The EU must become the world leader in meeting SDGs

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EESC conference highlights the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) great potential for business, environment and citizens

The EU needs to do more. It has to grab the unique chance of implementing the SDGs and transform the challenges into opportunities for businesses and industry, agriculture and food production, helping to fight climate change and becoming a more equal society.

This is the bottom line of a two-day conference on The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: A new frontier of rights and progress for the EU held in Brussels from 22 to 23 May by the Various Interests Group of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

Setting goals and opportunities for a sustainable democratic union

In his speech, Luca Jahier, President of the EESC Various Interests, regretted that the 2030 Agenda was quite absent from the five scenarios in the EC White Paper on the Future of Europe, seeing it as a missed opportunity, which is a view that was shared by many other speakers. Precisely at a time when others turn away from their commitments, it is imperative that the EU maintains the momentum and takes the global leadership.  We need to accelerate the transition to an inclusive, equitable, resilient, low-carbon, circular and collaborative economy and lead by example. He called on EU stakeholders and Member States to develop a European overarching sustainable development strategy which abandons silos and embraces a holistic, coordinated and systematic approach. A first step would be an inter-institutional agreement on a sustainable democratic union.

SDGs as the new world order

Brice Lalonde, Advisor to the French Chapter of the UN Global Compact, Chair of the business and Climate Summit and the French Water Academy, said that in a time of rising tensions, growing protectionism and populism it was important for Europe "to stand up and take responsibility". He regretted that the SDGs had not been a topic during the French election campaign and added that on top of that, military expenses had increased drastically since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The US obviously doesn't believe any more in the world order we shared for more than 60 years, Europe is alone and we should see this as a fantastic opportunity to not only be an economic giant but finally to also become a political giant", stated Mr Lalonde.  "The SDGs need to become the new world order and the EU needs to be the champion on it.

A credible narrative on SDGs to motivate all stakeholders

Professor Olivier De Schutter, Member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recalled the importance of the SDGs, which not only fight symptoms but the disease itself, because

  • they are addressed to all countries – both developing and industrial countries;
  • their goal is to reduce inequality within and between countries;
  • and they focus on governance.

Now it is important to provide a "mobilising" and credible narrative in order to encourage both private and public sector. The focus needs to be on well-being and sustainability and not only on GDP growth.

Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) praised the strong involvement of civil society in informing and inspiring citizens and commended the private sector for "so much engagement" and also for successfully developing business through the implementation of SDGs. He called on the EU to engage more strongly and to provide guidance to member states to achieve better cooperation.

Conclusions and recommendations put forward by engaged Civil Society

The Conference brought together more than 200 participants from civil society organisations from across Europe not only to discuss the challenges but particularly also to show what is possible and which initiatives have already been launched in many of the member states. Awareness raising and putting forward proposals was the main recipe of the many successful initiatives in Europe.

The conference ended with the adoption of conclusions and recommendations, particularly calling on the EU to assume its responsibility and to move to an agenda which

  • goes beyond the GDP,
  • enhances accessibility and increases support among citizens
  • transits towards long-term change and new development models
  • invests in a socially inclusive society and new economy and
  • recognises culture as a key dimension of sustainable development

The recommendations as well as the speeches and presentations are available on the EESC webpage.

President Jahier closed the event by saying: The implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda needs a vision; it needs the courage to imagine a new world and we must have the ambition to put opportunities and goals before problems.