Europe and the Sustainable Development Goals – Brussels Workshop Highlights Need for Action

In September of this year, UN Member States will agree on a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs). After that, it will be up to individual states to implement the goals, thereby initiating a transformation to more social, ecological and economic sustainability. The regions have a special role to play here, not least because the implementation of many SDGs transcends national borders. This is particularly true of the goal to protect natural resources, which in many cases can only be achieved if different countries in the same region coordinate their efforts. Many European countries have already developed and begun to implement sustainability strategies, and an overarching sustainability strategy already exists for EU member states. Thus the question of how the SDGs are to be effectively implemented is particularly pertinent to Europe. How can the EU support the efforts of individual member states in this area? Against this background, the IASS together with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Germany and the Spanish SDSN hosted a dialogue on 29 and 30 June in Brussels on Europe and the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Shaping Effective Follow-up, Review and Accountability Mechanisms. The event was attended by around 50 representatives of politics, civil society, academia and the private sector.

How are the SDGs to be effectively implemented in Europe? This question was discussed by participants of a workshop in Brussels. © European CommissionHow are the SDGs to be effectively implemented in Europe? This question was discussed by participants of a workshop in Brussels. © European Commission

The participants in the discussion all agreed that Europe already has the necessary institutions for implementing and monitoring the SDGs, for example the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) and Eurostat. However, as a representative of a consultative body of the EU pointed out, the implementation processes have not yet been sufficiently clarified: “There are many visions of how sustainable development can succeed in Europe. But there is no all-encompassing framework that unites these visions in a single strategy and enables the implementation of the SDGs.” Many participants criticised what they see as a lack of discussion on implementing the SDGs in Europe. They claimed that the current crises and the focus on short-term measures hinder a comprehensive discussion of long-term policy measures. The latter are necessary if we want to avoid further crises and find effective solutions to current problems.

Participants concluded at the end of the dialogue that the implementation process was an opportunity to rethink existing policies and strategies for sustainable development, identify gaps and formulate economic, social and ecological strategies for sustainable development on that basis. The discussion on protecting Europe’s natural resources focussed in particular on trade-offs, for example between competing demands for fertile land to produce food on the one hand and bioenergy on the other. A compromise between the two demands must be reached and new priorities set in debates with stakeholders. The various actors should then be formally involved in follow-up, review and accountability mechanisms at national level. Thematic reviews are advisable at international level to ensure that overarching themes, such as the protection of our environment and the sustainable use of natural resources, are not neglected in the review process.

08.07.2015