Leaving no one behind when implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (own-initiative opinion)

EESC opinion: Leaving no one behind when implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (own-initiative opinion)

Key points

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are paving the way for a better and more sustainable future for all. At the heart of the SDGs is a commitment to ensure that "no one is left behind, by reaching the furthest behind first" in the shift to a sustainable and resilient path, and that no goal is considered to have been met unless it has been met for all.

The EESC believes that social concerns should be addressed in full synergy with environmental and economic ones. The implementation of the SDGs in the EU requires merging the social with the economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability, bringing about a systemic change and overcoming the silo thinking prevalent in current EU strategies. The value of defining measures and policies through the multidimensional lens of the 2030 Agenda is undeniable. Tackling the social question will be absolutely crucial in implementing this agenda. If compared with environmental or economic dimensions, both social issues and regional cohesion have so far been seen more as separate policy areas rather than as a truly integral part of sustainability policy

The transition to a sustainable, carbon-neutral and resource-efficient  economy requires fundamental changes in our society and in our economy. Those changes will imply chances but also risks. Leaving no one behind means that all members of society and especially those that are further behind have a real chance to seize the chances and are well prepared for coping with the risks. This requires an active policy. Leaving no one behind also entails re-empowering as many people as possible to play a positive and active role so that they can fully take part in the transition.

To achieve the implementation of the SDGs and leave no one behind, the EESC calls on the European Commission, Parliament, Council and Member States to:

  • set up a European Green and Social Deal as part of an overarching "EU 2050 Sustainable Development Strategy" make a systematic assessment of the potential negative/positive side-effects of the transition on Europe's population (especially poor and vulnerable groups) and structurally weak regions and better understand the intergenerational drivers of sustainability and inequality;
  • set up the appropriate governance structures and tools to implement the SDGs and the European Green and Social Deal, e.g. using the European Semester, better regulation and the MFF, including the cohesion and social funds to drive transformation;
  • develop a wider understanding of the "just transition" (beyond coal) and fully implement the European Pillar of Social Rights in support of it, while driving reforms of redistributive systems (tailored taxation, social protection, and sustainable and social investments) as well as work-life balance and gender equality;
  • ensure equal access as well as equal opportunities regarding adequate education and training for all;
  • overcome barriers to active participation by citizens who do not have the necessary financial and social capital, the necessary knowledge and information, and access to opportunities; 
  • introduce policies that both benefit citizens and protect the environment, e.g. air pollution plans prioritising vulnerable groups, green social housing policies, etc.;
  • promote a social and collaborative economy within the sustainability transition (e.g. skills, circular economy, energy transition, foster cooperatives);
  • provide SMEs with support to succeed in the transition and achieve sustainable competitiveness, through better access to skills, finance, innovation and technology;
  • enhance quality job creation;
  • design a strategy to ensure that not only cities but also rural communities become more inclusive, resilient and sustainable;
  • strengthen climate protection and adaptation in Europe to fight desertification and address water scarcity and depopulation;
  • give young people and future generations a meaningful voice and make them count in sustainability decision-making;
  • promote a sustainable trade policy, which internalises the positive and negative social and environmental externalities of trade.