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2030 is now – implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals needs both EU and governmental leadership and civil society's support

A lot is already happening on the ground for the implementation of the SDGs – both as top-down goals with governments and institutions providing the driving force and as bottom-up initiatives by non-state actors and civil society. National and local sustainable development strategies, which are successfully involving civil society, were presented at one of a series of events on this topic at the EESC last week. However, an overarching European strategy, which would provide the coherence and guidance needed for the implementation of the SDGs at national and local level, is still missing.

The EESC hopes for an ambitious framework to be put forward in the upcoming Commission's Reflection Paper "Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030".

At a conference on Sustainable Development Strategies – From Design to Monitoring: Civil Society's Role organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Sustainable Development Observatory President Mr. Peter Schmidt opened the event and introduced the topic by highlighting that the EESC has been for years at the forefront of calling for an ambitious strategy for the implementation of the SDGs at EU level. 

Sally Nicholson, European policy officer at the WWF presented the contribution of the Multi-Stakeholder Platform (MSP) on the implementation of the SDGs to the Commission's Reflection Paper. In particular, thehe MSP, which comprises representatives from various sectors and governance levels including the EESC, put forward recommendations for :

  • an overarching, visionary, transformative 2030 strategy which guides all EU policies and programmes;
  • vertical and horizontal EU governance structures with top leadership; and
  • the necessary tools for policy making, implementation, financing, monitoring, review and accountability.

Furthermore, all policies, strategies, directives etc. need to be mainstreamed under the SDG umbrella.

The conference showcased some examples of where civil society and governments are already working successfully together:

Veronica Tomei presented the German Council of Sustainable Development (RNE), which was founded in 2001 and consists of 15 independent advisers from different backgrounds, who advise the federal government on sustainability matters and on the National Sustainable Development Strategy. Furthermore, they promote public debate on sustainability, and run and support projects.

Andrea Innamorati, from the Italian Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea Protection, explained the process that had led to Italy's National Sustainable Development Strategy (NSDS), which was formally approved in December 2017. The strategy centres on the 5 Ps – people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. However, while Italy has a promising strategy on paper, it is still lacking targets and indicators, said Mr Innamorati.

Luxembourg also has a council of 15 independent advisers. With revenue from the Luxembourg lottery, this council supports sustainable projects. One of these projects, presented by Claudine Laurang, from the Luxembourg charity Oeuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte, is being carried out by two NGOs that are collecting smart phones either to take them apart or to repair them and give them to organisations caring for refugees.

Another initiative is called "yes we care", the aim of which is to reduce the ecological footprint and to foster social cohesion.

The Association of Flemish cities and municipalities VVSG, represented by Bert Janssens, deals with local projects, since some 65% of the SDGs are of local importance. 

Flemish cities are taking a three-step approach to implementing the SDGs:

  1. raising awareness, including with activities and tools (forinstance they created chocolates based on their logo);
  2. convincing colleagues within their organisation; and
  3. carrying out pilot projects.

Mr Janssens emphasised that the SDGs must be primarily implemented at local level. The VVSG has organised workshops, localised the indicators to municipal level, worked with and motivated local residents, for instance by finding SDG champions.

Participants stressed that implementing the Sustainable Development Goals can only be achieved with a collective effort. Individual citizens and civil society needed to play a key role in this effort, not least in order to increase the bottom-up pressure on businesses and governments.

The second part of the conference was devoted to the monitoring of SDG implementation. Presentations from Lieneke Hoeksma (Statistics Netherlands CBS), Simon Bley (Eurostat) and Elena Botvina (UNCTAD) discussed this from the point of view of national, European and international level of monitoring of the Goals.  The presentations provided during the discussion are available on the event's webpage.

SDSN provided insights from a study on Exposing EU policy gaps to address the sustainable development goals, presented by Guido Schmidt-Traub and Guillaume Lafortune.  This study was commissioned by the EESC, to look in to the gaps of the monitoring process and to see where civil society can be more involved.  This presentation is also available there.