to ensure that the emissions and benefits from agricultural production are correctly accounted. Veterinarians can play an important role in championing production systems and promoting interventions that reduce methane output from ruminants.10
- Vector-borne diseases
Climate change is a major factor in the changing epidemiology of vector-borne diseases that affect human and animal health and in the spread of these diseases from equatorial regions.5, 19
Increased sea and land temperatures and rain events that facilitate vector reproduction have resulted in an increased incidence of several diseases and/or in shifting geographical ranges,19, 20 as well as increasing the risk to human health from zoonotic diseases.
- Ecosystem health
Climate change is affecting wildlife populations and ecosystems through:
- Direct effects of climate-related natural disasters.7, 21, 22
- Effects on reproductive performance of climate sensitive animals.23
- Shifting ranges of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife species and of their food sources and habitats.24
- Increased risk of emerging infectious diseases and plant toxicities
- Species loss through effects on climate-sensitive natural habitats including loss of food availability .
- Socioeconomic aspects
Natural disasters result in substantial economic losses to individuals and communities, and climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of these events. The effects of drought, particularly in less developed regions, have the potential to reduce welfare outcomes in animals and to reduce the wellbeing and viability of human populations. Women, in particular, in less developed regions have a significant dependency on animal agriculture.
- Impact on veterinarians
There will be increased challenges facing the profession from increased ambient temperatures, more frequent droughts, and other natural disasters such as fires and floods. There is a need for an appropriately trained workforce to service the animal production industries as these are challenged by more variable feed availability, changing disease incidence and distribution, and other effects of climate change.
There is a need for more veterinarians highly skilled in monitoring and detection of pathogens and diseases, including zoonotic agents and diseases, as animal and human populations interact. The magnitude of such challenges is evident from recent experiences with pathogens such as influenza viruses, henipaviruses, lyssaviruses and coronaviruses.
Veterinarians already contribute greatly to the wellbeing and care of wild populations of animals at low or no cost on a compassionate basis. Increased submissions of injured wildlife and livestock resulting from natural disasters not only expose veterinarians to increased costs, but more critically may have a negative effect on their mental wellbeing.25,27 These factors increase the likelihood of experiencing moral distress or mental health crises.24,26
Veterinarians should be active in not only the response to climate change and its impacts but also in limiting the severity of climate change that can occur through mitigation efforts. Adaptation and resilience of the veterinary workforce can be enhanced by veterinary organisations, businesses and individuals working with governments to development a skills-base and resources that can be deployed in response to animal emergencies arising from climate change.
Mitigation of the effects of climate change can be achieved through many tasks and activities applicable to veterinarians with the support of the AVA and other agencies:
- Veterinary businesses should adopt and promote workplace practices that minimise their carbon footprint. Veterinary practices should aim for carbon neutrality by 2030, and the AVA should commit to working on strategies to assist in achieving this aspiration.
- The animal care industry should strive to minimise its own greenhouse gas emissions, influence suppliers to our industry to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and promote general sustainability within our own sector.
- Veterinarians should recognise and support initiatives of Australian agriculture to reduce the carbon footprint of animal production. For example, the National Farmers’ Federation,28 Meat and Livestock Australia29 and Dairy Australia30 have initiatives to become carbon neutral or markedly reduce their carbon footprint.
- Veterinarians should advocate for health and welfare-positive strategies that reduce the carbon footprint of animal production and raise awareness of the challenges of feeding a growing human population.
- Veterinarians should engage with their clients, communities and governments (local, State and Federal) to build awareness of the effects of climate change on animal health, welfare and production, and to discuss ways that veterinarians can help them to mitigate those effects.
- Veterinarians should engage with their communities and governments (local, State and Federal) on the risks of the spread of zoonoses and their effects on human health, and highlight the need for veterinary surveillance in the One Health context.
- Veterinarians should work with governments and other agencies to highlight the risk for animal health, animal welfare, the environment and agricultural sustainability from climate change and help to develop policies to mitigate those effects.
- Veterinarians should assist with and encourage government and other entities to act to reduce the risks and effects of droughts, floods and fires.
- The profession should engage with training bodies including the veterinary schools to embed content on climate change and its mitigation in curricula.
- The veterinary profession should actively collaborate with other professions, groups and agencies under a One Health approach to support and participate in research to:
- Reduce the negative effects of climate change on animal health, welfare and production.
- Reduce the negative effects of climate change on the environment, with a focus on native fauna.
- Reduce the potential for spread of arboviruses, henipaviruses and other zoonotic disease agents as consequences of climate change.
- Provide technical advice and public education regarding disease control programs.
- Mitigate the negative effects of a changing environment on sustainable terrestrial and aquatic animal production and nutrition by promoting agricultural practices that produce less carbon and those that actively fix carbon long term.
- Provide data for policy development in climate change
- Reduce human contributions to climate change.
Other relevant policies
- Emergency animal management.
- Native animal welfare (habitat clearing).
- The role of veterinarians in the management of zoonotic disease.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. AR6 Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-i
- World Veterinary Association. Position on the Global Climate Change Emergency. WVA 2020. http://www.worldvet.org/uploads/news/docs/wva_position_on_the_global_climate_change_emergency.pdf
- McMichael AJ and Lindgren E. Climate change: present and future risks to health, and necessary responses. Journal of Internal Medicine 2011 270; 401–413. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.2011.02415.x https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2011.02415.x
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. AR5 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2014 https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr.
- Porter JR, Xie L, Challinor AJ et al. Food security and food production systems. In: Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part A: global and sectoral aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Field CB, Barros VR, Dokken DJ et al., eds). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2014; 485–533.
- Grace Randolph D, Lee HS and Smith J, eds (2021) Veterinary Services in a changing world: climate change and other external factors. Special issue of the Revue Scientifique et Technique de l’Office International des Epizooties (OIE’s Technical Review), volume 40 no. 2. https://doc.oie.int/dyn/portal/index.xhtml?page=alo&aloId=41572&req=21&cid
- van Eeden LM, Nimmo D, Mahony M, et al. (2020) Impacts of the unprecedented 2019-2020 bushfires on Australian animals. Report prepared for WWF-Australia, Ultimo NSW, November 2020. https://www.wwf.org.au/ArticleDocuments/353/WWF_Impacts-of-the-unprecedented-2019-2020-bushfires-on-Australian-animals.pdf.aspx
- RSPCA (2020) The impact of climate change on the welfare of animals in Australia. Research report, RSPCA Australia. https://kb.rspca.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Climate-Change-and-Animal-Welfare-RSPCA-Australia-Research-Report-May-2020.pdf
- Shields S, Orme-Evans G. The impacts of climate change mitigation strategies on animal welfare. Animals 2015; 5:361–391. http://www.mdpi.com/2076–2615/5/2/361/htm
Food security and safety
- Lean IJ, Moate PJ. Cattle, climate and complexity: food security, quality and sustainability of the Australian cattle industries. Aust Vet J 2021; 99(7):293–
- Gunasekera D, Kim Y, Tulloh C et al. Climate change: impacts on Australian agriculture. Australian Commodities: Forecasts and Issues 2007; 14: 657–676 [online].
- Godde CM, Mason-D’Croz D, Mayberry DE, Thornton PK and Herrero M. Impacts of climate change on the livestock food supply chain: a review of the evidence. Global Food Security 2021 28:100488. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100488
- El-Fadel M, Ghanimeh S, Maroun R et al. Climate change and temperature rise: implications on food- and water-borne diseases. Sci Total Environ 2012; 437:15–21.
- Tirado MC, Clarke R, Jaykus LA et al. Climate change and food safety: a review. Food Res Int 2010;43:1745–1765. http://ucanr.edu/datastorefiles/608–149.pdf
- Jaykuss LA, Woolridge M, Frank JM et al. Climate change: implications for food safety. A consultation paper. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, 2008.
- Hall GV, D’Souza RM, Kirk MD. Foodborne disease in the new millennium: out of the frying pan and into the fire? Med J Aust 2002;177:614–618.
- Y Wood T, Reeve A, Ha J (2021) Towards net Zero: practical policies to reduce agricultural emissions. Report No. 2021-12, September 2021, Grattan Institute, Carlton. https://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Towards-net-zero-Practical-policies-to-reduce-agricultural-emissions.pdf
- Campbell-Lendrum D, Manga L, Bagayoko M et al. Climate change and vector-borne diseases: what are the implications for public health research and policy? Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2015; 370. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0552
- Wittmann EJ, Baylis M. Climate change: effects on Culicoides-transmitted viruses and implications for the UK. Vet J 2000; 160: 107–117.
- Oliver ECJ, Donat MG, Burrows MT et al. Longer and more frequent marine heatwaves over the past century. Nat Commun 2018; 9: 1324 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03732-9
- Urban MC. Climate change: accelerating extinction risk from climate change. Science 2015; 348: 571–573.
- Holleley CE, O’Meally D, Sarre SD et al. Sex reversal triggers the rapid transition from genetic to temperature-dependent sex. Nature 2015; 523: 79–82.
- Baltensperger AP, Huettmann F. Predicted shifts in small mammal distributions and biodiversity in the altered future environment of Alaska: an open access data and machine learning perspective. PLoS One 2015; 10:e0132054. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132054
Impact on veterinarians
- Hrabok M, Delorme A, Agyapong VIO. Threats to mental health and well-being associated with climate change. Journal of Anxiety Disorders 2020;76: 102295.
- Wasson E, Wieman A. Mental health during environmental crisis and mass incident disasters. Vet Clinics N Amer: Food An Prac 2018 ;34: 375–
- Arbe Montoya AI, Hazel S, Matthew SM, McArthur ML. Moral distress in veterinarians. Vet Rec 2019; 185: 631.
- FitzGerald G, Tarrant M, Aitken P, Fredriksen M. Disaster Health Management: a primer for students and practitioners. Taylor and Francis Group, London, 2016.
- National Farmers’ Federation (2020) Climate change policy. National Farmers’ Federation, Canberra. https://nff.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/2020.08.06_Policy_NRM_Climate_Change.pdf
- Meat and Livestock Australia (2020) Becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Meat and Livestock Australia, North Sydney. https://www.mla.com.au/globalassets/mla-corporate/research-and-development/documents/cn30-information-sheet-final.pdf
- Dairy Australia (2021) Climate Change Strategy 2020–2025. Dairy Australia Southbank, Victoria. https://cdn-prod.dairyaustralia.com.au/westvic-dairy/-/media/project/dairy-australia-sites/national-home/resources/2021/03/19/climate-change-strategy-background/climate-change-strat-background.pdf?rev=fa3e0a221c014e1288b20f6cfb5317f8
Australian Medical Association. Position Statement on climate change. https://ama.com.au/position-statement/ama-position-statement-climate-change-and-human-health-2004-revised-2015
Australian Medical Association. Climate change is a health emergency. https://www.ama.com.au/media/climate-change-health-emergency
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5oC. October 2018. https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Special Report: Climate Change and Land. August 2019. https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Special Report: The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. September 2019. https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/
Watts N, Amann N, Arnell N et al. The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: responding to converging crises. Lancet 2021; 397,10269:129-170. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32290-X/fulltext
Hughes N, Gooday P. Climate change impacts and adaptation on Australian farms. Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. 2021. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/products/insights/climate-change-impacts-and-adaptation