Civil society should play a vital role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

The pivotal role of civil society in driving forward the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) took centre stage during the plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). The discussion made it crystal clear that the UN and EU need to work together to advance the SDGs.

At the current rate, the EU will not manage to meet a third of the SDG targets by 2030. This was the main takeaway of the 5th Europe Sustainable Development Report (ESDR), presented on 25 January during an event organised by the EESC's Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment (NAT) section and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The SDGs include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, climate action, clean water and sanitation.

The report points to the fact that progress on environmental goals and social targets has stalled and even reversed in many European countries. There are increasing challenges in terms of access to and quality of universal services, poverty and material deprivation, driven at least partly by the multiple crises that have hit since 2020.

Tatiana Molcean, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), highlighted the urgency of the situation and emphasised the need for decisive action to address this stagnation and reversal, particularly in areas such as social targets and environmental sustainability. "There are no custom- made solutions, but we know for sure that civil society's role to accelerate SDG implementation is crucial. At times of shrinking civic space in many countries, efforts must be renewed to ensure the right to participate through meaningful engagement", she said.

Looking ahead to key events such as the European elections and the UN Summit of the Future, EESC president Oliver Röpke stressed the need for a comprehensive strategy on the SDGs which encompasses both the internal and external dimensions. Flagging up the importance of policy coherence and meaningful engagement with civil society, he called for concerted efforts to accelerate progress towards meeting the SDGs: "Slapping our logo on more papers isn't the answer. We need to change the policies. We are ready to play our role,", he said.  

Peter Schmidt, president of the EESC's NAT section, said that "One of the SDGs' priorities is to leave no one behind: not people,   not regions, not small and medium enterprises. We at the EESC will keep pushing the EU institutions to make the SDGs the way forward and to involve civil society meaningfully when it comes to implementing them. We stand ready to play our part, we have the solutions!'

Tatiana Molcean highlighted the key role of civil society in driving positive change and fostering inclusiveness. She spoke about the importance of cooperation and partnership in advancing the SDGs. She emphasised that governments had to listen to civil society and factor their views into policy making and encouraged the EESC to participate in all related meetings at UN level.

During the debate, EESC members stressed the need for game changing solutions and a renewed commitment to the SDGs. With only six years remaining until the 2030 deadline, there was a shared sense of urgency and determination to accelerate action on inclusiveness.

The call for action on the SDGs (including ten priority actions for the imminent European elections and the next leadership of the European Union) was kicked off with the report and co-signed by the presidents of the NAT section, the Sustainable Development Observatory and the SDSN, along with 200 other parties, included scientists. It should guide European leaders towards a European deal for the future, in line with the Green and Social Deal that the EESC has been advocating for years.

For more information, please contact:
EESC Press Unit – Katerina Serifi
+32 473 72 29 99